Eduardo Cisneros & Jason Shuman Discuss Empathy in “Half Brothers”
Family can be testing at the best of times. What if was family was a half brother that you never knew existed? Screenwriter brothers Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman discuss their new film Half Brothers with Creative Screenwriting Magazine.
“Half brothers is about bonding,” said Cisneros. “It’s about empathy. It’s about the challenge of developing the ability to put yourself into somebody else’s shoes and realizing that you have more in common than things that separate you.” Heavy content for a comedy road trip movie.
The original story was developed by Ali LeRoi (Everyone Loves Chris) and Eduardo Cisneros based on his experiences as an immigrant from Mexico. Cisneros was born and raised in Mexico and emigrated to America as an adult in search of professional opportunities. He did not fit the gardener, cleaner, or laborer stereotype that saddles many immigrants. This formed the basis of Renato Murguia (Luis Gerardo Méndez), a successful aviation entrepreneur.
Both Cisneros and Renato’s had difficulty adapting to a new country, not due to his lack of professional qualifications, but due to the stark difference in the American world view. “I was never viewed as an individual with career goals, but only as an immigrant,” said Cisneros.
His own father, the basis for Renato’s father Flavio, (Juan Pablo Espinosa) also had to move away from his family to Mexico City in order to financially support the family during Eduardo’s formative years when he needed him around. “After moving away from my home country, I needed to put myself in my father’s shoes to realize how much we had in common.”
Half Brothers tracks the tempestuous relationship between Renato who owns his own Margui Aviation and his carefree, impulsive brother Asher (Connor Del Rio) after falling for a dying father ruse by Flavio in order to reunite the brothers. This completes the character triad. Screenwriters Cisneros and Shuman agree that Renato is the main character of the film since the story is told through his eyes.
This might be considered an example of a film with three protagonists. “Flavio, Renato, and Asher are the protagonists of their own stories,” said Shuman. “This is a building that you can look at from different sides,” added Cisneros. Shuman’s personal experience with his father also steeped into Flavio’s character. “I never understood my father’s life choices. I didn’t understand why he made so many hurtful choices.” As they got older, they found some answers but also unraveled the complexity of their situations. It was also an exercise in passing judgment on other people’s actions. “Although Flavio and Renato are characters in a movie, their journey is similar to my adulthood,” continued Shuman.
Flavio is a curious character whose key goal is to unite the brothers. He is not necessarily seeking forgiveness from Asher and Renato after realizing it’s too late in the game. “At a late stage in his life, Flavio tried to put his perspective on the story into words in a way that would work for his sons,” said Cisneros.
The arcs of Renato and Asher stems from the writers’ core idea of empathy. “Renato didn’t have much empathy and Asher had too much,” said Shuman. “We looked at where there could be a culture clash [Renato was born in Mexico and Asher was born in America] and where there could be heart,” said Shuman. “We started with this theme and fleshed it out with rich characters that were a reflection of us.”
Some of the inspiration behind the goofy misadventures of the disparate brothers were inspired from movies like, “Trains, Planes and Automobiles and Little Miss Sunshine. We just wanted to have fun,” said Shuman. This is reflected in the sometimes manic energy and tone of Half Brothers. Ultimately, it’s the pathos and pain that holds the film together.
Asher adopted a goat during the course of the movie, which he purposely named Renato. “From a story point, it was so Asher. Of course, he wanted to rescue the goat and bring it on the trip and care for it,” said Jason. Four-legged Renato also spawned endless laughs with the chaos it brought to the road trip. In some respect, the goat provided Renato with some much-needed parenting skills.
Renato is emotionally shut down, Flavio is physically distant, and Asher is disconnected from his old-school Mexican father and his upbringing in a different world. At one point, Asher cries out that everybody gives up on him. To some extent, Flavio and Renato feel the same way. Renato is aware of the work he needed to do to overcome his issues.
Despite their lashing out at each other, the core driver behind Flavio, Renato, and Asher’s behavior stem from their combined inability to connect with someone they love. Renato’s fiancée Pamela (Pia Watson) is the only one that can see it and encourages Renato’s journey. Despite Renato’s reluctance to visit his father in Chicago, she believes it’s essential for their marriage to work. Pamela will still marry Renato despite his inability to express his love for her son Emilio (Mike Salzar).
Renato’s fiancée recognizes Renato’s generosity despite his reserved demeanor. He also takes care of his mother – financially and emotionally.
Renato’s successful career as the owner of a private jet aviation company was no accident. Flying is a symbol of immigration, travel, and not having solid roots. Airplanes are also metaphors for Renato’s tendency to exalt himself and look down on others. Renato is not an employee or partner either. He is self-reliant and doesn’t need anyone else. Flavio was an aircraft engineer before moving to Mexico City and Renato built up on that to illustrate a familial continuity and interconnectedness. “Renato became a heightened version of what his father could ever dream of,” said Cisneros. They are connected no matter how much Renato denies it.
Although Half Brothers isn’t ostensibly a film about the immigrant experience, but it does touch upon certain presumptions and generalizations that many immigrants face. Speaking louder to a Mexican immigrant or enunciating every syllable won’t make them understand you.
Although many immigrants come to America for economic opportunities, many also stay in Mexico and thrive. They wouldn’t consider coming to America. In fact, many Mexican immigrants to America repatriate back home. America is built on capitalism and self-reliance while Mexico leans more towards social welfare policies.
Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman hope Half Brothers spurs conversation that Latin Americans are not a homogenous demographic. “I’m noticing differences between Cubans who live in Miami, Mexicans living in Arizona, and Puerto Ricans living in New York,” Cisneros noted.
And be kind to your brothers.
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