For “Mayans M.C.” co-creator and showrunner Elgin James, “it’s a hundred percent of myself in everything” when it comes to drawing from his own life experiences to tell the story of a biker gang in this series spun off from “Sons of Anarchy.” He has firsthand experience of life in a gang, so “it all started autobiographically for me.” We talked to James as part of our “FX Writing for Inclusion” panel. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
James suffered a turbulent childhood, and then as an adult he was a founder of the gang FSU, which clashed with white supremacists in the punk rock subculture. His past criminal activity eventually led him to be incarcerated in 2011 — the same year his debut film, “Little Birds,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Now his lived experiences inform his work on the FX drama.
James acknowledges that “Mayans” received push-back early on for “perpetuating these Black and brown stereotypes,” portraying its predominantly Latinx characters as criminals. But what distinguishes this series is who’s telling that story. “Now we have people on our show like myself, like other actors … who actually grew up in this cycle of incarceration, of violence, of not being safe in your home, of finding solace in the street in a gang, of learning to express yourself only through violence.”
Now that he’s the one controlling the narrative, he hopes to bring more reality and authenticity to it than other writers who may have over-simplified or glorified this kind of lifestyle in the past. “We’re trying to tell what it’s like, and it’s not what people fantasize about. It’s not this wish-fulfillment of violence with no repercussions. It’s all about repercussions.”
James describes his criminal history as a “body bag of shame that I carry walking into any room,” which is why “Mayans” is so personal to him. Writing the show is like “trying to get all that, all of your heartbreak, all of your joy if you have any, all of your hope and then mostly just anything that’s broken inside of you on the page,” and then “these brilliant actors come and pick it up and … make it flesh and blood.”
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