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Latinos in Film

Summary and Keywords

Latinos have constituted part of the United States’ cinematic imagination since the emergence of motion pictures in the late 19th century. Though shifting in their specific contours, representations of Latinos have remained consistently stereotypical; Latinos have primarily appeared on screen as bandits, criminals, nameless maids, or sultry señoritas. These representations have been shaped by broader political and social issues and have influenced the public perception of Latinos in the United States. However, the history of Latinos and film should not be limited to the topic of representation. Latinos have participated in the film industry as actors, creative personnel (including directors and cinematographers), and have responded to representations on screen as members of audiences with a shared sense of identity, whether as mexicanos de afuera in the early 20th century, Hispanics in the 1980s and 1990s, or Latinos in the 21st century. Both participation in production and reception have been shaped by the ideas about race that characterize the film industry and its products. Hollywood’s labor hierarchy has been highly stratified according to race, and Hollywood films that represent Latinos in a stereotypical fashion have been protested by Latino audiences. While some Latino/a filmmakers have opted to work outside the confines of the commercial film industry, others have sought to gain entry and reform the industry from the inside. Throughout the course of this long history, Latino representation on screen and on set has been shaped by debates over international relations, immigration, citizenship, and the continuous circulation of people and films between the United States and Latin America.

Keywords: Latinos, film, cinema, stardom, audiences, moviegoing, transnational, Dolores Del Rio, Carmen Miranda, Robert Rodriguez

Latinos have constituted part of the United States’ cinematic imaginary since the emergence of motion pictures in the late 19th century. Though shifting in their specific contours, representations of Latinos have remained consistently stereotypical; Latinos have primarily appeared on screen as bandits, criminals, nameless household workers, or sultry señoritas.1 As a form of discourse these representations have both been reflected in and shaped by broader political and social issues. The history of Latinos on and in film requires that we examine multiple aspects of cinema: representation on screen, reception, and participation in the production of images.

In short, the history of Latinos in film should not be limited to the topic of representation or films that deal with Latino themes or feature Latino characters. Latinos have participated in the film industry as actors, creative personnel (including directors and cinematographers), and have responded to representations on screen as members of audiences with a shared sense of identity, whether as mexicanos de afuera in the early 20th century, Hispanics in the 1980s and 1990s, or Latinos in the 21st century. Their participation in production and reception have been shaped by the racial economy that characterizes the film industry and its products. Hollywood’s labor hierarchy has been highly stratified according to race, and Hollywood films that represent Latinos in a stereotypical fashion have been met with resistance from Latino audiences. While some Latino/a filmmakers have opted to work outside the confines of the commercial film industry, others have sought to gain entry and reform the industry from the inside. In broad strokes, the history of Latinos and film has been marked by the discrimination Latinos have experienced in the United States, the proximity and ongoing circulation of both people and films from Latin America, and tensions between resistance and accommodation to the demands of the mainstream film industry in the United States.

The Silent Period: The Greaser and the Señorita

The first Latinos to appear on the American screen seem to have been Pedro Esquivel and Dionicio Gonzalez, members of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, who were captured on film performing what was a stock number in the traveling pageant, The Mexican Knife Duel (1895). Though this film no longer exists, it is reasonable to assume that it was shot at the same time that Thomas Edison’s staff recorded the performances of other members of the company, just after the show had attracted large audiences in Brooklyn, New York. Their screen debut, in the context of the earliest extremely short films designed to play to audience familiarity with the vibrant world of vaudeville and touring shows such as that of Buffalo Bill, clearly lays out the terms of early filmic representations of Latinos. While the misspelling of Esquivel’s name in the catalogue of Edison films as Esquirel (squirrel) might be overlooked as an error, the subject of the short film (a knife “duel”) conforms to stereotypes of Latinos as “bloodthirsty,” somewhat unsophisticated, and cruel: stereotypes that had been in circulation for decades in popular literature and visual culture. The Edison Company, like its French counterpart Lumière, also went to Mexico, where its cameramen photographed short films, actualités, or topical films that recorded current events or everyday life, marketed as the Mexican International R. R. Series. Wash Day in Mexico (1898), one film from that series preserved in the Library of Congress, depicted women engaged in the “primitive” act of washing laundry in a stream. As these examples suggest, Latinos earliest appearances on screen emphasized customs and behavior that marked them as racially inferior.

In addition to films that captured scenes from everyday life, American filmmakers found a compelling subject in the Spanish American War.2 In 1898 the Edison Company, among others, made the war a central topic. Cameramen made films related to the events leading up to the United States’ declaration of war, including the sinking of the battleship USS Maine, which had been sent to Cuba to protect American interests and the military’s preparations prior to sending troops there. They also filmed important events during the war and even re-created events, such as battles, that were difficult to film. At the end of the military engagement in Cuba, film production companies shot films of returning military personnel before turning their attention to the revolution in the Philippines. These films offered audiences not only moving images of current events but also representations of American imperial power in the Caribbean.3

Though Cuba and Puerto Rico would serve as the backdrop for twenty-three feature-length films before 1930, Mexico and the borderlands constituted the most enduring and popular Latino subject for American filmmakers, generating over a hundred titles during the same period.4 Beginning in the first decade of the 20th century, as narrative fiction films replaced actualities documenting contemporary life, male characters explicitly or implicitly identified as Mexican (or hispano) were consistently depicted as duplicitous if not criminal. Latinas, though they appeared less frequently, were typically characterized as oversexed and temperamental. The Greaser’s Gauntlet (1908) directed by a young D. W. Griffith for American Mutuoscope and Biograph, offers one example. The plot of the story revolves around a young Mexican man who leaves his home in the Sierra Madre mountains to make his way in the world of Anglo settlers. In a series of fateful twists, he and a beautiful young Anglo woman save one another. Having been rescued, José returns home to his mother and, presumably, a quiet, productive life. Motion Picture World called the film “a continuous concentrated absorbing thrill.”5 This film affirms another set of conventions in terms of the representation of Latinos on screen during the silent period. Though designated by the trade press as the “hero” of the film, Jose is weak, unable to function productively in the racially stratified world of US-Mexico borderlands and ultimately unassimilable into Anglo society where he will always be an outsider.6 Stories of this type established the basic coordinates of Latino representation in the earliest years of American cinema.

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Figure 1. Broncho Billy and the Greaser (Dir. Gilbert M. Anderson; Essanay Film Manufacturing Co., 1914) exemplifies the “Greaser” film cycle popular in the late aughts and early teens.

The Mexican revolution would subtly shift the terms of representation and introduce Latino, or more precisely Spanish-speaking or ethnic Mexican audiences, as audiences with opinions about the representations they saw on screen. Mexico’s civil conflict provided US filmmakers with sensational material that proved attractive to audiences across the country. Practically every major film production company sent cameramen to Mexico to document the conflict for weekly newsreels such as the Pathé’s Weekly and the Selig-Hearst Weekly. What is more, some production companies began to craft narratives around “Mexican” characters in storylines about border violence in fiction features, serials, and comedies. Though there are too many titles to discuss here (most of which cannot be viewed today), examples include independent productions such as The Mexican Rebellion (1914) a three-part drama about an American soldier of fortune; comedies such as Joker’s The Mexico Mix (1914) a half-reel “burlesque on the Mexican Revolution”; and the 1916 Kay-Bee film Lieutenant Danny U.S.A., a feature film that took up the topical issue of border preparedness and Mexican banditry.7

The Mutual Film Company feature, The Life of General Villa (1914), constitutes perhaps the most famous example of the US film industry’s fascination with the revolution. In early 1914 General Francisco “Pancho” Villa entered into a contract with the Mutual Film Company, agreeing to participate in the making of a film that would be part documentary and part fiction in exchange for funds his forces desperately needed. Though the film no longer exists, some accounts of its filming suggest that Villa helpfully scheduled battles at times with the best light for filming; the final film, however, relied on reconstructions of battles—a common practice at the time. Though Villa was unusual in contracting with an American firm, all of the revolutionary generals had camera crews, Mexican and frequently American, that followed them, making topical, documentary-style films that brought the major battles of the revolution to audiences in Mexico and in Anglo and ethnic Mexican communities on the US side of the border.8

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Figure 2. An advertisement announcing the exhibition of films about the Mexican revolution at the Teatro Soledad in San Antonio, Texas published in La Prensa, August 28, 1915, 3.

These films, both newsreels and fiction, circulated in a broader visual culture that created racial difference even as it documented current events. Scholars have shown how postcard manufacturers used the ostensibly objective medium of photography to cast Anglo-Americans as spectators at a sensational show in which uncivilized Mexicans fought each other and more ominously threatened American lives and property.9 These types of images also appeared in US newspapers in the form of photographs and editorial cartoons.10 Thus films during this period drew on other media that cast Mexico and Mexicans as foreign and politically naïve if not dangerous.

