But the trailer’s production history is far less interesting than its troubling and highly selective appropriation of imagery from a famous viral video that spawned multiple Internet memes. The so-called “Epic Beard Man” video showed a 67-year-old man, later identified as Thomas Bruso, beating a younger man (though not young; he’s reportedly 50 years old)—known only by his first name, Michael—on a public transit bus in Oakland. The incident was recorded by another passenger, a young woman named Iyanna Washington. In part because Bruso is elderly and does indeed sport a truly epic beard, he became a cult hero.
But there has always been an uncomfortable aspect (or, really, two or three uncomfortable aspects) to that hero worship. Bruso is white, and Michael is black; early in the video, Bruso appears to ask Michael, “How much would you charge me for a spit shine?” Whether he intended this question innocently is open to some debate, but Michael—who has said, in the course of apologizing for his actions, that he was intoxicated—took it as a racist insult, and the incident unfolded from there. Bruso, meanwhile, has a history of public altercations, and, according to an AC transit spokesman, had not taken his usual medication on the day in question. Whatever actually happened, the wish to see Bruso as an uncomplicated hero involves a serious cultural myopia—when, that is, it doesn’t involve simple racism.
We posted this earlier with a some frustration, worried that some were asking for too much in the form of social commentary in our Danny Trejo films. After some thought, we decided to reconsider the issue. Why? Well, the original incident — where a white man brutally attacked a black man in self-defense, as both sides used racist language — was never fully resolved, and as much as we love Danny Trejo, perhaps this is not the right way to resurface this story.
Which is not to say that the B-movie is a bad way to handle touchy social issues. Robert Rodriguez, for example, somewhat brilliantly redid the “Machete” trailer as commentary on the then-fresh Arizona immigration law. And Michael Jai White’s amazing “Black Dynamite” handled racial matters with grace. However, in those cases, the writers and directors had the discipline to pull it off. The director of “Bad Ass,” however, may not be the guy — his other works point to derivative, exploitative parodies, suggesting a quick cash-in on a homeless guy’s story. Which, combined with the trailer’s rewriting of the original story and the financial status of its inspiriation, is reason to worry.
Will the movie be enjoyable? Probably. Is it an attempt to make a quick buck while ignoring a larger issue? Most likely. As much as we like Danny Trejo.