The film “Zoot Suite” is a based on the actual Sleepy Lagoon murder case and the zoot suit riots of 1940s Los Angeles directed and written by Luis Valdez who I believed created this film to reveal the radical revolution behind the zoot suit itself. The zoot suit was designed during the early 1900s but it was popularized by Mexican- Americans, African Americans, and Italian Americans during the late 1930s and 1940s. It was African American jazz players who first wore these suits while they performed and they were later on adapted by the Mexican American culture in the United States.
There are many historical contexts behind the zoot suit such as the “Zoot Suit Riots” in Los Angeles during the World War II also seen through history as the “Anti-Mexican youth riots” which was a racial tension between Mexicans and Whites. I believe director Valdez’s goal in this film was to portray his character Henry Reyna being trialed for a murder he did not commit, rather because he was the leader of a group and wore the zoot suit which made him very radical and a danger to the authority of his society.
Furthermore, El Pachuco, also wearing the zoot suit was part of Henry’s psychological identity. “Wearing the oversized suit… a declaration of freedom and self-determination, even rebelliousness” (Osgerby), El Pachuco neither aided nor guided Henry towards a negative path but as the free conscious side of Henry, he reveals the reality and hatred of the people who Henry himself wanted to fight for through the re-visitation of Henry’s past.
Finally, after the visitation of his past, at the end, it is learned that Henry and three other of his friends were guilty of murder without any sort of evidence, which shows the audience that part of the theme was that segregation/ prejudice against “others” still existed in the society even after participating to fight for the country.
Those who wore the zoot suites saw this “stereotype” in their society and decided to be different and unique both culturally and psychologically which is why wearing the zoot suite becomes so radical in terms of individuals wearing it were perceived differently, and perhaps even better than whites for having their own uniqueness. The suit becomes a sort of an identity that symbolized “different” and “revolutionary”; if the Whites were to continue oppressing the “others” they cannot let them identify their selves which is why the Zoot Suits becomes so controversial during this time of history and even “unpatriotic” to a point.