Entertainment

These Spanish-Language Films Were Some Of The Best Movies Of 2019 And Need To Be On Your Watch List

Spanish-speaking cinema is perhaps in one of its best moments ever. After the huge success of the Mexican film Roma in the Academy Awards, the film industry’s spotlight has been placed on Spanish-speaking filmmaking coming from Spain and Latin America. Distributors and producers scramble to find the next big thing that can disrupt the status quo. We have selected a handful of movies that show that the region is one of the most interesting today when it comes to film productions.

Latin America is still coming to terms with the colonial past that still shapes everyday interactions, and also with military dictatorships whose right-wing politics are now resurfacing much to the disdain of activists and large segments of the population. Spain has also experienced recent turbulent years that have made Spanish citizens look at the mirror and question who they are.

But there is a common denominator in these films: Spanish language, perhaps one of the most expressive in the world. Some of these films were released in their home countries in the second half of 2018, but only travelled the festival circuit or were released in 2019 in other markets such as the United States and Europe.

Araña (Spider)
Country: Chile
Director: Andrés Wood
Cast: María Valverde, Mercedes Morán, Caio Blat

Credit: Arana Bossa Nova Films

A thriller that looks into the fascist right-wing CIA supported groups that did the dirty work for the government during the Pinochet years in Chile. A testament of the dangers of extremism in the South American country that gains relevance given the current sociopolitical climate, where activists are protesting against the neoliberal policies of president Sebastian Piñera. Wood is one of the most interesting Chilean filmmakers of the past decade and joins others like Sebastian Lelio and Pablo Larrain as the next big thing in the industry, 

Así habló el cambista (The Moneychanger
Country: Uruguay
Director: Federico Veiroj
Cast: Germán de Silva, Dolores Fonzi, Daniel Hendler 

Credit: El Cambista Oriental Features

Uruguay is not what you would call a filmmaking powerhouse, but when one of its films makes it to the festival circuit it is usually with surprising results. This comedy of errors follows a master manipulator and schemer through two decades, from the fifties to the seventies, as the main character finds increasingly convoluted and shady ways to hide money in Swiss accounts. A delicate indictment of capitalist greed. 

La Flor
Country: Argentina
Director: Mariano Llinás
Cast: Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa

Credit: El Pampero Chile

A kaleidoscope in narrative terms, this Argentinian film is made up of six episodes connected by four actresses. This film is as inventive as it gets, as each episode corresponds to a cinematic genre… this movie is film history packaged in a colorful and inventive audiovisual box. The film reminds us of the playful Historias extraordinarias, an episodic movie that reminded viewers of early Quentin Tarantino and his deconstructed storytelling, 

Monos
Country: Colombia
Director: Alejandro Landes
Cast: Sofia Buenaventura, Julian Giraldo, Karen Quintero

Credit: Stela Cine

An intimate war film that follows a group of teenagers who train as commandos in the jungle. Evocative and high in symbolism, this Colombian film reminds us of the intense yet contemplative nature of Coppola and his Apocalypse Now. Colombian cinema is alive and well, and Monos is proof of this. Colombian filmmakers have done wonders recently in showcasing rural identities… please watch The Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente) if you have not already done so. 

La camarista (The Chambermaid)
Country: Mexico
Director: Lila Avilés
Cast: Gabriela Cartol, Agustina Quinci, Teresa Sánchez

Credit: La Pantera

After Alfonso Cuarón revealed how complex the lives of domestic workers, generally indigenous women, is in Mexico, Lila Avilés offers us an intimate look into the soul of a chambermaid who works in a high end hotel. Practically invisible to the people for whom she makes beds and cleans rooms, her existence is an intricate dance of entering and exiting spaces of luxury and the labyrinth-like entrails of the hotel. Unmissable. Lila Avilés will surely become a strong voice in the Mexican and international film industries. 

Dolor y gloria (Pain and Glory)
Country: Spain
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas

Credit: El Deseo Productions

The great Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar gives us what is perhaps his most personal film to date, and finds the perfect alter ego in one of his old collaborators, actor Antonio Banderas in what is perhaps the best role un his already legendary career. Perhaps the best film of the year regardless of language. And you know what to expect from Pedro: a colorful film with exuberant and sexy settings, gorgeous people, stabs at Spain’s fascist past and plenty of double entendres. 

These Are Our Favorite Latinx Comedians Who Have Comedy Specials On Netflix Right Now

Entertainment

These Are Our Favorite Latinx Comedians Who Have Comedy Specials On Netflix Right Now

Riase El Show / Netflix

Spanish is a rich and exuberant language that lends itself to creative use of words. In Latin America, using words in double entendre or doble sentido is a way of expanding the communicative capacities of español. And the comedians listed here let our darkest fears and deepest desires come out bursting as laughter. 