Spanish-speaking Audiences and their Stars

During this period, the first murmurs of a Latino audience began to be heard in the American film industry. The trade press in the United States—periodicals addressed to film distributors and exhibitors—published scattered notes advising border cinema owners to keep their Mexican audiences in mind when choosing films, while audiences in Texas actively resisted the stereotypical depictions of Mexicans.11 Mexican diplomats and others began to send off reports to the Secretary of Exterior Relations complaining about the stereotypical representations of Mexico and Mexicans that populated American films including early examples such as A Trip Through Barbarous Mexico (America’s Feature Film Co., 1913), which was considered offensive by consular staff in Chicago, for example, or later films such as the Gloria Swanson vehicle, Her Husband’s Trademark (Famous Players Lasky, 1922), the Harold Lloyd comedy Why Worry? (Hal Roach Studios, 1923), and a string of unnamed westerns all prompted Mexicans living in the United States to complain to Mexican consulates. As scholars have demonstrated, the diplomatic backlash generated by these films, which led to a ban on any films produced by the offending companies in Mexico, contributed to subtle shifts in the ways in which Latinos were represented by US film companies. Though the studios still trafficked in stereotypes, producers and directors made efforts to set “Latin” themed narratives in fictional locales so as to avoid accusations of libel by specific countries.12

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Figure 3. Screen shot from Why Worry? starring comedian Harold Lloyd (dir. Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor; Hal Roach Studios, 1923) showing Lloyd’s character, Harold Van Pelhem, and his sidekick Colosso easily defeating a group of Mexican soldiers.

In both small towns and larger cities in the United States, motion picture theaters emerged amidst other businesses catering to the immigrant communities that formed in the wake of the Mexican revolution. Mexican immigrants flocked to parts of the country where Mexicans had lived and worked since before the US–Mexican War, leading to extraordinary growth in Mexican enclaves in cities such as Los Angeles, where the Mexican population grew to almost 900,000 in 1930, making Mexicans the largest Latino immigrant group during this period. Cinemas in Mexican immigrant neighborhoods typically showed the products of mainstream studios with translated intertitles, often in second run, but celebrated mexicanidad through special events, live entertainment, and sometimes when possible with films from Mexico. The largest centers of Mexican immigration, El Paso and Los Angeles, had particularly vibrant film cultures with multiple theaters serving the ethnic Mexican community. Even small towns—for example in Texas or in parts of the Midwest where migrants settled or came for seasonal work—had theaters that catered to Spanish-speaking audiences. These alternate movie-going spaces emerged because throughout the country Mexican immigrants were prohibited or discouraged from attending the same theaters as their Anglo counterparts. In some venues they were seated with African American patrons, another audience that suffered the indignity of discrimination in theaters, restaurants, and other businesses, which prompted some Mexicans to protest. Though rarely represented on screen in ways that would encourage identification, immigrants to the United States were as invested in Hollywood cinema as their Anglo counterparts. While some scholars have interpreted their love for motion pictures and stars as a sign of acculturation or assimilation, their fandom constituted part of Mexican immigrant youth’s self-fashioning as modern subjects, as it did for young people around the world.13

In the 1920s, even as the Latino population in the United States grew, the diffusion and circulation of American films prompted some Latin Americans (primarily Mexicans because of the proximity of the United States and Mexico) to seek out opportunities in the US film industry. Many whose names we will never know surely had their hopes dashed, but a handful became household names in the United States and abroad. Their career trajectories illuminate the racial politics of Latino participation in the Hollywood film industry. For example, Mexican nationals Ramon Novarro and Dolores Del Rio, became international stars in the 1920s. Novarro, whose family had settled in Los Angeles after the revolution, at first played bit parts but by the mid-1920s had become one of Hollywood’s leading men. Del Rio, whose career was nurtured by director Edwin Carewe, attained leading lady status more rapidly. Both were cast in exotic parts. Novarro, for example, played a German crown prince in The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg and, his most famous role was the title character in the historical epic Ben-Hur (1925). Del Rio, meanwhile, played a Russian peasant, French country maid, and indigenous maiden. At the same time that the English-language press promoted her as an exotic beauty, the Spanish-language press on either side of the border tracked her career, carefully monitoring the roles she accepted and those she did not (Del Rio was well known for refusing to take stereotypical roles). The potential scandal of her departure from the life path expected of Mexican women—marriage and family—(particularly those of a certain class) was diffused by accounts of her rise to stardom that emphasized how she came to Hollywood with her mother and then husband. The press praised del Río for her insistence on being identified as Mexican rather than Spanish, a strategy suggested by the studio marketing department. Novarro and Del Rio socialized in the elite circles of the Hollywood while making efforts to support the Mexican immigrant community. Their ethnic malleability, aristocratic and vaguely ethnic looks, and exotic back stories made for good marketing. At the same time, Latino and Latin American audiences claimed these stars as their own, taking pride in their accomplishments and, indeed, the mere fact of their participation as performers in the modern and cosmopolitan world of cinema.14

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Figure 4. A studio still of Dolores del Rio with Edmund Lowe and Victor McLaglen from the film What Price Glory? (dir. Raoul Walsh; Fox Film Corporation, 1926).

Sound and Stereotypes

The coming of sound film complicated the situation for the few Latino actors working consistently in silent Hollywood even as it presented opportunities for other Latinos to participate in the industry. Some foreign stars, not just Latinos, lost their careers as studios discovered that their speaking voices were not conducive to films with sound dialogue. When the major Hollywood studios agreed in 1927 to switch over to sound film production, they recognized that they risked losing the global audiences they had worked so hard to woo by promoting stars and translating intertitles, the text that explained action or provided dialogue in silent films.15 Performers such as Dolores Del Rio, who managed to continue her career, were increasingly cast exclusively in exotic roles in which their accents became significant attributes of the characters they played.

The studios mobilized two strategies in the years leading up to and just after the transition to sound. First, Warner Bros. Pictures, which was a small studio at the time, adopted the sound-on-disc system branded as Vitaphone. Because of the limited amount of recording space the disks provided, the studio initially put its energy into recording short films featuring popular musical or vaudeville acts. Though the details are scant, we know that in February and March of 1929, three Mexican orchestras were recorded: Tajado’s (sic) Tipica Orchestra, Lerdo’s Mexican Orchestra, and Mexican Tipica Orchestra. It is safe to assume that at least one of these films, and perhaps all three, featured the Orchesta Típica Lerdo, the touring ensemble of Mexican composer, pianist, and conductor, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada. Likewise, the Spanish-born, Cuba-trained bandleader Xavier Cugat appeared in a number of Vitaphone shorts as well as in feature films in the 1930s and 1940s. As John Storm Roberts observes in his survey of Latin music in the United States, these shorts represented the beginning of a long relationship between Latin music and musicians and film. In terms of the Vitaphone shorts, Latin music offered entertainment that would both attract Spanish-speaking audiences and appeal to Anglo-Americans who were increasingly fascinated by Latin music.16

The second strategy, which was longer lived and had repercussions not only for the US industry but also for the film industries of many Latin American countries, was that of multilingual production. Put simply, multilingual production meant that studios would produce versions of a single script in multiple languages often with distinct casts. The best-known example of this type of production is the 1931 Spanish-language version of Drácula (Universal).

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Figure 5. A poster advertising Universal’s Spanish-language version of Drácula (dir. Melford; Universal, 1931) starring Carlos Villarias and Lupita Tovar in the Argentine market.

The Spanish-language cast shot on the same set used by the English-language cast, wearing the same costumes, and nominally creating the same film. For the studios these efforts did not work precisely as they had imagined; Spanish-speaking audiences clamored for the stars they knew and loved and culturally specific narratives with Spanish dialogue. For the performers and technical staff who worked on these films, multilingual productions were a boon, providing training and work opportunities in an industry that had typically made space for Latinos either as exotic stars such as Del Rio and Navarro or as unnamed extras or wage laborers engaged in the ancillary activities, working for example as general laborers or in the cafeteria.

During this period, Latinos from many different countries found work as actors but also as voice coaches, script supervisors, assistant directors, and other technical workers. In fact, the studios faced the dilemma of what type of Spanish should be spoken in new multilingual productions. Unsurprisingly, various groups advocated for their countrymen and their accents. Spaniards made the argument that Castilian, with its associations with highbrow live theater and literature, should be employed exclusively.17 And so it went. In practice accents were often mixed or misapplied to narrative situations resulting in Castilian Spanish being spoken, for example, in Caribbean settings. While this sometimes amused Spanish-speaking audiences, it more typically infuriated them. Audiences frequently felt that they were being served second-rate versions of Hollywood films and rejected the new “stars” that the industry tried to impose on them. Historians of cinema have observed that although Spanish-language productions persisted into the late 1930s, much longer than those in other languages, the studios came to see multilingual production as a failed experiment.18

With the decline of multilingual production, many of the actors, directors, and other technicians who had found work in Hollywood returned to their home countries to work in emerging national film industries. For example, the Mexican film industry’s early efforts in the field of sound film relied on talent that had been nurtured in Hollywood. The first sound film, Santa (1931), was directed by matinee idol Antonio Moreno and featured actors Lupita Tovar and Donald Reed (born Ernesto Guillen). Perhaps more importantly, the film made use of the Rodríguez sound system, a sound-on-film (optical) process in which the soundtrack is recorded directly onto the film negative, developed by brothers Roberto and Joselito Rodríguez, both of whom had worked in Hollywood. The Rodríguez system would be used extensively during the first decade of Mexican sound film production. Many directors, both Mexican and those from other Latin American countries (including Emilio El Indio Fernandez, Chano Ureata, and Chilean Tito Davidson) found work in the Mexican film industry after stints as extras, assistant directors, and other technical support positions in Hollywood.19 In this way, sound constituted not an abrupt break, after which Latinos were pushed out of Hollywood, but rather another key point in an ongoing transnational exchange.

