Review: The Short Life of José Antonio Gutiérrez

The life and death of the first American soldier killed in Iraq complicates the ongoing debate on illegal immigration.

The Short Life of José Antonio Gutiérrez
Photo: Atopia

The life and death of the first American soldier killed in Iraq complicates the ongoing debate on illegal immigration. Remember his name: José Antonio Gutiérrez. Born in Guatemala, in the midst of a bloody civil war secretly funded by the United States, Antonio lost his parents at an early age and spent much of his life on the streets and, later, in a series of foster homes after illegally moving to Los Angeles. Filmmaker Heidi Specona doesn’t beat a dead horse, understanding that Fahrenheit 9/11 already exposed the way our government exploits young men of color to fight its foreign wars. The filmmaker artistically reconstructs Antonio’s history by documenting both the lives of young boys living on the streets of Guatemala and adults stealing into our country, allowing their struggle to illuminate Antonio’s story just as Antonio’s illuminates theirs. The deviousness of the White House’s stance on immigration becomes irrefutable when it’s revealed that our administration entices Latinos with green cards to fight in Iraq by promising to fast-track their naturalization, but Specona evinces scant outrage for the gangsters running our government because her commentary on the complicated role Latino immigrants play in this country is largely implicit. It is only her subjects who mention Bush’s name, most strikingly in a scene where a group of immigrant men identify and express solidarity with the slain Antonio. “George Bush should give back what he owes us,” says one, and Specona’s account of Antonio’s heroic struggle justifies the man’s rage.

Score: 
 Director: Heidi Specogna  Distributor: Atopia  Running Time: 89 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2006  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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