Netflix is investing heavily on Latin American original content, particularly in Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, where the stand up industry is more developed. Through humor, Latino comedians have a knack for talking about touchy subjects in Latin America, such as the traumatic historical past (including processes of colonialism and military dictatorships), gender and sexual diversity, and machismo. However, they do this with pointy comments and provocative acts that are designed to trigger strong reactions (some of them incite strong responses by being overtly open and even a bit inappropriate). If you wanna practice your Spanish, here’s a few titles that you def need to check out. 

Mexico: Franco Escamilla, Bienvenido al Mundo

Credit: Bienvenido Al Mundo / Netflix

Contemporary Mexico is a place of many contradictions, and some would argue even highly divided. Franco Escamilla uses crass humor to talk about his parenting experiences in a moment in which issues such as gender roles, woke culture and globalization have made Mexico a confusing but fascinating place to grow up. 

Mexico: Franco Escamilla, Por la Anecdota

Credit: Por La Anecdota / Netflix

Yes, Escamilla makes the list twice due to the variety of his repertoire. In this earlier show he laughs at himself and his many social shortcomings. This act is a provocation that invites us to rethink what masculinity means today, and how ridiculous it can be when it tries to hang on to senseless tradition. 

Argentina: Fernando Sanjiao, Hombre

Credit: Hombre / Netflix

If you speak Spanish you know how different Argentinian Spanish can be. It takes words from Italian and German… and Argentinians, particularly from Buenos Aires, tend to speak in a dramatic and very expressive way. Sanjiao speaks about masculinity and fatherhood in a hilarious way, talking about anything from the mysterious disappearance of Tupperware lids to how painful tango can be. And like any Argentinian he talks about therapy. 

Colombia: Arango y Sanint, Riase el Show

Credit: Riase El Show / Netflix

These two old timers are a true institution in their native Colombia. They can be judged as using a bit too much political incorrectness as they mock Argentines, dirty old men and everyday Colombians. If you wanna share a laugh with your old man, get a couple of drinks, put this on and build some memories.

Colombia: Alejandro Riaño, Especial de Stand Up

Especial de Stand Up / Netflix

Anyone who grew up in or has visited Bogota will ROFL with Alejandro’s witty social commentary. He is a bit of an ass at times, but he does it for the sake of his provocative style. He discusses issues that define  cosmopolitan life in the Colombian city, such as the dating scene, soccer fanaticism and styles of dancing. 

Mexico: Simplemente Manu Nna

Credit: Simplemente Manu Nna / Netflix

Manu Nna is a non-binary comedian who is open about the challenges and humor associated with being an LGBTQ person in Mexico City. Many Nna draws from Mexican popular culture and references old musicians like our eternal Juanga, as well as telenovelas and the way in which they have shaped the melodramatic psyche of Mexicans for generations.

Argentina: Lucas Lauriente, Todo lo Que Sería

Credit: Todo Lo Que Seria / Netflix

One of the oldest tricks in comedy is making fun of age, particularly if it concerns your own journey into adulthood and grumpiness. Lucas makes fun of different generations, placing himself as a middle-aged man who is starting to realize that hope is perhaps dead. His rants about millennials are particularly funny in their senselessness. 

Argentina: Malena Pichot, Estupidez Compleja

Credit: Estupidez Compleja / Netflix

Pichot takes the feminist flag to raise questions about sex, abortion, inclusive language and those men who just didn’t get the memo that the 19th century was over. A lot of cringe worthy moments that will make you rethink gender dynamics.

Colombia: Liss Pereira, Reteniendo Líquidos 

Credit: Reteniendo Líquidos / Netflix

Some Colombian women are truly hilarious when it comes to explaining the crazy expectations that society places on them (Sofia Vergara, anyone?). Apparently they have to look good and do everything as traditional gender roles are shifting and they also make up an important chunk of the productive force. Liss Pereira navigates the tribulations and involuntary comedic moments that pregnancy brings, Move over Kylie Kwong, we have a new reina embarazada in da house!

Mexico: Carlos Ballarta, Furia Ñera

Credit: Furia Ñera / Netflix

The ultimate dude comedian. He created a persona based on the iconic grunge legend Kurt Cobain. Ballarta does plenty of deprecating humor both about himself and the city of Guadalajara, where he lives with his family. He is real good on stage, and uses his imposing physical presence to give a clumsy but witty vibe. 