Spanish-language Film, Social Problems, and Good Neighbors

The period from the 1930s to the 1960s was marked by the diffusion and increasing popularization of Spanish-language film, primarily Mexican film, in parts of the United States with large Latino populations and a shift in the representation of Latinos on screen from bandits and revolutionaries to stereotypical characters identified by broken English accents or by highly sexualized personas, characters portrayed as foreign, non-white, and fundamentally unable to integrate into US society.

The growth of the Mexican film industry, and to a somewhat lesser extent those of Cuba and Argentina, meant that Latin American films were screened in greater numbers in immigrant communities in the United States. In the 1930s, Hollywood films shared screens with Spanish-language films that increasingly solidified Spanish-speaking audiences’ sentimental and often nostalgic ties to their homeland. In the early 1930s the theaters that had served Mexican immigrant audiences in Los Angeles became the primary venues for the Hollywood’s Spanish-language films and, later in the decade, for sound films from Mexico. Exhibitors targeted Mexican film-going audiences by featuring live Spanish-language entertainment including vaudeville, music, and revistas (topical theatrical presentations). They also highlighted new stars and new genres.20 For example, Alla en el Rancho Grande (de Fuentes, 1936), a Mexican take on the cowboy musical, mobilized popular singer Tito Guizar’s star power, showcased the folk culture being promoted by Mexico’s revolutionary government, and offered ethnic Mexican audiences in the United States a nostalgic view of their homeland.21 As the Mexican film industry grew, Spanish-speaking audiences could see Mexican films at glamorous premiers at the movie palaces that lined Broadway in downtown Los Angeles or as part of the regular program at neighborhood theaters located in the heavily Latino Eastside. Though they have yet to be studied systematically, movie theaters in New York, Miami, and other cities that welcomed large numbers of Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants at mid-century also switched over to Spanish-language film programming to serve those growing communities.22

Indeed, the films and stars of Mexico’s Época de Oro have become such an entrenched part of the Latino cultural imagination as evidenced by the cultural production of Chicano artists and authors that have used them as subject material. A particularly salient example of this resonance can be found in Denise Chavez’s novel, Loving Pedro Infante (2001), in which the protagonist, a divorced Chicana in Texas, sees the long dead Mexican movie star Infante as the model for her ideal man.23 Indeed, as literary scholar Claire Fox elaborates in her essay on fan culture in border literature, Spanish-speaking audiences in the United States have availed themselves of the products of media industries in both countries.24

Latino audiences enjoyed seeing films directly addressed to them or made with them in mind. From 1930 to 1960 more films with Latino characters, themes, or locations, especially Mexico, were made than during any other period. However, cinematic representations of Latinos in the United States continued to focus on characters whose ethnic or racial identity as “other” was foregrounded.25 The career of Lupe Velez is instructive on this point. Velez had been a popular dancer and singer onstage in Mexico City in a popular revue genre that combined political commentary and risqué performances. She came to Hollywood to act first in silent films such as El Guacho, co-starring Douglas Fairbanks, and later multilingual productions. In the 1940s she found a niche in a long-running RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Pictures cycle of Mexican Spitfire films, in which she played a fiery, sexy, wild woman with a strong accent. Her off-screen persona as portrayed in the Mexican press seemedto match her onscreen behavior much to the disapproval of polite Mexican society. The incredibly popular Velez died tragically at the age of the thirty-six, but her career demonstrates how Latino actors found themselves either consigned to minor roles or even as “stars” relegated to characterizations as comic or threatening racial others. Thus, by the 1940s opportunities for Latino performers in Hollywood, which had never been particularly robust, were foreclosed by an increasingly rigid racial hierarchy.26

Social Problem Films

At the same time a cycle of films were produced in the United States that treated Latino characters somewhat more sympathetically, even as they framed Latinos exclusively in terms of the social problems such as assimilation and integration into American society. The first of such films Bordertown (1935), which starred Paul Muni in brownface, took up the question of whether Mexicans could or should assimilate into American society. Other films situated the problem of Latinos in American society alongside issues such as crime, race relations, and labor organizing. These included the noir classic Touch of Evil (1958), which featured Charlton Heston (also in brownface) as a noble Mexican police officer, A Medal for Benny (1945), The Ring (1952), and Giant (1956). A Medal for Benny, about a World War II vet who must confront the prejudices of his small Texas hometown and The Ring, about a young Mexican American man who attempts to box his family’s way out of poverty, not only shed sympathetic light on the experiences of Latinos in the United States but created opportunities for Latino actors to take on leading roles. Whether sympathetic or not, each of these films raised the question of how or whether Mexican Americans could integrate into American society. 27

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Figure 6. A still photograph from the social problem film and noir classic, Touch of Evil (dir. Orson Welles; Albert Zugsmith, 1958), featuring Charlton Heston in brownface as Detective Mike Vargas. Collection of the Author.

The Salt of the Earth (1954, Biberman), which fictionalized the true story of a mining strike in New Mexico, was unusual in approaching the pressing social issue of labor discrimination from the perspective of its Latino protagonists. The film’s producer, director, and writer had all been caught up in the Hollywood film industry’s purge of Communists and Communist sympathizers in the 1940s. The Salt of the Earth differed from the typical social problem film in three ways. First, the film featured non-professional actors in many of the most important roles. Second, the film was shot in a realist style that foregrounded the agency and subjectivity of its Mexican American protagonists. Third, the film carried a strong feminist message. The main character’s dedication to the union cause is contrasted with the way he treats his wife, played by Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas. Over the course of the film, Revueltas’s character awakens to her own political voice and power, as does the character of her husband. The International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW) sponsored The Salt of the Earth. Unsurprisingly, the film, which was suppressed for almost a decade, was denounced by politicians and boycotted by other unions that opposed the IUMMSW’s radical politics.28 Overall, this cycle of films, like others that addressed black-white race relations or labor issues, cast Latinos as a “social problem” that needed remedy and a population that would never fit easily into American society.

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Figure 7. A collage of production stills from Salt of the Earth (dir. Biberman; Independent Productions Co., 1953) on the front of the film history collectible cards series Les Fiches de Monsieur Cinéma, which circulated in France. Collection of the Author.

The Good Neighbor Policy on Screen

Ironically, the era of the social problem film was also the era of the Good Neighbor film. These two types of films can be usefully thought of as two sides of the same coin. The Good Neighbor policy, first articulated by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, came to life again during the Second World War. Broadly conceived, the primary goal of the Good Neighbor policy was to generate and circulate positive images of the United States in Latin America and vice versa. Nelson Rockefeller, chairman of the Office of the Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA), recognized that film and other forms of mass media were perhaps the most important means of carrying this message of hemispheric solidarity. The political aims of the government dovetailed with the political sentiments and economic motivations of the film industry, which sought to replace revenue due to the closure of European markets.29

The industry’s support of the Good Neighbor policy took various forms. First, the OCIAA collaborated with the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association to create a technical advisor position within the Association’s Production Code Administration to police the industry’s representations of Latin America. Subsequently, for a brief moment the industry toyed with sending popular stars to Latin America as cultural ambassadors, a strategy that Douglas Fairbanks Jr. proved was not going to generate the desired results. Perhaps most importantly, the industry endeavored to produce more films with Latin American characters, themes, or locations than it had in the past. Latin American performers, such as Cuban American Cesar Romero, Cuban Desi Arnaz, Mexicans Tito Guizar and Ricardo Montalban, and Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda, appeared in musicals, westerns, and melodramas. For the first time, Latin Americans were portrayed as something other than the ignorant inhabitants of dirty rural villages or the denizens of shady cantinas.

The popularity of musical forms such as the Conga, the Samba, and the Rhumba made the musical a particularly appealing vehicle for the message of Pan-American amity. More than thirty Good Neighbor musicals were produced, but the film Los Tres Caballeros (1944) and the career of Carmen Miranda best illustrate the basic ideological contours of this domestically popular film cycle. Los Tres Caballeros represented the culmination of Walt Disney’s efforts to support the Good Neighbor policy. In the early 1940s Disney sent a group of animators on a goodwill tour that resulted in the combined animation and live action film Saludos Amigos (1942), which comprised a series of shorts inspired by the regions the group visited. Following on the success of Saludos Disney moved forward with another anthology film, Los Tres Caballeros. The film was loosely organized around the celebration of Donald Duck’s birthday. Over the course of the film Donald visits various countries and regions in the company of his friends Joe Carioca, representing Brazil, and Panchito Pistoles, representing Mexico. Beautifully animated and punctuated by catchy musical numbers, the film emphasized Latin America’s lush tropical landscapes, picturesque beaches, and hauntingly beautiful deserts. While upbeat and generally lighthearted, the film consistently characterized Latin Americans as stereotypically sensual and hot tempered.

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Figure 8. Screen shot from Los Tres Caballeros (dir. Ferguson; Walt Disney, 1942) featuring Donald Duck and his co-stars Carioca Joe and Panchito.

Like the popular Disney films, the career of Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda demonstrates another way “positive” representations reinforced stereotypical, even racist, ideas about Latin Americans. Miranda, born in Portugal and raised in Brazil, had become a popular singer and actress in a cycle of popular musical comedies typically organized around a backstage plot known in Brazil as chanchadas.30The chanchada’s depiction of a perpetually playful Rio de Janeiro, proved excellent preparation for the roles assigned to Miranda in the United States. When Fox Films placed Miranda under contract, they hoped to capitalize on the vogue for Latin American rhythms and the popularity she had achieved on Broadway.

