Hollywood doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to telling Latino stories, let alone Latina and Latinx ones. Not only are Latino-centric movies few and far between, but when they do feature Latinos, they’re often stereotyped and one-dimensional. In the recent past, our stories were cast with Anglo, non-Latino actors–sometimes wearing brownface.
While Hollywood is taking baby steps to more onscreen representation, there is still a long way to go. Luckily, there have been a few trailblazing movies over the years that showed the world the breadth of the Latino experience without being reductive. This Latinx Heritage Month, turn on any of these impactful films to celebrate all the diverse stories that la raza has to offer.
1.Bajo La Misma Luna (Under The Same Moon)
“This was one of the first times that I felt like I really related to a film on television. Although there were differences in the story itself, I saw this movie a few years after I immigrated to the US and I felt deeply (and still do) that there were elements in the film that I identified in my life: My mom calling my abuelita and the rest of the family once a week to catch up, wiring money to help with bills, and overall knowing firsthand the feeling of leaving your family in search of a better life. Although I was fortunate and had the opportunity to cross the border with my mom and my papers, not everyone is as lucky.” – Jessica Ruvalcaba
2. Gotta Kick It Up!
“This was a Disney Channel Original movie, but it was so impactful to me. I was a HUGE Disney Channel kid, but was very aware that nobody on this channel looked like me until this movie came out. I was astounded and it impacted me in so many ways because for the first time, not only did I see girls that looked like me, I saw them accomplishing something people doubted they could. The representation on this channel was so pivotal and truly made me feel seen.” – Tatiana Ramirez
3. Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water For Chocolate)
“I was probably too young to be watching this romantic film in 1992, but my mom made sure that I partook in every opportunity that Mexican/Latino culture had to be represented. It’s a beautiful, emotive and haunting film that I remember sticking with me. I imagined this being like my abuelita’s life, a woman with a complicated romantic history who found solace in her cooking. The film captures passion, revenge, legend, and magic realism in a way that I think few films have since then, and I just remember being so proud to say that it was Mexican.” – Vanessa Vigil
“This movie was very influential growing up Mexican/American and it highlighted the importance of speaking Spanish. As a child, we are taught to honor our parents and cultural upbringing. Selena embraced the beauty in diversity growing up Mexican/American and taught the audience to always follow their dreams. Even though her life was cut short, her legacy of love, culture, and ambition lives on through her music/influence. This movie is a cult classic but highlights the cultural values of never forgetting your roots and always work hard to accomplish your dreams.” – Monica Rodriguez
5. La Bamba
“Influential film! Iconic.” – Cynthia Zavala. This classic movie about the Rock n’ Roll legend Ritchie Valens has everything: love, tragedy, comedy, and of course, music. Up there with “Selena”, this movie tells the story of an iconic Latin star who died way before his time.
6. Real Women Have Curves
“Real Women Have Curves” covers the universal themes of body image, discrimination, mother-daughter relationships, emotional abuse, and sexual liberation. For many Latinas who grew up watching a predominantly white media landscape, seeing America Ferrera in “Real Women Have Curves” was the first time they saw a character like themselves being reflected back to them on their TV screens.
What is there to say about “Coco” that hasn’t already been said? While so many of us were nervous that a corporate Pixar movie wouldn’t do la cultura Mexicana justice, this movie ended up being one of the most breathtaking, touching, culturally-accurate movies about Mexico to ever grace the screen. We still can’t watch the final rendition of “Remember Me” without crying like a baby.
“This was the first time an indigenous woman was recognized by the Academy for her role as a leading actress in a major motion film.” – Jessica Ruvalcaba. Yalitza Aparicio’s performance as Cleo in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” was so nuanced, so understated, and so layered, that she earned rave reviews all around. A groundbreaking movie in many senses of the word.
9. El Norte
This epic tale full of melodrama and magical realism was the first Latin American independent film to be nominated for an Original Screenplay Oscar. Following two indigenous youths who flee civil-war torn Guatamela in search of a better life, Roger Ebert called it the “‘Grapes of Wrath’ for our time.”
10. Stand and Deliver
Is there a more inspiring movie than “Stand and Deliver?” Based on the true story of the determined Bolivian-born math teacher Jaime Escalante, this movie follows Escalante as he tries to teach calculus to the at-risk, majority-Latino students at James A. Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. This movie is supremely rewatchable and will never fail to make you believe in yourself.
So, yes, great movies about well-rounded, complex Latino characters are rare. But there are dozens of Latino creators, actors, and artists who have, against all odds, created timeless films. May there be many, many, more in the future!
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