About Mayans M.C
Sons of Anarchy spin-off show Mayans M.C is a great example of how diversity and inclusion can literally make storytelling better, both in front of and behind the camera.
I was a huge fan of SOA back in the day. I love a hyper-masculine storyworld and I found the intricacies of this one were (mostly) delicious … BUT on re-watching all 7 series on Netflix I noticed it felt rather dated in comparison to other broadly similar crime series from the same era like Justified.
I felt this was largely because of SOA’s fudged commentary on race, especially in later series.
So when I heard they were rebooting the storyworld from the Mayans’ POV, it’s fair to say I was a little sceptical …
… But I loved it! Not only that, I think there’s plenty writers can learn from both series and how they compare/contrast. Ready? Let’s go …
1) Learn From The Classics, Build On Them AND Keep Tweaking
Creator Kurt Sutter has said multiple times he set out to write Sons of Anarchy as a Shakespearian-style tragedy in the style of Hamlet. I think he really nails it, especially the first three series.
Jax Teller is a morally ambiguous character and presented as ‘better’ than the others, but only just. We are taken through his family history, piece by agonising piece, to realise there was only ever one path for him: DOWNWARDS. All this doesn’t excuse Jax’s abhorrent actions, but it does demonstrate why he is on this path.
Mayans protagonist Ezekiel (‘EZ’) Reyes has very similar AND very different qualities to Jax. E-Z is quite literally a fish out of water, a previous ‘golden boy’ who had his whole life ahead of him before it all went horribly wrong.
EZ is contrast against big brother Angel, who took on the burden of being the ‘bad one’ so EZ could escape. This means Angel is mad as hell EZ is now part of the Mayans gang like him.
Both brothers also have to fight against the shadow of their mothers’ murder and their father Felipe’s own dark past. Hope and desperation are juxtaposed constantly. We can never be sure if EZ will find the strength to reject revenge and outlaw life and walk away. This is in stark contrast to Jax, who never could. MORE: Everything You Ever Needed To Know About Character Archetypes
2) Use A Universal, Relatable Theme
Both SOA and Mayans M.C uses the universal, relatable theme that ‘power corrupts’. Anyone with any kind of authority in this storyworld will find themselves compromised.
I love how the US government is cast as the antagonist in Mayans M.C … Not because the Mayans are ‘just’ criminals either; most of them are ex-military. There are strong, plausible and relatable reasons they have gone outlaw.
Similarly, the Galindo cartel are not mere bogeymen. Miguel Galindo is a man who genuinely loves his family, but he’s a realist. Living this life means pain and blood and sacrifice. He is not just educated ‘new blood’ either, he is a brawler who can handle himself. We think he will he will crumple in jail, but he rules the roost there too! He makes an example of the first inmate to challenge him, strangling him with the shirt off his own back.
There’s nothing Galindo won’t do to stay at the top, either. The uneasy alliance between them and warrior queen Adelita from the rebel fighters is brilliantly done. This makes us even more worried for EZ, who is caught in an unwitting love triangle between Miguel and Emily.
3) Nuanced Female Characters Are Non-Negotiable
Just as the Sons state a ‘biker is nothing without his old lady’, the women of this storyworld really make it what it is.
‘White prize’ Emily Galindo is the real shining light in Mayans. Like Gemma Teller before her, Emily is a master manipulator and abuser, though unlike Gemma she is educated and infinitely more dangerous for it.
Without characters Emily, Adelita, Gemma, Tara or Wendy, both of these series would have been a bunch of posturing guys beating on one another for hundreds of hours. With them, it brings layers and nuance to this otherwise hyper-masculine world. MORE: Top 10 Badass Female Antiheroes You Need To Know
4) Sexual Violence Is Not What Modern Audiences Want
The men of SOA live in a hideous, violent world and every element of it is paid off in the characterisation & storylines. Sexual violence is also a tool of gang warfare that is employed ruthlessly.
Not just on the female characters, either. Even SOA showrunner Kurt Sutter – who also plays the incarcerated Otto – has to face it. Given he expects his actors to do some shocking storylines (including his own real life wife Katey Sagal, who plays Gemma), it’s refreshing Sutter was prepared to do the same. This is not just theory to him, like so many writers!
