Oz Rodriguez’s “Miguel Wants to Fight” Provides New Definition of Latino Masculinity

Brett Roedel/Hulu

:When it comes to teen coming-of-age movies, the premise of Hulu’s “Miguel Wants to Fight” sounds pretty formulaic. Our hero Miguel wants to get into a fight before moving out of town and is helped by his group of loyal friends. Think “American Pie” but violence – rather than sex.

Director Oz Rodriguez’s “Miguel Wants to Fight” is about trying to fit yourself into the mold society says you should be in. In this particular case, it’s a physically aggressive male, which isn’t true to who our protagonist is.

“This kid lives in a town where fighting is a big deal. Where boxing is a huge deal and his dad is a fighter,” Rodriguez tells POPSUGAR, “Miguel would rather not. He just wants to watch movies and watch dudes beat up themselves.”

Still, that’s where Miguel finds himself, butting up against cultural norms that can be pretty limiting for Latino boys. And that’s something Rodriguez understands from personal experience.

“Growing up in the DR (Dominican Republic), there is a lot of importance on defending yourself and standing up for yourself. So I really connected with this script, because I could see myself in Miguel,” he says before sharing that he’s never been in a fight . . . except once in middle school, which he described as a lot of running around but no actual hitting.

“This macho idea of what being a Latino man means – I wanted to challenge that,” Rodriguez says. “Not in an outright way, but by showing a different version of what a Latino man and Latino teen could be. We’re not so inclined to violence.”

The director shares how he sent some of the cast bell hooks’s book to help them prepare for their roles. “[Reading it was a] side quest, side challenge that I threw out. I didn’t want to burden this movie or make it about that but it was very important to me that [masculinity norms were] sort of felt and addressed in some way,” he adds.

That all makes sense for a director whose favorite film is “Y Tu Mamá También.” Rodriguez was looking for an emotionally truthful approach to the classic coming-of-age story, even as he depicted some extreme situations.

“Our favorite movies are where we are laughing along to what happens to our heroes, but we also are with them when they struggle,” he says.”Everybody just wanted to make these characters feel as real as possible because they were getting into such insane situations that they wanted to come from a grounded place.”

Rodriguez is perhaps most known for his work on “Saturday Night Live,” but he also directed Netflix’s “Vampires vs. the Bronx,” another teen film lampooning cultural norms. In that one, the vampires are white gentrifiers and the young Black and brown inhabitants of the neighborhood fight them off with home-cooking and abuela wisdom.

So, of course, Rodriguez brought a thoughtful approach to “Miguel Wants to Fight.” He called the cast – which includes Dasha Polanco, Andrea Navedo, and Raúl Castillo among others – the “Latino Avengers.” For the young people, including star Tyler Dean Flores, he searched worldwide, conducting chemistry tests via Zoom to ensure the four friends felt like they’d known each other their entire lives. Getting Polanca to play Miguel’s teacher was as simple as a text among friends. Castillo went through a more traditional process to play Miguel’s Dad, reading the script and meeting about it.

As Alberto, Castillo’s part is pivotal to the film’s portrayal of a more expansive definition of masculinity. Alberto runs a boxing gym and so, at first glance, may seem like that old-school Latino dad. But he’s anything but. One of Miguel’s friends, David, lost his father before the events of the film begin, and Alberto is consistently looking for ways to support David, showing his strong sense of empathy and emotional intelligence. When his wife (Andrea Navedo) gets a better job out of town, Alberto is excited to follow her professional trajectory – this is a guy who can put his wife’s career first.

Then there’s how he feels about his son Miguel. Miguel is a scrawny kid, a film nerd who imagines fight scenes like big set pieces out of movies (think “Kill Bill”). As such, he reflects film writer Jason Concepcion and Shea Serrano’s aesthetic, blending humor, fan culture, and a thoughtful take on social norms. Miguel grows and learns, thanks in part to his parent’s support.

“This dad, who is a coach and obviously deals with fighting, loves this kid for just who he is,” explains Rodriguez. Both he and Castillo were “very into the character and the idea of this new version of a dad who is not inclined to tell his kid to go fight some people. It’s a different idea of the Latino dad.” And it’s a powerful one.

Together, with the thoughtful script and strong cast, Rodriguez recalls a different sort of vibe on set.

“It was really fun to see all those different kinds of faces. And the music that was played between setups was always great,” he says.

Rodriguez’s hope for “Miguel Wants to Fight” is that viewers have a blast, enjoying the film’s tongue-in-cheek comedy, over-the-top fight scenes, and heartfelt character development. “I’m excited for people to see a Latino teenager as a hero getting into trouble, set to some reggaetón here and there,” the director shares, “[Let’s] see that there could be all kinds of Latinos, even nerdy, anime [and] action-loving Latinos.”

We really are a diverse community and films like “Miguel Wants to Fight” are helping to show that – one teenage boy at a time.

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