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Figure 9. A publicity photograph of Carmen Miranda from the film Greenwich Village (dir. Lang; 20th Century Fox, 1944).

In her first film for Fox Studios, Down Argentine Way (1940), she played herself performing nightclub numbers and quickly eclipsed the film’s starlet Betty Grable. Subsequent film found Miranda in Brazil in One Night in Rio (1941), in Cuba in Week-End in Havana (1941), and dancing on stage in New York wearing what would become her trademark tutti-frutti hat in The Gang’s All Here (1943). Miranda went on to make fourteen films in the United States and in 1945 was the highest paid woman in the United States.31 Miranda’s spectacular career, which thrust Latinas into the highest stratosphere of stardom, rested on her exotic clothing, exaggerated sexuality, and the comedic persona she played both on screen and in the press, which regaled readers with her malapropisms and exaggerated accent. As Julia O’Donnell writes, Miranda “turned her status as a foreigner into her greatest asset in Hollywood.”32 From the perspective of Hollywood, the particulars of Miranda’s foreignness mattered little; the studios managed to eviscerate any national or ethnic particularity in the process of constructing a generalized Latin American identity. And while Miranda became extremely popular in the United States, Latin American audiences were lukewarm about her, as they were about Good Neighbor films in general. In this way, both the social problem film and the Good Neighbor film assigned Latinos a specific place in the national and international cinematic imaginary, while offering Latino performers opportunities within a circumscribed set of possible roles. What is more, the co-existence of these two types of films demonstrate the ways in which, for Latinas and Latinos in film, the domestic and the international were consistently intertwined.

Protested Images, Revolutionary Filmmaking

As the social problem film and the Good Neighbor film suggest, even when cinematic representations of Latinos were positive they continued to be stereotypical. Indeed, another film cycle—the gang film—would emerge in the 1960s and 1970s and would portray Latinos neither as colorful and naïve nor doomed and tragic, but as pathological and violent. Thus, the question of cinematic representation, either in its complete absence or in its promotion of stereotypes, became a key issue taken up by Latino civil rights activists. In the late 1960s, earlier efforts on the part of organizations such as LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens) to address discrimination against Mexican Americans took on a more radical tenor, as members of the Mexican Community began to organize and proudly adopt the previously derogatory label “Chicano.” Activists took up issues of discrimination in housing, education, employment, police brutality, and political rights. Early Chicano activism had three important central nodes: undocumented farmworkers’ struggle for fair pay and decent treatment; student protests against discrimination in education and the need for culturally sensitive educational materials and approaches; and campaigns by activists such as the La Raza Unida Party in Texas to elect Chicanos to office and thus give Chicano communities more political power. Departing from the tactics of previous organizing campaigns by less militant groups that emphasized assimilation, Chicano activists embraced a cultural identity rooted in the struggles of indigenous peoples over the course of Mexican history.

Media activists and their allies protested against stereotypical characters, such as the Frito Bandito character, which the Frito Lay company used to promote its products in TV advertisements and in print media, and Latino gang films such as Walk Proud (dir. Robert Collins, 1979), Boulevard Nights (dir. Michael Pressman, 1979), and Defiance (dir. John Flynn, 1980). 33 They also protested the lack of opportunities for Latino talent in the mainstream film industry. Mass media, including film, became the object of organized political protests by Latinos across the nation, particularly in Southern California and New York.

One prong of this activism focused on Latino access to educational and professional opportunities in the media industries. Activists argued that in order to end racist representational practices, Latinos needed to be able to represent themselves. In the fall of 1968 a coalition of groups and individuals under the auspices of the Mexican American Political Association called for a boycott of Hollywood unless the industry agreed to open more opportunities to Chicanos.34 This protest led to the formation of the short-lived organization CARISSMA (the Council to Advance and Restore the Image of Spanish Speaking and Mexican Americans), which continued to press the issue. In March of 1969, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission oversaw a series of hearings about discrimination against Latinos in the motion picture industry. The hearings led to an agreement on the part of the Association of American Motion Picture and Television Producers and IATSE (the electrical workers’ union that covered most of the trades in the industry) to recruit and hire Latinos and other minorities, an agreement the EEOC could not or would not enforce.

JUSTICIA (Justice for Chicanos in the Motion Picture and Television Industry), which was formed in 1970, led a series of protests directed at the Academy Awards, industry guilds, and broadcast networks. While the organization itself would fold by 1972, its activities bore fruit in the form of the creation of the Chicano produced and directed public affairs program Acción Chicano (1972), which became the training ground for many Chicano media professionals. Protests also led to the creation of critical if also short-lived training programs connected to the two major film schools in Los Angeles: The New Communicators program developed at USC, which disbanded in less than a year, and UCLA’s Ethno-Communications Program, which ran from 1969 to 1973. Out of these programs came many of the professionals who made up the production staff of Acción Chicano and/or provided the documentary shorts that constituted an important part of the program.

While much of this media-related activism focused intently on domestic civil rights issues, Latino filmmakers became keenly aware of the ways in which their struggles were connected with those of their counterparts in Latin America. Many Latino filmmakers aligned themselves with the New Latin American Cinema, a hemispheric cultural movement that eschewed the Hollywood model in favor of a politicized cinema that addressed the social problems of the poor and oppressed. In 1979 a group of Latino filmmakers attended the first Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano de La Habana. Director Jesus Salvador Treviño spoke to the congress about Chicano filmmaking and its political aims, and, most importantly, Latino filmmakers listened to their Latin American counterparts who rejected Hollywood’s commercial cinema in favor of a distinct realist aesthetic. Many media activists found a rich resource in the theoretical writings of Latin American filmmakers who thought of their audiences, not merely as a market of consumers but as an integral part of a radical and oppositional cinema.35 Numerous manifestos issued during the 1970s and early 1980s that sought to define Chicano cinema modeled themselves on those of the New Latin American cinema and organizations such as the Chicano Cinema Coalition (1979–1980) established mechanisms of exchange and dialogue between Chicano filmmakers and their counterparts from other Latino communities and Latin America.36

Chicano Cinema

For Chicano activists, access to training and employment constituted an important site of struggle that went hand in hand with the search for new modes of representation. Cultural production became a key front in the struggle for Chicano civil rights. Poets, playwrights, and others lent their talents to the expression of both cultural identity and the movement’s political agenda. Filmmaking became an important part of this activity as an organizing tool and media in which the Chicano movement could represent its own activities, ideology, and goals and the communities on whose behalf it spoke. The first phase of this production was insistently nationalist. Chicano filmmakers made films about the Chicano community for the Chicano community. The first films made under the banner of Chicano cinema displayed preoccupations with history, class identity, and explicitly political struggles that stemmed from filmmakers’ affiliations with the United Farm Workers and student movements. To take up the most oft-cited example, I am Joaquin (Valdez, 1969), long considered the first Chicano film, adapted the epic poem of Yo soy Joaquin by movement leader Rodolfo Corky Gonzalez. Made on a shoestring budget, the film is primarily composed of an assemblage of preexisting images (photographs, reproductions of paintings, etc.) depicting a male Chicano subject whose identity was grounded in the history of indigenous people in the Americas and whose politics were aligned with the working class. As with other films produced during the late 1960s, I am Joaquin crafted a useable past—in the form of Mexico’s indigenous history, the struggle of Mexican mestizos for independence from Spain, and the revolution—in order to produce a Chicano subject (male, working class, and radicalized).37

Other films made during this early period similarly sought to document Chicano activism and counter mainstream media representations of the Chicano movement and Chicano communities. The New Communicators and Ethno-Communications programs gave students, many of them already activists deeply involved in the Chicano movement, access to training and equipment. They took their cameras to meetings and marches and produced documentaries that highlighted burning social issues. For example, Jesus Treviño’s early films Chicano Moratorium Aftermath (1970), Yo Soy Chicano (1972), and La Raza Unida (1972) were constructed out of footage shot during protests, marches, and activist actions. Another notable example of early Chicano filmmaking is David Garcia’s Requiem 29 (1971), which consists of footage documenting the Chicano Moratorium, a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War and the mass held for slain journalist Ruben Salazar, who was shot during the protest. The film, which moves back and forth between the march and the mass, not only documented Chicano activism but also responded to mainstream media coverage of the moratorium that declared Chicano protestors to be inherently and self-evidently violent.38 Thus, for many Chicano filmmakers Mexico became a cultural resource that helped them elaborate the Chicano community’s status as an oppressed group living on land that had previously belonged to Mexico and the process of resisting that oppression became a central theme of cinematic production.

Nuyorican Filmmaking

Chicano filmmakers who drew on a mythic indigenous past, the historical experiences of discrimination, and contemporary civil rights activism, increasingly found common cause with Puerto Rican activists. Like Chicanos, Puerto Ricans were also subject to discrimination in housing, employment, and education. During the Second World War, New York specifically and the East Coast more generally became the destination for migrants from Puerto Rico seeking better economic opportunities. Their experience differed from those of other Latin American groups in that they moved back and forth between the island and the United States as citizens. A racially mixed population, Puerto Ricans experienced discrimination in employment, housing, and education. While Puerto Ricans in the early 20th century adopted a more assimilationist stance, Puerto Ricans who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s displayed a more confrontational, activist stance.

