Director David Ayer doubled down against claims he styled Shia LaBeouf in brownface for his new film, The Tax Collector, insisting that the star is playing a white man.
The Tax Collector is officially released today after the trailer first made waves last month.
Ayer’s latest film tells the story of a crime lord’s ‘tax collector’ is Los Angeles and how his life is upended when a rival boss arrives to town.
The cast is almost exclusively brown-skinned Latinos except for LaBeouf, 34, who donned a dark-trimmed hair and a barrio accent.
Several social media users have accused LaBeouf of taking on a Los Angeles cholo persona and looking ‘Mexican’ for entertainment purposes.
In two interviews with LA Times, Ayer doubled down on his stance and did not back down from his choice to cast LaBeouf as ‘Creeper.’
‘He’s a white guy playing a white guy. He’s not taking anyone’s work away,’ the director told the publication.
Ayer initially hit back at allegations of brownface on Twitter on July 1, where he again insisted LaBeouf was playing a white man in the film.
‘Really important answer – Shia is playing a white boy who grew up in the hood. This is a Jewish dude playing a white character. Also the only white dude in the movie,’ he wrote.
Ayer, a white man who grew up in California, added in a series of follow up tweets that he grew around Chicano culture.
‘I grew up hood and I’m a white boy. Chicano culture is inclusive – I’ve seen whiteys, Asians, Blacks, Filipinos all putting in work for the hood. It’s part of street culture,’ he wrote.
It was noted that The Tax Collector doesn’t specifically establish the ethnicity of LaBeouf’s character.
‘I get the complexities of the issues of historical representation in film and brownface. … It’s also like ‘American Me,’ ‘Blood In Blood Out.’ It’s a ’hood culture thing,’ Ayer added.
The sparked discussions over California’s culture that has seen non-Latinos integrate into Mexican communities in urban and rural areas.
Throughout entertainment, a number of films have cast non-Latinos playing Mexican characters.
In 1958, actor Charlton Heston wore a mustache, dark eyebrows and makeup to play Ramon Miguel ‘Mike’ Vargas in Touch of Evil.’
Nearly 30 years later, Lou Diamond Phillips, a FIlipino-American, was picked to portray Mexican American singer Ritchie Valley on the movie ‘La Bamba.’
According to experts, there’s a long history of assuming Chicano dress, distinct cultural customs and the accent associated with California’s barrio culture.
‘You wouldn’t even know that they weren’t Chicano, but they were white guys who lived in East L.A. or South L.A. or Monterey Park or Montebello. I feel like there’s always a white guy hanging out,’ professor in Chicana and Chicano Studies at Cal State Northridge, told LA Times.
‘I think it’s a style. It is like our patois, and these discussions are always happening when a machine like Hollywood or Disney uses our culture.’
Similarly, critics of The Tax Collector have said the movie enforces harmful and violent stereotypes associated with the Mexican American mafia.
‘My first impression was like, ‘Oh look, a cholo movie starring Shia LaBeouf,’ and technically that’s what it is,’ Lalo Alcaraz, the editorial cartoonist and satirist, told the publication.
‘There’s no literal brownface, but it’s definitely cultural brownface.’
San Diego State University professor William A. Nerriccio, who co-authored ‘Talking #BrownTV: Latinas and Latinos on the Scree,’ said he felt ‘toxic’ after watching the trailer.
‘How many times does he put a gun in a person’s mouth in a two-minute period?’ said Nerriccio.
‘That’s not to say that raza who work in gangs aren’t bad guys, but enough already.’
Ayer, 52, actually wrote the screenplay for The Tax Collector in addition to directing the piece.
His credential include writing credits for the Oscar-winning movie Training Day and The Fast and the Furious.
Throughout his career, Ayer said he’s always been around California’s barrio culture and often faces questions for being the ‘the only white boy’ around people of color.
He moved to Los Angeles as a teenager and met Jose ‘Conejo’ Martín,, the actor who played the antagonist in The Tax Collector, when he was nine.
