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With Sons of Anarchy, creator and motorcycle enthusiast Kurt Sutter tapped into the testosterone-fueled brotherhood inherent to fringe-living motorcycle clubs, bringing his TV storytelling skills to the table. With the highly anticipated Mayans M.C., Sutter linked up with Latino filmmaker Elgin James to give the show a more realistic edge, since James' past was a more suitable hunting ground for inspiration. In fact, the show is already so important to James simply for allowing the Latino community to have a voice, both on screen and behind the scenes. In his words:
Ever since I was a kid I've watched black and brown characters on television who just become these criminals, these one-dimensional characters. A lot of the people on Mayans, behind the camera and in front of the camera, grew up in the cycle of poverty and violence and incarceration -- I know that I did. This is the first time we get to tell our own stories from inside out, which is incredibly important to me. The first time we get to put a human face to it. I do know that I have these stories I have to tell. I have this damage inside me that I have to get out.
Indeed. Compared to Sons of Anarchy, in which SAMCRO was a decidedly Caucasian entity, the main cast (and even just the background extras) on Mayans M.C. couldn't look more different. The fast-paced show takes place near the hectic border between California and Mexico, with the Galindo cartel serving as an overall threat, and even though those kinds of stories aren't entirely foreign to TV viewers, we're not always seeing them being told by creators whose personal experiences speak to the material in such straightforward ways. And for James, making those people's stories heard is both a driving force and a celebratory reward.
Elgin James specifically has a unique history when it comes to sticking up for the disenfranchised. Going straight edge in his teens, with strong aversions to alcohol and drugs, James was big in the '80s hardcore punk rock scene, and got into trouble accordingly. He almost had his life cut short at 17 after being beaten in the head with a baseball bat during a gang fight, which left him with brain damage. His recovery left him homeless for a while, though he would later form the group Friends Stand United (FSU), whose members dedicated themselves to excising neo-Nazis and white supremacist hate groups from punk concerts, often with violence as the go-to mode of removal. The controversial group was also known to rob drug dealers and give out some of the recovered money to local charities.
Alas, Elgin James was eventually arrested for extorting money from a band member in exchange for not getting targeted by FSU, and he spent a little over a year in prison. Speaking with Stuff, James says he never initially intended to use his more criminally motivated years to inform his artistic ventures, but later realized that it only made sense to draw from his own experiences, as opposed to trying to pretend none of it happened. And so, through Mayans M.C., the filmmaker is getting to bring out some of those old demons to pass them on to the troubled club members. Especially J.D. Pardo's EZ Reyes, who similarly balances being a criminal with being an intelligent and thoughtful member of society.
Not that fans should go into Mayans M.C. thinking every single incident shown comes straight out of someone's memory banks. But do remember that every episode that airs is the result of many men and women having made the effort to distance themselves from lives of poverty and gang violence. So even if EZ and the Mayans' on-screen activities aren't the most inspirational, just keep in mind what it took for Elgin James to make it happen.
With new characters to introduce and new stories to tell, Mayans M.C. will make its highway-blazing debut on Tuesday, September 4, at 10:00 p.m. ET. To see what other new and returning shows are on the way soon, head to our fall premiere schedule.