Like their Chicano counterparts, Puerto Rican activists were responding to established practices of representing Puerto Ricans as violent, criminal, or overly sexualized. When Puerto Rican characters began to appear in American cinema in the 1950s and 1960s, they appeared as juvenile delinquents in films such as Blackboard Jungle (1955) and West Side Story (1961) or as doomed residents of the urban ghetto as portrayed in Popi (1969). Indeed, although West Side Story, one of the most important musicals of the period, offered a relatively sympathetic view of its Puerto Rican characters and served as a springboard for the career of award-winning singer, actor, and dancer Rita Moreno, it perpetuated the notion that Puerto Ricans were unable to assimilate and reserved the leading roles in the film for white performers in brown face. From the late 1960s onward, Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rican communities became stock characters in urban crime films such as Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981).39 These representational practices as well as discrimination in hiring became the object of intense protests. Activists not only sought more positive representations of Puerto Ricans on screen but also turned to film and video to document Puerto Rican history and culture and the day-to-day lives of Puerto Ricans in the United States and on the island.

In the early 1970s the Puerto Rican Education and Action Media Council and its allies pressured local media outlets, even going so far as to occupy the offices of the television station WYNC, to increase the representation of Puerto Ricans in its programming and to provide access to jobs for media makers. Their action led to the creation of the public affairs program, Realidades, which ran from 1972 to 1975 and was headed for its first year by activist and filmmaker, José García Torres. The show became an important venue for the work of Puerto Rican film and video makers. From 1974 to 1975 the program was national in scope and facilitated the exchange of material and the establishment of professional ties between Latino media makers from different regions and ethnic groups.

Among the important documentaries produced during this period were Carlos De Jesus’s The Devil is a Condition (1972), which dealt with housing issues in New York; The Picnic (1976), which depicted families visiting inmates at a New Jersey prison; and Ben Matias’s 1979 film The Heart of Loisaida (1979), which documented the activities of tenement residents to improve their abandoned buildings in New York’s Lower East Side. Other prominent issues treated by Puerto Rican filmmakers of the time included labor issues, music, and the political status of Puerto Rico vis-à-vis the United States. Puerto Rican independent filmmaking continues to be transnational in scope by virtue of the island’s political status and continual movement between Puerto Rico and the United States.

Cuban American Film: Exile and Nostalgia

While Chicano and Puerto Rican filmmaking emerged out of the civil rights movement, Cuban filmmaking in the United States sprung from a radically different set of political circumstances. Huge waves of Cubans arrived in the United States after the 1959 revolution. This population was politically conservative and critical of the leftist politics that animated the revolution. Given this historical context, the films made by members of the Cuban diaspora tended to articulate a different set of politics.

Many films produced by Cuban and Cuban American filmmakers focus on the trauma of exile and forced departure. They frequently produced producing nostalgic images of pre-revolutionary Cuba or critiques of the Castro regime.40 For example, the 1979 film El Super, directed by Leon Ichaso and Orlando Jiménez comically depicted the life of a Cuban family in New York. The father, who works as a building superintendent, longs to take his family to Miami even as they contend with a particularly snowy and cold winter in their adopted home. In another vein, the film Improper Conduct (1984), a documentary directed by Néstor Alemendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal, indicted the Castro regime for its treatment of homosexuals, political dissidents, and other groups deemed dangerous by the state.

Latinos in FilmClick to view larger

Figure 10. Screen shot from the trailer for the re-mastered version of the film El Super (dir. Leon Ichaso and Orlando Jiménez Leal; prod. Ichaso, 1979).

Members of what López calls the third generation of Cuban filmmakers in the United States, who began making films in the 1990s, have produced more avant-garde and independently oriented films. These included Enrique Oliver’s 1994 film Photo Album, which takes up the theme of transculturation or living between two cultures and Raúl Ferrera Balanquet’s meditation on gay Latino identity No me olvides (1992).41 Although Cuban Americans would be included in the broader pan-ethnic rubric, “Latino,” which came into use during the 1990s, the distinct politics of Cuban American filmmaking highlights the heterogeneous political origins of what would come to be called Latino film.

Breaking In

Movement film and video addressed Latino communities themselves, offering them images of themselves as historical subjects, political protagonists, and characters with whom they could identify. But an important strain of media activism that came to the fore in the late 1970s and early 1980s sought to make space for Latinos within the mainstream media industries and to reach a broader audience, in a certain way seeking to educate that audience with stories about Latinos and the historical experiences of Latino communities. Two developments facilitated bringing these types of stories to the big screen in the 1980s. First, though still quite small, the number of Latino film professionals in executive positions or positions with some measure of creative control grew steadily. Second, Hollywood began to recognize the Latino audience as a potential market.

Whereas the early 1970s had been marked by the actions and concerns of distinct groups operating in specific regions and emerging out of specific historical and contemporary community concerns, from the mid-1970s onward these efforts would be gathered under the rubrics Hispanic or Latino. That is, activists and cultural workers from a range of backgrounds worked together toward the common goals of increased representation on screen and behind the camera. The National Latino Media Coalition, was founded in 1977 to advocate on behalf of Latino media professionals around the country. Smaller organizations such as the community-based Cine Acción, which was founded in San Francisco in 1981, actively promoted the work of a diverse group of Latino filmmakers. During this period an institutional exhibition infrastructure comprised of film festivals and university-based venues emerged. Some of the most important festivals to emerge during this period include the Chicano Film Festival in San Antonio, which would later become CineFestival, the National Latino Film Festival in New York, and the Chicago Latino Film Festival. These spaces encouraged pan-ethnic identification by programming film and video produced by Hispanics or Latinos broadly conceived. On the one hand, this strategy was the product of the limited number of films in circulation. On the other hand, it exemplified efforts to support Latino filmmaking by creating broad communities of support and institutions that transcended the cultural nationalism and regionalism of earlier periods.42

Hollywood studios would also try to reach this broadly defined pan-ethnic audience with (relatively) big budget films in the 1980s, a period dubbed by the press as the “Decade of the Hispanic.” Universal Studios’ relatively small investment in the 1981 film adaptation of Luis Valdez’s play Zoot Suit marked this shift. The film was shot in two weeks on a bare bones theatrical set and starred a new face, Edward James Olmos, who played the pachuco, a term coined in the 1940s to refer to Mexican American youth who dressed in flamboyant clothes and ran with a neighborhood clique, in the zoot suit of the title. The film’s narrative addressed the racism that undergirded the Sleepy Lagoon Trial of 1942 and the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. Told from the perspective of the Chicano protagonist the film questioned mass media accounts of Chicano violence. While some critics have argued that Universal Studios failed to advertise the film widely, thus ensuring its failure at the box office, the fact that a Chicano filmmaker—one who had been so closely identified with the Chicano movement—was able to bring a story about a pivotal moment in Chicano history to the screen with the backing of a major studio, represented a significant change in industry attitudes.43

Latinos in FilmClick to view larger

Figure 11. A still photograph from Zoot Suit (dir. Edward James Olmos; prod. Peter Burrell, 1981) featuring lead actor Edward James Olmos. Collection of the Author.

Throughout the 1980s independent production companies and major Hollywood studios went on to finance a significant number of feature films that focused on Latino history, immigration, and discrimination. Examples of independently produced films during this period include The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (Young, 1982), El Norte (Nava, 1984) and Cheech Marin’s comic take on the immigration debate, Born in East LA (1987). Studio produced (or coproduced) films include Stand and Deliver (Menendez, 1988), which tackled issues of inequality in public education, and Luis Valdez’s second feature film, La Bamba (Valdez, 1987), a bio-pic about popular rock‘n’roll singer and guitarist Ritchie Valens (born Richard Valenzuela). La Bamba made more than $60 million dollars, $15 million of which came from a two-week Spanish-language run. While many of these films were celebrated in the press, others came under fire from members of the Latino community for adopting the norms of Hollywood. Thus, this period was characterized by a tension between staying true to the oppositional politics of the civil rights era films and finding a place for Latinos in the commercial film industry.

Despite a few notable successes, which gave Latino talent the opportunity to play well-rounded characters and lead rather than supporting roles, it remained difficult to produce Latino feature films and find distribution for them. In the 1990s studios continued produce and distribute Latino films helmed by performers or directors who had developed significant name recognition. For example, in the 1990s, Edward James Olmos mobilized his star power to direct and produce American Me (1992), a film that took a hard look at the emergence of Chicano gangs.44 Director Gregory Nava was able to parlay the positive critical attention, El Norte received into two films: the generational saga, My Family/Mi Familia (1995) and a bio-pic about the tragic cross-over pop star Selena Quintanilla, Selena (1997).

In the late 1990s and beyond many Latino films, a category for films that deals with Latino themes or feature Latino characters, have been produced by independent production companies or co-productions between media companies such as HBO or the French cable company Canal+ and independent producers. Films made in this manner, many of which have had only limited distribution, include Star Maps (1997, Menendez), the story of a dysfunctional Mexican family in Los Angeles; Piñero (2001, Ichaso), a biographical film about the Nuyorican poet Miguel Piñero; Raising Victor Vargas (2002, Sollett), about a boy growing up on the Lower East Side; and Real Women Have Curves (2002, Cordoso), notable for its feminist themes and for being directed by a woman.

