There’s this great interview on the Lone Star Criterion disc between you and director Gregory Nava. In it, you talk about a trip you took to the Alamo when you were shooting your cameo in Piranha. It feels like that trip built a throughline straight to Lone Star’s final momentous line of Pilar saying, “Forget the Alamo”. Did that trip instantly fuse that concept into your head of wanting to make a film about how we should, indeed, forget the Alamo?
John Sayles: Yeah, it made me think about the legend and the idea of ‘Why do we have legends?’ Some of it is to tell ourselves and the world, “This is who we are. This is how we got there, and this is something to celebrate that we did that defines us.” I started thinking about how legends can eventually become destructive when they’re so far from the truth and when they leave the reality of the present out. The first thing in those days, when you walked into the Alamo, that you saw was a not-especially-good oil painting. It was an oil painting, [but] not of somebody’s imagination of the day of the attack. It was an oil painting of the three stars of the John Wayne version of The Alamo—so it’s Laurence Harvey and Richard Widmark and John Wayne.
I said, “Oh, okay. Here’s the legend. Here’s Hollywood right in the place.” The Daughters of the [Republic of Texas] put that there, and there was this demonstration by some Chicano people outside who were saying, “Why don’t you tell the whole story?” I started looking into the story a little bit more, and I knew some of the history, but I was just feeling like, ‘Oh, wow.’ The important part of the legend is that one of the main freedoms the Texans were fighting for was the right to have slaves because Mexico had outlawed slavery. That’s always left out.
It’s not just Texas. I mean, the stuff that I was taught growing up in New York state about our history was pretty bogus as well. As we know today, that scene [in Lone Star] where the teachers and parents are arguing about how history is going to be taught, well, that’s still going on. That scene could have been shot yesterday. In some states, the state has decided, “Well, we’re not going to leave it up to the teachers and the parents. We’re going to say how you have to teach history, and you better leave a lot of the truth out.”
That scene certainly had me thinking about the discourse these days around critical race theory, and how heated that has become in the last few years especially. Lone Star does a great job of interrogating how this country and its education system has been formed under these white supremacist and white patriarchal hierarchies. How much legacy is determined by who is allowed to tell the story to the next generation.
Like a lot of my movies and novels, Lone Star deals with a lot of different camps who have their reason to feel like, “Well, this is our group and that’s those other groups.” Then it talks about how they affect each other and what their picture of that other group is. What I was interested in is how nobody starts from scratch. Even the history that you have comes from the group that you were born into. You may choose to or not choose to look into that history and question it, so it’s a lens. Critical race theory is a very specific lens to look at history. It’s not the only way to look at history. You could do it from a feminist perspective, or a class perspective. So, if you’re a Marxist, it’s “Oh, forget all that ethnic stuff. It’s really all about class.”