Language Learning App Duolingo Has Been Teaching Phrases Like ‘He has to be detained right now’ In Spanish

Things That Matter

Language Learning App Duolingo Has Been Teaching Phrases Like ‘He has to be detained right now’ In Spanish

Mitú / Unsplash

It seems like everyday we uncover stories of discrimination and racism towards communities of color. This week the story stems from the most unthinkable source. One of the world’s most popular language-learning apps, Duolingo, served up two very problematic sentences to a user. His girlfriend took to Twitter to let everyone know.

Needless to say that Twitter was not having it.

Two xenophobic statements popped up on a user’s language-learning app and this is why they’re hurtful.

The fact that sentences like: “Are they legal?” and “He has to be detained right now.” can appear on Duolingo has us floored. They may not be explicitly referring to immigration issues, but the choice of words used is loaded with anti-immigration rhetoric. The word “illegal” carries major stigma in a time of pervasive and systematic civil rights violations against immigrants in the United States. Not to mention the weight that a phrase like “He has to be detained right now” carries in a country where at least 2,654 migrant children – and perhaps thousands more – were taken from their parents and held in government custody while their parents were criminally prosecuted for crossing the border unlawfully.

Duolingo was quick to respond to the backlash on Twitter, arguing that the sentence “Are they legal?” did not refer to people but rather questioned the legality of objects namely “firearms.”

In Spanish, “ellos” refers to people, the sentence is clearly about humans.

However, as several Spanish-speaking users noted on the social platform, the structure of the sentence in Spanish, “¿Son ellos legales?”, leaves no room for doubt on whether or not it’s referring to things as opposed to people. If we go back to Spanish grammar 101, Duolingo should know that the use of the plural personal pronoun “ellos” (they) instead of the demonstratives: “eso/esas” or “aquello” (those or that), to point to things, like guns or drugs, make it clear that this sentence is questioning the legality of a human subject. In simpler words, in Spanish “ellos”: refers to people, “esos” to things.

As one twitter user pointed out, “the exercise is not only grammatically incorrect, it leaves it open to a dangerous interpretation.”

Duolingo crowdsources its content from volunteers, and no scarcely anybody moderates what makes it onto the app.

What’s more, it looks like Duolingo’s been slipping on their content for a while now. According to an article published last year on the apps crowdsourcing’s strategy; “The startup has built one of the world’s most popular language-learning apps while only hiring a handful of translators.” Each day the platform serves up millions of sentences, “almost all of them created by its 300 or so volunteers.”

According to Quartz, “more than half” of Duolingo’s employees work in engineering, while “just three people manage the volunteer community”. The app makes this system work by appointing “volunteer moderators”, who apply through the website to oversee content in each language. The company claims that volunteers “are vetted for language skills, and then trained on subjects from pedagogy to guidance dealing with gender, diversity, and cultural sensitivity issues.”

As recent stories of neglectful treatment of migrants, civil rights violations, discriminatory behavior and racial profiling, have become the norm in the media—result of an anti-immigration administration—it’s troubling that this intolerant rhetoric is now visible in apps that are meant for ‘educational’ purposes and that claim to have ‘guidance on diversity and cultural sensitivity issues’.

It’s no coincidence that ever since Donald Trump became President of the United States, there has been a spike in hate speech and crime—and the numbers only continue to climb. A survey of Mexicans recently deported from the United States found that the number of people who reported experiencing verbal abuse or physical assault during their time in the U.S. increased by 47% between 2016 and 2017.

Founder of Duolingo, Luis von Ahn, a Guatemalan immigrant himself, chimed in to the conversation on Twitter, commenting that the two statements “didn’t appear next to eachother” and “were taken out of context”. He assured users that the statements were removed from the app to “avoid confusion”.

If no one is policing the sentences that go up on Duolingo, are children safe to use the app?

But what context would ever make those two sentences necessary in an educational app? They are grammatically incorrect and hurtful. No human is ever illegal. The very object of hate speech is to deprive people of the assurance that society regards them as people of equal dignity. Why is this instance of ‘indirect’ hate speech so important? Precisely because the public conception of immigrants and communities of color, specifically Latinx communities, is constantly under fire, and further feeds into a climate of fear.

As one twitter user put it, it makes you think twice before letting your 8th grader use the app to learn a new language. If xenophobic statements like these can pop up at any time, with no real policing of incorrect, racist or straight-up inappropriate content, then what’s the point of Duolingo even having a ‘content policy’ at all? As a Guatemalan, von Ahn should do better.