More recently themes common to the experience of many Latinos, such as immigration, family, and the struggle for identity, began to fade as major narrative components. Instead, as film studies scholar Charles Ramírez Berg writes, “Ethnicity is one fact of several that shape characters’ lives and stamp their personalities” in prominent films made by Latino directors. 45 The most visible example of this trend is the work of Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez came to national attention with his independently financed “hybrid exploitation film,” El Mariachi (1993), conceptualized as the meeting point of the American action genre and the straight to DVD “narcofilms” popular among Mexican border audiences. In contrast to the typical action film, El Mariachi’s hero was a sensitive Mexican musician who ultimately defeats the white narco kingpin. 46 The unexpected success of the film led to a remake of sorts, titled Desperado (1995), with a high-profile cast including Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas, and film deals that have included the Sin City and family friendly Spy Kids franchises. Rodriguez has spoken openly about his distaste for sending overt political messages via his films. Instead he mobilizes what might usefully be thought of as a politics of normalization, in which race and ethnicity constitute one part of a given character’s personality and motivation. In the Spy Kids trilogy, for example, the protagonists are a family of spies who are Latino but whose racial or ethnic identity does not drive the story.

Latinos in FilmClick to view larger

Figure 12. A still photograph from Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (dir. Robert Rodriguez; Troublemaker Studieos, 2002) featuring the Cortez family. Collection of the Author.

At the same time, Latino film continues to be a category with currency, especially in independent film. In contrast to earlier films about the historical experiences of border crossing or barrio life, recent independent productions have taken up transnational issues such as access to resources and labor and the experience of newer immigrant groups in large urban centers who maintain strong transnational ties with their home communities. These films are more likely to mobilize genres such as science fiction that not typically associated with Latino film or are set in unexpected locations. Two examples of this shift include Alex Rivera’s dystopian science fiction film Sleep Dealer (2008) and Cruz Angeles’s post-9/11 romantic drama Don’t Let Me Drown (2009), which tells a Romeo and Juliet love story set against the backdrop of the attack on the twin towers and how it affected the lives of New York’s diverse Latino communities, which increasingly includes Mexicans. These forays into new themes, new geographies, and new genres have largely been undertaken as projects outside of Hollywood, either resolutely independent as in the case of Rodriguez, or with the support of programs such as the Sundance Festival’s workshops for directors and writers, aimed at nurturing new cinematic talent.

Navigating Latinidad in Contemporary Hollywood

Before the 1980s many Americans would have been hard pressed to name more than a handful of Latino stars. The “Decade of the Hispanic” not only brought Latino stories to the screen but also introduced the public to a broader set of Latino performers with a high degree of name recognition. Faces and names associated with Latino films produced since the 1980s include Edward James Olmos, an almost ubiquitous figure, Lupe Ontiveros, Esai Morales, Jimmy Smits, and America Ferrera. Puerto Rican Jennifer Lopez, a dancer and singer before turning to acting, starred in Selena, the bio-pic about the Tejana superstar, but has also appeared in films in which her ethnic identity was either downplayed or ignored. As the scholarship on Lopez has emphasized her ethnic ambiguity on screen, publicity discourse about her has focused on her body and biography.47 Simultaneously, stars with a range of ethnic backgrounds have been claimed by Latino audiences as “theirs”—much in the same way Dolores del Rio was in the 1920s—even when they are not typically cast in Latino roles. For example, US-born-and-raised actors Andy Garcia, Cameron Diaz, and Peter Bratt are A-list stars who play non-Latino characters in big-budget Hollywood films and are consistently identified as Latino in the popular press.48

The question of how to appeal to Latino audiences continues to vex major studios. In the 1930s the solution was to make Spanish-language versions, but in the new millennium crossover appeal has been sought via distribution deals for Mexican-produced films that are subsequently marketed to Latino audiences in the United States.49 Producers of mainstream genre films have cannily observed that casting Latinos and creating targeted marketing campaigns around those stars can attract Latino audiences. This has been especially apparent in action films: as film scholar Mary Beltrán observes, Latinas, including Lopez, are cast in ethnically ambiguous roles or in roles where their ethnic identity is acknowledged but does not drive the story.50

The term “Latino” has become a capacious and complicated one for the film industry. Grouping all Latinos whether born and raised in the United States or nationals from other countries together constructs a pan-hemispheric latinidad that conflates the experiences of, for example, Mexican directors such as Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, who attended film school and had a successful career in his native Mexico, with that of a US- born actress such as the late Lupe Ontiveros, whose parents were Mexican immigrants. While this broad category creates a critical mass and allows for the creation of coalitions, it might also be interpreted as willfully disregarding the context and specificity of immigration flows and allowing the presence of international performers to substitute for real attention to the problems of access and opportunity raised by activists in the 1960s and 1970s.

Despite the efforts of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to diversify its membership, in part by inviting twenty-two Latino/as to join, a category conceived of as including foreign nationals as well as US- born Latinos, the participation of Latinos in the US film industry remains by all accounts marginalized.51 Advocacy groups including the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Imagen Foundation, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, the National Association of Latino Producers, and Nosotros, a well-established organization dedicated to supporting Latino actors, continue to press for increased access to jobs and more positive and complex representations on screen. Some successful executives, directors, and actors, such as Moctesuma Esparza, Gregory Nava, and Edward James Olmos, can move projects forward, but many Latino actors still find themselves called on to play supporting roles when they find work at all. As the dearth of US-born Latino performers or creative and technical personnel being nominated for the industry’s top honors, much less being admitted to top film schools, suggests the vexed question of Latino representation on screen and participation in the US film industry remains open.

Discussion of the Literature

The history of Latinos in and on film is a topic that crosses fields of scholarly inquiry; most research on the topic has come from fields other than history, such as film studies or cultural studies. Early historical scholarship focused on encyclopedically documenting the existence of films with Latino, or “Hispanic” themes (e.g., the cinematic representation of Latinos) and the activities of Latinos in the industry, primarily as actors. Three reference volumes by Alfred Charles Richard meticulously list and cross reference titles of films from the silent period to the early 1990s.52 Gary D. Keller’s Hispanics and United States Film: An Overview and Handbook offered brief analyses of the roles played by Hispanics, short biographies of actors, and an overview of genres associated with Hispanic themes.53 This volume was a companion of sorts to the book Chicano Cinema: Research, Reviews, and Resources also edited by Keller, which presented analytic and review essays as well as lists of distributors of Chicano film.54 While not all of the essays are historical in nature they provide a useful introduction to the issues of gender and citizenship that marked Chicano film production to that point. Today, the collection offers students and researchers rich if select primary sources about a key moment in the history of Latinos and US film.

Perhaps the fundamental text on the history of Latino representation in American film to emerge during this period is Allen Woll’s The Latin Image in American Film (1980), which formed the basis for other examinations of the broad historical arc of Latino representation such as Hadley Garcia and Berumen. The documentary film The Bronze Screen (dir. De los Santos, et al., 2002) covers a similarly broad period combining archival footage and photographs with interviews with major scholars and actors. Other important texts on the history of Latino representation in Hollywood film includes the sociologist Clara Rodriguez’s biographical sketches that analysis the contributions of well-known and less well-known actors in Heroes, Lovers, and Others (2004). Finally, film studies scholar Charles Ramirez Berg examines how stereotyping functions and how Latino filmmakers and performers resist stereotypes through an analysis of select films and filmmakers.55

The 1990s signaled the beginning of a rich period of research into the question Chicanos/Latinos in film from within the context of film or cultural studies. While much of this work presents historical information, the methodological approaches employed tend to privilege textual analysis or to approach stardom or industrial structures via the theoretical insights of cultural studies. The majority of important texts published during this period consisted of edited collections of essays that offered focused attention on particular texts or figures. Two stand out as particularly important: Chicanos and Film: Representation and Resistance, edited by Chon Noriega and Ethnic Eye: Latino Media Arts, edited by Noriega and Ana M. Lopez.56

While early literature on this topic focused on representation, documenting the appearance of Latino characters and/or actors, and cataloguing titles with relevance to Latino experiences or history, subsequent research has expanded the field of inquiry in order to consider how specific stars’ racial identity has been constructed; the agency of audiences in resisting stereotypes and, sometimes, influencing the shape of films about, by, or for Latinos; considering the relationship of films and the film industry to their historical social and political contexts; and toward a consideration of the transnational as a useful conceptual framework for understanding the ways that films and film culture have circulated across borders and even around the hemisphere. Works in this more historical vein include Chon Noreiga’s account of the development of Chicano film as an aesthetic and institutional category, which examines how both television and philanthropy shaped Chicano film and video.57

Building on Noriega’s work more recent scholarship has turned from the question of representation to issues of distribution and reception, which lend themselves to historical approaches. Laura Isabel Serna’s transnational account of the reception of American films by Mexican audiences on either side of the US-Mexico border during the silent period eschews textual analysis or issues of representation broadly construed to construct an argument about the claims that institutions and individuals made on the American films that circulated in greater Mexico during the silent period. Colin Gunckel, in turn, offers a thoroughly researched account of moviegoing and exhibition in Mexican Los Angeles before the Second World War. These two books have been complemented by other studies of audiences and reception such as Desiree Garcia’s analysis of the reception of ranchera films by Mexican immigrant audiences in Los Angeles. In terms of research on performers, while no monographs have emerged to date, dissertations on Latina performers such as Lupe Velez and other less well-known actresses likewise employ historical methods and contextualize their activities in specific historical periods.58

The opportunities for historical research on topics related to Latinos and film remain plentiful. Still unmapped at a granular level are audiences and distribution in regions outside of Los Angeles or during the decades after the Second World War, specific stars from mid-century including luminaries such as Anthony Quinn, and the history of media advocacy institutions and arts organizations. Likewise, many performers, executives, and institutions such as film festivals and media groups are ripe for historical investigation. Challenging as it may be, this research, presents opportunities to link cultural and social history and to productively draw from allied disciplines while writing histories of Latino/as on and in film that are sensitive to time and place.