‘I’m from 22nd and Catalina, he’s from 24th and Budlong,’ said Martin in an interview. ‘We go back.’
Similar to Ayer, Labeouf grew up in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles that has a large Latino community.
‘I’m used to being the only white boy,’ Ayer told LA Times. ‘Con la gente que cuenta [with the people that count], I’m good. … I’ve always kept this to myself. It’s my private life.’
Some cast members of the Tax Collector have since spoken out in defense of both Ayer’s ability to cover Latino communities and LaBeouf.
Chelsea Rendon, who played Lupe in The Tax Collector, called the movie a ‘really great story.’
‘I think it’s just a really great story, showing the gritty streets, and that’s what David does best, when you think of ‘Training Day’ and ‘Harsh Times’ and ‘End of Watch,’ they have this grittiness to them,’ she said.
‘In all these movies, [Ayer] included the Chicano culture, he did it in ‘Suicide Squad,’ where he had the first Latino superhero Jay Hernandez play the Diablo, he’s put brown people in front of the camera more than anyone,’ said Bobby Soto, the film’s protagonist.
‘He’s Chicano inside, he’s raza 100,000 percent, it’s crazy.’
In regards to the brownface allegations, Rendon added that LaBeof’s character is recognizable to anyway who grew up in the area.
‘Shia plays a white boy who grew up around Mexicans, and if you grew up in the ’hood, you know that white boy!’ she said.
Daytime Emmy winner Shia LaBeouf ‘got his whole chest tattooed’ to more authentically portray a ‘Cholo’ gangster for his movie The Tax Collector, which hits VOD on August 7.
The 34-year-old Echo Park native permanently branded his abdomen with his character Creeper’s name over two Mickey Mouse gloves representing his own Disney Channel past.
A closer look at Shia’s ink revealed depictions of his mother Shayna Saide cradling a clown, which represented his own estranged father Jeffrey’s past as a rodeo clown.
It’s not the first time either. Back in 2015, LaBeouf got 12 small tattoos to get into character as magazine-selling hustler Jake in Andrea Arnold’s drama American Honey.
‘He’s one of the best actors I’ve worked with, and he’s the most committed to body and soul,’ director David Ayer told Slash Film in January.
‘On Tax Collector, he got his whole chest tattooed. So he kind of goes all in, and I’ve never known anyone that committed.’
The former child star ‘had a tooth pulled’ the first time he worked with the 52-year-old filmmaker and Oscar winner Brad Pitt in his 2014 WWII flick, Fury.
Ayer spent most of last Wednesday defending his alleged ‘brownface’ casting of Shia as a ‘terrorizing devil’ collecting ‘taxes’ for a crime lord called Wizard.
‘Shia is playing a whiteboy who grew up in the hood,’ David – who boasts 479K Twitter/Instagram followers – explained.
‘This is a [half-Jewish, half-Cajun] dude playing a white character. Also the only white dude in the movie…[Creeper] grew up in the hood. He’s a gangster. He’s a Cholo. He’s a Southsider. Shia studied a real homie like that to get it correct.’
Also coming to the chain-smoking culture vulture’s defense was his castmate Chelsea Rendon, who played Lupe in The Tax Collector.
‘Y’all. Shia is NOT playing a Latinx character. So chill. That is all,’ the 27-year-old Montebello native tweeted last Wednesday.
‘You don’t act/dress the same as who you grew up with? In the same neighborhood? I’m not saying some Malibu’s most wanted s*** but the real s***.
‘I got friends that aren’t Latinx I grew up with who speak Spanish or have the same accent as mine and s*** is that not okay?’
The East LA-set, indie crime flick also features three-time Grammy nominee George Lopez, Bobby Soto, and Cinthya Carmona.
The Honey Boy actor-writer’s latest controversy came less than a month after the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced he’d be inducted into the Walk of Fame next year.
It’s worth noting that most actors wouldn’t have a career at all if they were LaBeouf – whose sixth arrest was in 2017 for obstruction, disorderly conduct, and public drunkenness.