All that said, SOA was very much a product of its time. Gratuitous sexual violence is no longer what audiences expect or want in 2021. So whilst there may be rape threat in Mayans, such as when Adelita is promised ‘a lesson’ in s1, the would-be rapists are killed almost immediately and she escapes.
5) Race Is NOT A Plot Device
In Sons of Anarchy, there were multiple representational fuck-ups in my opinion. The most problematic was Juice’s storyline, where he is blackmailed into becoming a rat for R.I.C.O (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations) because he’s hidden from the rest of the Sons his father is black.
Apparently black or mixed members of the Sons are not allowed … But this makes little sense in the rules of the storyworld the writing team itself created. After all, The Sons permit Latino members like Juice, even though their major nemesis for many seasons are The Mayans. If black members are not permitted in case they could be Niner rats, why are Latino members allowed? It should also be noted The Sons has an alliance with fellow motorcycle club The Grim Bastards, who are black, too. So WTAF??
Even worse, the government’s threat for outing Juice’s heritage is never ‘real’ jeopardy for Juice anyway. Fellow Son Chibs even tells Juice that rule is ‘out of date’ and not to worry about it. This effectively makes the whole problem deflate and lacked dramatic satisfaction for me.
In contrast, the Mayans team now realises race is not ‘just’ a plot device. The team have learned it is not merely a question of substituting white characters for Latino and Native Americans. Mayans takes in the characters’ heritage (for want of a better word) to power their worldviews and their actions to the various situations and dilemmas they face within the plot.
This can only be done via an inclusive writing room and new showrunner Elgin James really deserves his place at the head of the table. MORE: Why Mayans M.C’s Coco is such an unusual male character.
This line,”The men of SOA live in a hideous, violent world …”, summed it up for me. I don’t want to live in a world like that. I don’t want to read about or watch shows about a world like that. Most of all, I don’t want to write about a world like that. Your choice of example material obscured your lessons about story telling from me. I don’t even want to read about this world as an example of anything but peoples inability to understand that THEY are the author of THEIR experience.
Sorry if I missed your point. I had watched SOA for a time but just could not endure the violence. Now I avoid that kind of “entertainment”.
Did you think a show about motorcycle gangs would be about love, rainbows and kittens? 😉
‘I don’t even want to read about this world as an example of anything but peoples inability to understand that THEY are the author of THEIR experience.’
Yes, you absolutely did miss the point of this post I’m afraid … Writers need to understand crime fiction is popular not because of audience’s inherent character flaws, but because it offers catharsis as a way to process the various injustices of the world. Also, by putting the onus on the individual via your comment, you’re also forgetting crime springs not only from a person’s bad choices but also systemic injustices that may leave said individuals with such limited options in the first place. More about both these things, HERE.
Mayans took a while to grow on me, but I’m really enjoying it now. It’s great to see a story with some genuine ethnic diversity, and the world it portrays is so much more complex and dangerous than that of SoA.
I’m currently rewatching Game of Thrones and with both shows it’s driving home how movies have changed over the years. Back in the old days it was easy to identify the good guy, he’d just shoot all the bad guys and be a hero. Later on the good guys became morally ambiguous because they had to break some serious boundaries to do the “right” thing. Now in shows like GoT and Mayans there seldom is a clearly “right” thing and every decision or action becomes a trade-off between who you’re going to help and who you’re going to hurt.
I love watching those shows but I don’t think I could write a story like that. I need a good guy!
Incidentally I recall an interview with Kurt Sutter where he mentioned that he took the storyline of Juice being partly black from the Hells Angels. They have a no-black membership policy, and even though many of them have good friends among black biker gangs, many others are openly racist so they keep the rule and avoid conflict. It seems they’re somewhat more open to Latino members.
I don’t know if Juice’s life would actually be in danger in real life though, especially in the SoA world where no one seemed particularly racist.
Yes, Sutter took many bits of inspiration from real life gangs and I knew the Hells Angel bylaw. For me it was the execution that was the problem, it just wasn’t very compelling which was a shame when it included the murder of a Son and ‘Mr Mayhem’. I’d have to disagree the Sons werent that racist though, Piney’s vendetta and foul rants against the Niners and Clay’s about ‘w*tbacks’ suggests the Original 9 were racist A.F … which could have been contrast against the new generation’s thoughts on the topic but it wasn’t really. It felt like the writing team painted itself into a corner on this