The IUSB Vision Weblog

The way to crush the middle class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation. – Vladimir Lenin

Are Latinos (finally) Breaking Cinematic Stereotypes?

Posted by iusbvision on January 25, 2008

For many decades, Hollywood’s depiction of Latinos has been marred with stereotypes and misconceptions. To look in Hollywood circa 1930 for a film that did not in some shape or form depicted Latinos in a condescending way would be an exercise in futility. Latinos were often pigeonholed as either the exotic bon vivant, rotund dictator from south of the border, or the jolly bearded outlaw taking his siesta under a cactus after taking orders from the Anglo posse leader or the sheriff.

What is even more disheartening is that, sometimes, those stereotypes were reinforced by some of their own. From Cantinflas to Carmen Miranda, the few Latino actors in a position to establish or represent a more accurate portrait of Latinos in North America often perpetuated the stereotypes even further.
Luckily, not all is lost. Thanks to the vision and talent of actors – and pioneers – such as Cesar Romero ( of the TV Series Batman fame) and later with Edwards James Olmos, Selma Hayek and Antonio Banderas to name a few, Hollywood began to slowly recognize the flair and performing ability of Latino actors as appealing to the American mainstream for more than just their exoticism.

In recent years, that paradigm has extended even further. As the Latino demographic expands, Hollywood has become more receptive to the works of Latino directors and producers, and their films have began to compete mano-a-mano with their Anglo counterparts in awards such as The Oscars, Golden Globe, and Sundance.
In addition, moviegoers are beginning to warm up to the concept of films made entirely in Spanish or Portuguese, with English subtitles. The list is a who’s who of talent Hollywood right how: The Motorcycle Diaries, Y tú Mama También, Central do Brasil, and the upcoming Tropa de Elite are all fine examples of the new wave of Latino filmmaking that is breaking down the boundaries and finally establishing Latinos in Hollywood as cinema powerhouses.
Here are three examples of just such movies:

In Joshua Martson’s Maria Full of Grace, Catalina Sandino Moreno plays Maria, a pregnant seventeen year-old Colombian who supports her family with her salary as a campesina. After losing her job and facing a total lack of perspective of finding a new job, she decides to accept the offer to work as a drug mule, flying to the USA with sixty-two pellets of cocaine in her stomach. The film has earned accolades from the 2004 Sundance Festival and the 2004 Berlin Film Festival, earning Sandino Moreno an Oscar nomination in 2004 for Best Actress.

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth tells a story of a girl in 1944 fascist Spain who is fascinated with books and fairy tales. She is sent along with her pregnant mother to live with her new stepfather, a ruthless captain of the Spanish army. At night, she enters a fantasy world that is beautiful and charming, as it is terrifying. Pan’s Labyrinth has earned 3 Oscars in 2007 and numerous other awards in festivals throughout the world.

Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles’ City of God describes the saga of Buscapé and Marreco, two brothers struggling to survive in Cidade de Deus, one of the most violent slums of Rio. While one becomes a photographer, the other becomes a drug dealer in Rio’s crime underworld. At the center of Buscapé’s narrative is Zé Pequeno, a local drug lord, as a merciless gangster who engages other gangs in wars for drug trafficking territory. Based on a true story, City of God has been acclaimed as the best gangster film since Goodfellas and was nominated for 4 Oscars in 2002.

Ed Lima

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