Hulu’s Coming-of-Age Comedy Miguel Wants to Fight Challenges Machismo

Latines love entertainment. For years, we have been the top moviegoers — even though the films we watch rarely reflect our communities. While we represent 19% of the U.S. population, we make up only 4.6% of movie roles and 5.3% of TV roles. When we do see ourselves on the big or small screen, we are often playing one-dimensional characters or are cast in films riddled with stereotypes, tropes, and stories that fail to represent the totality of who we are. So we decided to hold Hollywood accountable. Welcome to La Nota, a column where we measure the (mis)representation of Latines in film and TV and grade projects against a Somos test that looks at gender, race, language, and more. This month, we’re grading the Hulu movie Miguel Wants to Fight.
The intersection of white supremacy and patriarchy holds Latinos, and men of color more generally, to impossible standards. To compensate for what toxic masculinity defines as a “real man,” men of color must be tough, unfeeling, violent, and unafraid of other men. According to today’s gender roles, Latino boys and men cannot like any hobbies that are soft, static, or feminine — instead, they should communicate their manliness through something like a contact sport. These ideas of what a Latino man should be are at the forefront of Miguel’s (Tyler Dean Flores) mind in the new Hulu film Miguel Wants to Fight.
In this sweet coming-of-age comedy, Miguel lives in a neighborhood where kids fight each other all the time. His story starts with a personal dilemma: The high school junior has managed to stay out of any physical altercations up until that moment. His friends, who aren’t shy about protecting themselves when the teenage aggression comes out, point out that it’s almost impossible to stay out of fights in their neighborhood and in their high school — it’s basically a rite of passage. When Miguel finds out that his parents want to move out of the neighborhood in a week so his mom — played by the amazing (and generally underused) Andrea Navedo — can take a brand new, better-paying job in Albany, the teen overhears his father (Raúl Castillo) declare that his son will do better in a new, more peaceful environment. Suddenly, Miguel becomes determined to get into a fight to show he is a part of his community. 
To make matters worse, his dad owns and manages a boxing training gym, where his friend David (Christian Vunipola) comes to train and bond with Miguel’s father. While nobody says so, Miguel draws his own conclusions about his manhood and his future move to a more tranquil neighborhood, and he turns these pieces of information into the imperative that he must prove himself to his friends and to his father by getting into a fight. Through fighting, he believes he can simultaneously prove his loyalty to his friends before he moves and impress his dad — it’s pretty much the perfect plan.
The problem is that Miguel is simply not an aggressive person by nature, and he doesn’t even know how to start a fight. Throughout the film he tries to offend people or confront them, but he always fails. Sometimes, he accidentally befriends the person he is trying to fight; other times, he just runs away in fear or the fight doesn’t happen the way he planned it. Miguel struggles with the standards the world has forced on him, and the more he flounders, the less he feels like he belongs with his friends or family.

"It was refreshing to see a brown boy feel so obviously alienated by machismo culture."

nicole froio
Watching a brown Latino boy struggle with his sense of self and his manhood, in contrast with his natural impulses, was not only interesting but also necessary. Latino men are often portrayed as violent in TV shows and films — Narcos and Narcos: Mexico are good examples of this — and while violence and masculinity are worthy topics of exploration in Latine culture, it was refreshing to see a brown boy feel so obviously alienated by machismo culture.
Though this isn’t a common representation of Latino masculinity in TV and film, it is a common sentiment among Latino boys across the diaspora. Gender-dissenting boys and men in the Latino community are often mocked or bullied for having feminine-coded interests that don’t reach the moving goalposts of machismo culture. Softer Latino boys deserve representation, and our community has to start talking about the unfair gender roles we impose on boys and girls from a very early age. Miguel Wants to Fight is a coming-of-age movie that takes the stereotypification of men of color as aggressive and questions it without stigmatizing men and boys who do like to fight at a professional level — or in the streets, where sometimes violence feels necessary for protection. 
From the beginning, it’s clear that Miguel respects the men and boys in his community, and that’s why he feels pressured to be just like them. Interestingly, Miguel’s father and his friends — a diverse group consisting of David, Cass (Imani Lewis), and Srini (Suraj Partha) — aren’t particularly invested in his ability to fight. Though Miguel’s friends try to help him find a rival, they don’t quite understand why their quiet friend has decided he needs to connect his hand to someone’s face. It is only Miguel who feels that way, to the point where even David is against Miguel’s decision to fight.

"Miguel Wants to Fight is a coming-of-age movie that takes the stereotypification of men of color as aggressive and questions it without stigmatizing men and boys who do like to fight."

nicole froio
The film traces Miguel’s journey of understanding that he’s not the kind of person who likes to fight, that he much prefers to daydream about anime battles where imaginary fighters defy gravity and human capacity. He’s a nerdy Latino boy with a good heart, trying to fit into the ideal Latino man role model — and the easiest path is through self-acceptance and living his truth.
I am excited for Latino boys and men to watch Miguel Wants to Fight because it challenges the depictions of Latino men and boys in TV and film, while simultaneously questioning how we raise boys in the diaspora to be tough and masculine when we should be telling boys — and girls — to simply be themselves. Boys like Miguel are everywhere in our community, and they deserve to feel seen, to be told that being soft is okay, and to know they have nothing to prove to anyone. That’s the heart of the message in the movie, and I encourage Latine parents everywhere to watch it and discuss machismo culture in the diaspora across the US and back in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Gender & Sexuality: C

None of the characters were queer. However, I do think Miguel Wants to Fight shows its audience that machismo culture can be harmful, and that there are many ways to be a man, which I really appreciated. The exploration of masculinity was hands-down my favorite part of the film.

Regional Diversity: B

Miguel is bi-cultural, of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent, and lives in Syracuse, New York. It was refreshing to watch a film about a Latine family that didn't take place in Los Angeles, New York City, or Miami. Even more, Miguel’s friends were of different ethnicities and races — Cass is Black American, David is Filipino, and Srini is Indian American — so it’s definitely a diverse cast.

Language: A

I liked the code-switching; it felt natural.

Race: B 

As I said previously, I actually thought the cast was very diverse. Most of the time, there’s not a single white American in sight, and I love that. This feels much more true to my own experience as a person of color, where my groups of friends have always been diverse and from all parts of the world. 

Stereotypes & Tropes: A

I loved that the men in Miguel Wants to Fight were open to different types of masculinity. It does a good job at challenging machismo culture by showing us all kinds of men — some of whom do not fit into the narrow view that other movies and TV shows uphold. 

Was it Actually Good? B

It was a good coming-of-age story. I recommend it for a family viewing!

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