ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. – When “Sons of Anarchy” debuted in 2008, creator Kurt Sutter repeatedly heard the same equation: it was the poor, white working-class version of the HBO mob series “The Sopranos.”
Now that the “Sons of Anarchy” spin-off “Maya M. C.” is set to start, the Sutter says that he is prepared for the inevitable called to be the Latino version of the popular motorcycle gang drama. “But it’s more than that,” Sutter, the new series co-creator, told The Associated Press. “My hope is that if people connected to it…it is its own thing.”
Yes, “the Mayans M. C.” focuses on a similar motorcycle outlaw themes of crime, inconsistencies, and divided devotion as his artistic predecessor. Nevertheless, it is aimed at addressing the causes of conflict world along the U.S.-mexican border, amid the poverty, the drug war and the populations of species with a blurred nationalities. It is also filled with meso-american images, problems of ethnicity and references to the poor conditions along the border.
The FX Networks series, which debuts on Sept. 4, is in the fictional border town of Santo Padre, California, and follows Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes, played by J. D. Pardo, a fresh-out-of-jail “prospect” to a chapter of the Mayans, a Mexican-American motorcycle club. (A prospect is a potential member must prove that he meets the others). Reyes is coming to terms with his old life as a one-time promising student at the University of Stanford, who is now in the world of crime and the Mexican cartels.
The Maya were sometimes rivals, sometimes allies of the Sons of the Anarchy in the original series. The creators tease that Sons of Anarchy members can make occasional cameos in the new series.
Meanwhile, Ezekiel’s butcher father, played by Edward James Olmos, serves as his advisor and sometimes as a confidant of the young Reyes just wants to survive. Together with the couple leads a majority-Latino cast that navigating through the dark world of motorcycle gangs and tensions of immigration, cartel violence, and race.
Pardo, a California-born son of an Argentine father and a Salvadoran mother, said that he knew very little about “Sons of Anarchy” until he heard about the “Mayans M. C.” So, one weekend, he binged watch the series, and concluded he wanted the lead role in “Maya, M. C.,” though he would have to educate themselves.
“It is the scripture. It is everything,” Pardo said. “I didn’t ride motorcycles. I didn’t know anything about the bike culture. For me to be able to dive into that as an artist, I feel like a child.”
But he would not have to educate themselves about the fact that Latino, Pardo said. That he knew of the family.
Sutter said the idea for the project began years ago, when FX wanted to productions similar to Sons of Anarchy, but aimed at the growing Spanish-and French-speaking markets in Latin America. When “the Mayans M. C.” began to become a reality, Sutter said he realized immediately the need to be different.
“I also know that a white guy from Jersey should not be writing a show about people of color on his own,” Sutter said.
Sutter quickly tapped Boston-filmmaker Elgin James, to help give the show a clear voice and a perspective of a writer of color. James, whose family background is Irish, African-American and Dominican, is a former member of the gang in over a year in prison for extortion and earned acclaim for his 2011 film, ” Little Birds.”
James said that he wanted to use his experience from the gang world to shape “the Mayans M. C.” characters. Once an orphan and homeless, James said remembers how delightful it was to be feared by the blink of your gang name on hats or shirts.
“But what doesn’t change is that you still have that small, frightened boy within,” said James.
As a director, James said filming Pardo riding his motorcycle along the border fence and images of the La Virgen de Guadalupe with bullets draped around her as a soldier of the Mexican Revolution came to organic. So has the introduction of the revolutionary character Adelita, played by Venezuelan actress Carla Baratta, modeled after the Mexican Revolution, female soldiers known as “las adelitas.”
The debut of the show in a time in which the immigration and President Donald Trump’s rhetoric attacking the Latinos are constantly in the news was a pure coincidence, James, and Sutter said. Although both say that they are looking to humanize people who live on the border and those who are members of motorcycle clubs.
That the humanization of effort is provided as is without romanticizing that some motorcycle clubs are linked to a dangerous world, the creators said.
Last year in New Mexico, for example, the police in the tourist-friendly Santa Fe were forced to increase patrols and surveillance in the midst of the tensions between the two Latino motorcycle gangs, the California-based Vagos and the Texas-founded Bandidos — which led to a drive-by shooting and a hospital lockdown.
“The show is not for everyone,” Olmos told the AP. “It is dark. It is powerful.”
Still, Olmos said he enjoyed working with Sutter, and James, and the largely Latino cast to tell a story that the viewers on an emotional journey.
“All I can say,” Olmos said: ‘it is heartbreaking.”
Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP of race and ethnicity team. Follow Contreras on Twitter http://twitter.com/russcontreras