Primary Sources

The primary sources useful in writing the history of Latinos on and in film are diverse and scattered. Collections related to important figures, such as stars, directors, and others involved in the production of films can be found in archives and libraries across the United States and Latin America. These collections range in size and focus. The UCLA Film and Television Archive Chicano/a Film and Television Collection houses feature films, news programs, and documentaries made by and about the Chicano community from the 1930s to today, as well as the records generated in the production of the 2002 documentary, The Bronze Screen (De los Santos, Domingo, and Racho). Other specialized collections include, for example, the Anthony Quinn Script Collection held by the Special Collections Division of the California State University Los Angeles Library and the collection of ephemera contained in the Michigan State University Libraries’ Latinos in Film Collection. Information about specific actors, films, and institutions can be found within larger collections related to the visual arts and the film and entertainment industry. For example, the New York based organization, Puerto Rico and the American Dream (PR Dream) contains film-related material generated by Nuyorican filmmakers amidst its larger collection, as does El Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños/The Center for Puerto Rican Studies—Library & Archives. At the other end of the spectrum in terms of focus and scope, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library holds clipping and photographic files as well as the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival Collection and the Gilbert Roland papers. The Academy is also processing a series of oral histories conducted in 2015 and 2016 with major Latino directors such as Robert Rodriguez, Gregory Nava, and Edward James Olmos and influential Latin American directors and actors including Salma Hayek, Arturo Ripstein and Paz Alicia Garciadiego.

Researchers should not discount material that may be hidden in larger collections. For example, though not taken up in this essay, many educational films made by or about Latino groups in the United States can be found in larger non-theatrical film collections like those held at Indiana University Library’s Moving Image Archive, or the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive at the University of Southern California. Similarly, material related to the San Francisco based film and video nonprofit Cine Acción can be found both in the papers of documentary filmmaker Lourdes Portillo held at Stanford University and the papers of Galería de La Raza, a San Francisco Latino arts gallery and cultural center, that are held in the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Special Collections.

Because Latino performers and films have historically occupied a marginal position in mainstream film and media history, many scholars have relied on careful surveys and analyses of print culture, including magazines, trade journals, and newspapers. For example, the now digitized resources at the Media History Digital Library, including a full run of the Spanish-language trade magazine, Cine-Mundial, offers users the ability to search for specific figures or film titles across titles and time periods. Mainstream English-language publications likewise constitute an important resource, even as they require patient research.

Jump Cut, No. 38, June 1993 [This issue of Jump Cut is comprised almost exclusively of essays on the topic of Latino film some of which are listed in the bibliography below.]

University of California Los Angeles Film Archive, Chicano/a Film and Television Collection.

Media History Digital Library search platform Lantern.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Margaret Herrick Library.

Library of Congress, The Spanish-American War in Moving Pictures.

Cinema Treasures [A website that offers crowd-sourced information on historical movie theaters in the United States and other countries.]

Further Reading

Beltrán, Mary. “Mas Macha: The New Latina Action Hero.” In Action and Adventure Cinema. Edited by Yvonne Tasker, 186–200. London: Routledge, 2004.Find this resource:

    Beltrán, Mary. Latino/a Stars in U.S. Eyes: The Making and Meanings of Film and TV Stardom. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009.Find this resource:

      Berg, Charles Ramírez. Latino Images in Film: Stereotypes, Subversion, Resistance. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.Find this resource:

        Fregoso, Rosalinda. The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicano Film Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1993.Find this resource:

          Garcia, Desirée J. “‘The Soul of a People’: Mexican Spectatorship and the Transnational Comedia Ranchera.” Journal of American Ethnic History 30.1 (Fall 2010): 72–98.Find this resource:

            Gunkel, Colin. Mexico on Main Street: Transnational Film Culture in Los Angeles before World War II. Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

              Jimenez, Lillian. “Puerto Rican Cinema in New York: From the Margin to the Center.” Jump Cut 38 (June 1993): 60–66.Find this resource:

                Keller, Gary D. Chicano Cinema: Research, Reviews, and Resources. Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Review Press, 1985.Find this resource:

                  Keller, Gary D. Hispanics and United States Film: An Overview and Handbook. Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Review Press, 1994.Find this resource:

                    López, Ana M. “Are all Latins from Manhattan? Hollywood, Ethnic and Cultural Colonialism. In Unspeakable Images: Ethnicity and the American Cinema. Edited by Lester Friedman, 404–424. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.Find this resource:

                      López, Ana M. “Cuban Cinema in Exile: The ‘Other’ Island.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 38 (June 1993): 51–59.Find this resource:

                        Negrón-Muntaner, Frances. “Puerto Rican Women Directors: Of Lonesome Stars and Broken Hearts.” Jump Cut 38 (June 1993): 67–78.Find this resource:

                          Noriega, Chon A. Chicanos and Film: Representation and Resistance. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1992.Find this resource:

                            Noriega, Chon A. Shot in America: Television, the State, and the Rise of Chicano Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2000.Find this resource:

                              Noriega, Chon A. and Ana M. López, eds. The Ethnic Eye: Latino Media Arts. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.Find this resource:

                                Pachón, Harry, Louis DeSipio, Rodolfo de la Garza, and Chon Noriega. Missing in Action: Latinos in and out of Hollywood. Los Angeles: The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, 1999.Find this resource:

                                  Pachón, Harry, Louis DeSipio, Rodolfo de la Garza, and Chon Noriega. Still Missing: Latinos In and Out of Hollywood. Los Angeles: The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, 2000.Find this resource:

                                    Perez, Richie. “From Assimilation to Annihilation: Puerto Rican Images in U.S. Films.” In Latin Looks Latin Looks: Images of Latinas and Latinos in U.S. Media. Edited by Clara Rodriguez, 142–164. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1997.Find this resource:

                                      Roberts, Shari. “ ‘The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat’: Carmen Miranda, a Spectacle of Ethnicity.” Cinema Journal 32.3 (Spring 1993): 3–23.Find this resource:

                                        Rodriguez, Clara. Heroes, Lovers, and Others: The Story of Latinos in Hollywood. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Press, 1994.Find this resource:

                                          Rodriguez, Clara, ed. Latin Looks: Images of Latinas and Latinos in U.S. Media. Westview, 1997.Find this resource:

                                            Serna, Laura Isabel.Making Cinelandia: American Films and Mexican Film Culture before the Golden Age. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

                                              Shaw, Lisa. Carmen Miranda. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.Find this resource:


                                                (1.) Charles Ramírez Berg develops this typology in Latino Images in Film: Stereotypes, Subversion, and Resistance (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002), especially pages 66–86. See also Gary D. Keller, Hispanics and United States Film: An Overview and Handbook (Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Review Press, 1994); Arthur G. Pettit, Images of the Mexican American in Fiction and Film (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1980); and Allen L. Woll, The Latin Image in American Film (Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 1977).

                                                (2.) The Library of Congress holds an impressive collection of films related to the Spanish American War, which can be accessed at

                                                (3.) On the ideological aspects of these films and their exhibition see James Castonguay, “The Spanish American War in U.S. Media Culture,” published online at Charles Musser devotes a chapter to these films and their effect on the U.S. film industry in The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 225–264.

                                                (4.) A search of the American Film Institute ‘s online catalogue returns twenty-three films that feature plotlines or locations related to Cuba or Puerto Rico, not including the actuality films made during the Spanish-American war. In contrast feature films with connections to Mexico number over 100.

                                                (5.) Review, The Greaser’s Gauntlet, Motion Picture World, August 15, 1908, p. 126.

                                                (6.) Analyses of this film can be found in Arthur G. Pettit, Images of the Mexican, 135 and Gary D. Keller, Chicano Cinema: Research, Reviews, and Resources (Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Review/Press, 1985), 27; and of the film and “Greaser” films more generally in Rosa Linda Fregoso, meXicana Encounters: The Making of Social Identities on the Borderlands (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 161–168.

                                                (7.) Margarita De Orellana, Filming Pancho Villa: How Hollywood Shaped the Mexican Revolution (New York: Verso Books, 2004). This is an English-language translation of her book, La Mirada Circular: el cine norteamericano de la revolución Mexicana, 1911–1917 (Mexico City: Editorial Moritz, 1991).

                                                (8.) Ibid. See also Laura Isabel Serna, “La venganza de Pancho Villa: Resistance and Repetition,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 37.2 (2012): 11–42.

                                                (9.) Paul J. Vanderwood and Frank Samponaro, Border Fury: A Picture Postcard Record of Mexico’s Revolution and U.S. War Preparedness, 1910–1917 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988) and Claire F. Fox, “Establishing Shots: of the Border,” in The Fence and the River: Culture and Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1999), 41–72.

                                                (10.) See Mark C. Anderson, Pancho Villa’s Revolution by Headlines (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000) and John A. Britton, Revolution and Ideology: Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995).

                                                (11.) José E. Limón, “Stereotyping and Chicano Resistance,” in Chicanos and Film: Representation and Resistance, ed. Chon A. Noriega (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), 3–17.

