American Me

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American Me
American me poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byEdward James Olmos
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story byFloyd Mutrux
Music by
  • Claude Gaudette
  • Dennis Lambert
CinematographyReynaldo Villalobos
Edited by
  • Richard Candib
  • Arthur Coburn
  • YOY Productions[1]
  • Olmos Productions[1]
  • The Sean Daniel Company[1]
Distributed byUniversal Pictures[1]
Release date
  • March 13, 1992 (1992-03-13)
Running time
126 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[1]
Box office$13 million

American Me is a 1992 American crime drama film produced and directed by Edward James Olmos, his first film as a director, and written by Floyd Mutrux and Desmond Nakano. Olmos also stars as the film's protagonist, Montoya Santana. Executive producers included record producer Lou Adler, screenwriter Mutrux, and Irwin Young. It depicts a fictionalized account of the founding and rise to power of the Mexican Mafia in the California prison system from the 1950s into the 1980s.


The film depicts 30 years of Chicano gang life in Los Angeles. It focuses on Montoya Santana, a teen who forms a gang along with his friends J.D. and Mundo. They soon find themselves committing crimes and are arrested.

In juvenile hall, Santana murders a fellow inmate, who had raped him, and as a result has his sentence extended into Folsom State Prison after he turns 18.

A few years later, a now older Santana has becomes the leader of a powerful prison gang, La Eme. Upon his release he tries to relate his life experiences to the society that has changed so much since he left. La Eme has become a feared criminal organization beyond Folsom, selling drugs and committing murder.

Santana starts to see the error of his ways, but before he can take action he is sent back to prison for drug possession. There, he tells his former friend, lieutenant J.D., that he is no longer interested in leading La Eme. However, following a precedent set by Santana himself earlier in the film, his men murder him to show the other prison gangs that despite having no leader they are not weak. He is fatally stabbed and thrown off the balcony to his death.


  • Edward James Olmos as Montoya Santana
  • William Forsythe as J.D.
  • Pepe Serna as Mundo
  • Daniel A. Haro as Huero
  • Sal Lopez as Pedro Santana
  • Vira Montes as Esperanza Santana
  • Danny De La Paz as Puppet
  • Daniel Villarreal as Little Puppet
  • Evelina Fernández as Julie
  • Roberto Martín Márquez as Acha
  • Dyana Ortelli as Yolanda
  • Jacob Vargas as Paulito Santana
  • Eric Close as Juvie Hall Attacker
  • Rigoberto Jimenez as Big Happy
  • Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as El Japo
  • Robby Robinson as Drug Thief
  • Ron Thompson as Junkie
  • Rafael H. Robledo as El Chucko
  • Panchito Gomez as young Montoya Santana
  • Steve Wilcox as young J.D.
  • Richard Coca as young Mundo


Parts of the film were shot in Folsom State Prison and California Institution for Men. Shooting lasted for three weeks and included 800 inmates and guards, who appeared as extras. Scenes shot in Los Angeles included gang members as extras.[1]


Critical response[edit]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times liked the reality that came through in the film and that it rang true: "What I felt watching American Me, however, is that it is based on a true situation—on the reality that street gangs and prison, mixed with the drug sales that finance the process, work together to create a professional criminal class."[2]

Janet Maslin writes in The New York Times, "But Mr. Olmos's dark, slow and solemn, so much so that it diverts energy from the film's fundamental frankness. Violent as it is, American Me is seldom dramatic enough to bring its material to life."[3]

Marjorie Baumgarten, a film critic for The Austin Chronicle, wrote, "American Me is crafted with heart and conviction and intelligence. It demands no less of its audience. It insists that there are no quick fixes, but that solutions are of the utmost urgency."[4]

The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.[5]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 78% based on reviews from 9 critics.[6] On Metacritic the film has a score of 66% based on reviews from 11 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[7]

Box office[edit]

The film opened in wide release in the United States on March 13, 1992 (830 screens). The opening weekend's gross was $3.4 million, and the total receipts for the first three weeks were $9.1 million. The film was in wide release for three weeks (seventeen days). In its widest release the film was featured in 830 theaters across the country. The final box office gross amounted to $13.1 million.[8]


Mexican Mafia reaction[edit]

Segments of the Mexican Mafia were enraged by the film, specifically, the lead character's rape as a juvenile and his death at the hands of his own followers at the end of his criminal career. Whether as retaliation over their depiction in the film, or as a routine criminal racket, Mexican Mafia member Joe "Pegleg" Morgan allegedly attempted to extort money from Olmos. Court documents show that Olmos was a victim in one extortion count contained in a 33-count federal indictment. According to reportage by CBS News weekly 60 Minutes, three consultants on this film were later murdered because of the depiction of a homosexual rape scene which offended the Mexican Mafia gangsters' machismo.[9]

Actor Danny Trejo said in an interview that he was aware of 10 people having been murdered for their involvement with the film.[10] The first killing occurred 12 days after the film's premiere when one of the film's consultants, Charles "Charlie Brown" Manriquez, a member of La Eme, was killed in Ramona Gardens, L.A.'s oldest public housing project.[11]

Another consultant to the film, 49-year-old grandmother Ana Lizarraga, commonly known as "The Gang Lady", was murdered when she was gunned down in her East Los Angeles driveway while unloading groceries. A federal indictment accused La Eme of ordering the 1992 murder of Lizarraga.[12] Lizarraga was a former gang member who was, by the time she was killed, an anti-gang counselor. She played a grandmother in the film. Her murder occurred eight months after American Me was completed.


Since the film deals with a Latino subculture, the music included in the soundtrack was Latino oriented--late 1970s urban sounds and oldies from the 1950s.

The original soundtrack was released on April 28, 1992, by Virgin Records.

The CD contains ten tracks and includes songs performed by various artists including: Los Lobos, Santana, Ike & Tina Turner, Bobby Day, Kid Frost, War, and other performers.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "American Me (1992)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  2. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 13, 1992). "American Me movie review & film summary (1992)". Chicago Sun-Times.
  3. ^ Maslin, Janet. The New York Times, film review, March 13, 1992.
  4. ^ Baumgarten, Marjorie. The Austin Chronicle, film review, March 20, 1992.
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: American Me". Archived from the original on 2012-10-05. Retrieved 2009-08-15.
  6. ^ "American Me (1992)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  7. ^ "American Me". Metacritic. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  8. ^ American Me at Box Office Mojo Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  9. ^ Lombardi, John. New York Magazine, "Scenes from a Bad Movie Marriage." January 12, 1998.
  10. ^ Danny Trejo on Criminal Past, Acting Career, 'American Me' Drama, Mexican Mafia (Full Interview). YouTube. Vladislav Lyubovny.
  11. ^ Katz, Jesse. article from June 13, 1993 Los Angeles Times, upload/LA times American Me.doc[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ Associated Press, October 24, 1996.

External links[edit]