By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
|Photos by Gregory Bojorquez|
Manuel "Manny" Jimenez is one enterprising cholo. A wiry, 30-year-old Chicano of small stature and king-size ideas, he looks deceptively youthful in a Tribal Wear jersey, baggy denim shorts and Skechers. With his elbows planted on the table, chin resting in his palms, you can almost hear the gears turning behind his calculating eyes.
With an audience of 10 barrio bangers of varied affiliations listening pensively, Jimenez cuts to the chase. "We made it out of a fuckin' life, that . . . we seen death, you know?" he says, his presence overshadowing his diminutive size. "We been in places that Hollywood will never fuckin' understand. We're not ex-gangsters trying to forget where we come from. We're not forming another gang. We're businessmen. Entrepreneurs."
Jimenez is holding court in a meticulously maintained, three-bedroom house in the flats of Lincoln Heights, a working-class Latino neighborhood just east of downtown that was once host to the world's largest alligator farm. Stella (one name, like Cher), a razor-sharp, "sisters-are-doin'-it-for-themselves" Latina, adjusts her fuzzy pink pillbox hat and peers over the top of her vintage cat-eye glasses. The Ozzie Dots, Chicana-kitsch factor inside the house is really high, and I begin to suspect that "Suspect Central" doubles as Stella's domicile. Even so, this is the belly of the beast, the headquarters of a multifaceted talent agency/production company called Suspect Entertainment.
Following the pep talk, Jimenez, "the shot caller," looks happy. He leans back in his chair and smiles widely. His hard work is paying off, and his vision of the future is rosy. But that wasn't always the case, not back when he was in the life. He says his inspiration to change came in a flash.
"After I got finished fighting my home-invasion robbery case that I beat, I got a job at Toys R Us working with kids and women," he says. "I tripped, cuz I got employee of the month. Later, I was watching Quentin Tarantino on Jay Leno, and he said anyone could come to Hollywood. They don't care if you have felonies as long as you show up and do their thing. I said, 'Fuck that!' The light bulb went on."
Jimenez had already done time and didn't want to waste any more. "I had my pregnant girlfriend drive me to Hollywood and drop me off, and I would try to get into movie studios. I would say, 'What do I got to do?' Finally, some guy gave me a number. The guy said, 'They're looking for Mexicans. You got any friends?' And they gave me a job. Free food, hotels, women. They don't take your fingerprints. I said, 'Fuck it. I'm going to work in the movies.'"
Nowadays, Jimenez doesn't just work in the movies, he's carved out his own lucrative slice of the industry's pie. Call it gangster chic, but in the fast and furious climate of "cholo cinemania," where studio execs know that authenticity equals dollar bills at the box office, Suspect Entertainment provides the real thing. It's a growth business, for sure, but one that has some influential Latinos wondering whether it perpetuates negative stereotypes.
Suspicious minds. Manny
Jimenez and his Suspect crew.
From left to right: Sal
Sanchez, Noel Guglielmi, Estevan
Oriol, Danny Venegas (with
Jimenez), Gabby Medina, Luis
They met by chance about a year ago, when both spoke on a panel for a nonprofitentertainment-industry mentoring program called "Streetlights." Though Jimenez had already earned a reputation as a guy who could deliver cholo culture in quantity — from lowriders to tattooed "gangstors" — Suspect Entertainment became a formal business shortly after he and Stella hooked up. Suspect's first venture was an antismoking "truth" commercial in urgent need of 350 Latino extras. Stella didn't bat an eye. "Manny can fill a stadium with gangbangers, but they need all types of Latinos," she says. "We went to the park in Montebello, called friends and family. Most Mexican families are really big, so it was easy."
Jimenez's phone has been ringing off the hook ever since. He worked as a consultant on Training Day. More recently, Suspect supplied 25 people as background talent for the yet-to-be-released Clark Johnson film S.W.A.T., starring Samuel L. Jackson. Mario Aguilar and Maria Galvez, talent from Suspect's roster, got two speaking parts, and more are reportedly on the way. The Suspect lineup also provided talent for small roles in the forthcoming Charlie's Angelssequel. Small though they are, these speaking parts represent a shift in Suspect's services away from providing extras and scenery (in the past, Jimenez culled together all the street-racer cars for The Fast and the Furious) to more essential roles in the movie and television business. FX Network's hit show The Shield cast Suspect actors Mario Aguilar and Cesar Garcia as day players and employed Jimenez himself as a stunt player on the show.
Suspect's ghetto-elite clientele have worked on the biggest with some of the best. They have appeared in roles opposite Denzel Washington, Jennifer Tilly and Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Wagner and Faye Dunaway. They've worked on a slew of commercials for the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Pennzoil, Pep Boys, and Jack Daniel's Hard Cola. Their music-video credits include Snoop Dogg, Dru Hill, Cypress Hill, Mary J Blige, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera.
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