                                                (12.) On the Mexican Government’s ban on the entry of American films by specific producers see Helen Delpar, “Goodbye to the Greaser: Mexico, the MPPDA, and Derogatory Films, 1922–1926,” Journal of Popular Film and Television 12.1 (1984): 34–41; Aurelio de los Reyes, Cine y Sociedad en Mexico 1896–1930, Bajo el Cielo de Mexico: Volumen II (1920–1924) (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, 1993), 173–206; and Laura Isabel Serna, “ ‘As a Mexican I Feel It's My Duty:’ Citizenship, Censorship, and the Campaign against Derogatory Films in Mexico, 1922–1930,” The Americas 63.2 (October 2006): 225–244.

                                                (13.) Douglas Monroy, Rebirth: Mexican Los Angeles from the Great Migration to the Great Depression (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 168–81; and Vicki L. Ruiz, From out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 51–70.

                                                (14.) Del Rio has been written about extensively. See Linda B. Hall, Dolores Del Rio: Beauty in Light and Shade (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013); Joanne Hershfield, The Invention of Dolores Del Rio (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2000); and Ana M. López, “From Hollywood and Back: Dolores Del Rio, a Trans (National) Star,” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 17 (1998): 5–32. Novarro’s star persona is still ripe for investigation. He has been the subject of a biography aimed at a mass audience, Andres Soares, Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 20002) and is the subject of an essay by historian Ernesto Chavez, “Ramon is Not One of These: Race and Sexuality in the Construction of Silent Film Actor Ramón Novarro’s Star Image,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 20.3 (September 2011): 520–544.

                                                (15.) Donald Crafton, “Foreign Affairs” in American Cinema’s Transition to Sound, 1926–1931 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 418–442.

                                                (16.) John Robert Storm, The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States (London: Oxford University Press, 1999), 85–87.

                                                (17.) See Colin Gunckel, “The War of the Accents: Spanish Language Hollywood Films in Mexican Los Angeles.” Film History 20.3 (2008): 325–343.

                                                (18.) Lisa Jaarvinen, The Rise of Spanish-Language Filmmaking: Out from Hollywood’s Shadow, 1929–1939 (Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012).

                                                (19.) On the Rodríguez brothers see Charles Ramírez Berg, The Classical Mexican Cinema, 60–61.

                                                (20.) Colin Gunckel, Mexico on Main Street: Transnational Film Culture in Los Angeles before World War II (Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015). Desirée J. Garcia, “‘The Soul of a People’: Mexican Spectatorship and the Transnational Comedia Ranchera.” Journal of American Ethnic History 30.1 (Fall 2010): 72–98.

                                                (22.) Information about these theaters can be culled from the website and can likely be found in local Spanish-language newspapers.

                                                (23.) Denise Chavez, Loving Pedro Infante (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001).

                                                (24.) Claire F. Fox, “Fan Letters to the Culture Industries: Border Literature about Mass Media,” Studies in 20th Century Literature 25.1 (2001): 15–45.

                                                (25.) Allen L. Woll makes this point, citing the work of Alfred Charles Richard, in “Hollywood’s Good Neighbor Policy: The Latin Image in American Film, 1939–1946,” Journal of Popular Film 3.4 (1974), 292–293.

                                                (26.) I have focused on female stars here but male stars, for example Gilbert Roland (born Luis Antonio Dámaso de Alonso), likewise saw themselves relegated to stock roles with little or no character development during this period.

                                                (27.) On the social problem film see Charles Ramírez Berg, Latino Images in Film, 111–127.

                                                (28.) James J. Lorence, The Story of Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in the American Cold War, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999) and a set of essays that contextualize the movie and the strike it depicts in the context of women’s history, Michael Wilson and Deborah Rosenfelt, eds., Salt of the Earth (New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY, 1993).

                                                (29.) Allen L. Woll, “Hollywood’s Good Neighbor Policy: The Latin Image in American Film, 1939–1946,” Journal of Popular Film 3.4 (1974): 278–293 and Dale Adams, “Saludos Amigos: Hollywood and FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 24.3: 289–295.

                                                (30.) Lisa Shaw, “The Brazilian Chanchada and Hollywood Paradigms (1930–1959),”Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 44.1, Latin American Film and Media (Spring 2003): 70–83.

                                                (31.) Shari Roberts, “The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat: Carmen Miranda, a Spectacle of Ethnicity,” Cinema Journal 32.3 (Spring 1993): 3–23.

                                                (33.) On the Frito Bandito protests see Chon A. Noriega, Shot in America: Television, the State, and the Rise of Chicano Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 28–50. Boulevard Nights became the target of a boycott and protests led by a group of community college students who had formed the Gang Exploitation Film Committee, Rosalinda Fregoso, The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicana Film Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 23.

                                                (34.) Noriega, Shot in America, 54–58. As Noriega notes MAPA had a very ethnocentric perspective that opened only when it seemed strategic to do so in order to pressure the industry.

                                                (35.) The information in this section is indebted to the meticulous account of these protests in Chon A. Noriega, Shot in America, 51–74.

                                                (36.) The most important of these manifestos are reproduced in the edited volume, Chicanos and Film: Representations and Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), 275–311. On the Chicano Cinema Coalition see Noriega, Shot in America, 158–164.

                                                (37.) Critical interpretations of this film can be found in Fregoso, The Bronze Screen, 3–15 and in Noriega, Shot in America, 4–8.

                                                (38.) Noriega provides a detailed description of the film and the context of its production in Shot in America, 105–111.

                                                (39.) On this history of what he terms “exclusion,” “dehumanization,” and “discrimination in hiring,” see Richie Pérez, “From Assimilation to Annihilation: Puerto Rican Images in U.S. Films,” in Latin Looks: Images of Latinas and Latinos in the U.S. Media, ed. Clara Rodriguez (New York: Westview, 1997), 142–164.

                                                (40.) Ana M. López, “Cuban Cinema in Exile: The ‘Other’ Island,” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 38 (June 1993): 51–59.

                                                (42.) Noriega, Shot in America, 164.

                                                (43.) See for example Fregoso, The Bronze Screen, 21–38.

                                                (44.) On Olmos’ star persona see Mary Beltrán, Latina/o Stars in U.S. Eyes (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 108–130; and Laura Isabel Serna, “Antonio Banderas, Andy Garcia, and Edward James Olmos: Stardom, Masculinity, and Latinidades,” in Pretty People: Stars of the 1990s. Edited by Anna Everett, 123–143 (Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012).

                                                (45.) Berg, Latino Images, 187.

                                                (46.) Ibid, 216–239.

                                                (47.) There has been a tremendous amount of scholarship by Cultural Studies scholars on the topic of Lopez’s stardom: Frances Negrón-Muntaner, “Jennifer’s Butt,” Aztlán 22.2 (Fall 1997): 181–194; Deborah Paredez, “Remembering Selena, re-membering Latinidad,” Theatre Journal 54.1 (March 2002): 63–84; and Mary Beltran, “The Hollywood Latina Body as a Site of Social Struggle: Media Constructions of Stardom and Jennifer Lopez’s ‘Cross-over Butt’” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 19.1 (January 2002): 71–86.

                                                (48.) On the construction of Latino stardom from the silent period to the twentieth century see Mary Beltran, Latina/o Stars in U.S. Eyes (Urbana: University of Illinois press, 2009).

                                                (49.) The Mexican film No se aceptan devoluciones/Instructions not included (Derbez, 2013), was widely and successfully distributed in the United States by Pantelion Films, a joint venture of Lionsgate Films and Televisa, distribution firm that focuses on reaching Latino audiences in the U.S. by producing films aimed specifically at that audience or marketing Mexican films that have been produced with cross-over appeal in mind.

                                                (50.) Mary Beltran, “Mas Macha: The New Latina Action Hero,” in Action and Adventure Cinema, ed. Yvonne Tasker, (London: Routledge, 2004), 186–200.

                                                (51.) See for example, Greg Kilday, “Latinos Applaud Their Inclusion Among New Academy Members,” Hollywood Reporter, June 28, 2013, accessed at Their invitations, widely reported by ethnic media outlets, came on the heels of a Los Angeles Times 2012 report on the lack of diversity amongst the Academy’s membership.

                                                (52.) Alfred Charles Richard, The Hispanic Image on the Silver Screen: An Interpretive Filmography from Silents to Sound, 1898–1935 (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992); Censorship and Hollywood’s Hispanic Image, 1936–1955, Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993; and Contemporary Hollywood’s Negative Hispanic Image an Interpretive Filmography, 1956–1993 (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994).

                                                (53.) Gary D. Keller, Hispanics and United States Film: An Overview and Handbook (Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Review Press, 1994).

                                                (54.) Gary D. Keller, Chicano Cinema: Research, Reviews, and Resources (Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Review Press, 1985).

                                                (55.) Charles Ramirez Berg, Latino Images in Film: Stereotypes, Subversion, and Resistance (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002. See also, Angharad Valdivia on contemporary images of Latino/as in a range of media. Latino/as in the Media (New York: Polity Press, 2010).

                                                (56.) Chon A. Noriega, ed. Chicanos and Film: Representation and Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992); Chon A. Noriega and Ana M. López, eds. Ethnic Eye: Latino Media Arts (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

                                                (57.) Chon A. Noriega, Shot in America: Television, the State, and the Rise of Chicano Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2000).

                                                (58.) Kristy A. Rawson, “A Trans-American Dream: Lupe Velez and the Performance of Transculturation,” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2012) and Sandra Garcia Myers, “Shadows of Stardom: Latina Actresses in the 1930s Hollywood Produced Spanish Language Films,” (PhD diss., University of Southern California, 2012).