Modern Cinematic Portrayals of Latin American Life

By - 21 December, 2016

Despite Latinos making up nearly one-fifth of the US population, the nation’s film industry has yet to keep up with such demographic shifts. Whilst we can all enjoy the multitude of benefits that the Latin American community has brought the world in terms of culture and intellectual development, it seems that Hollywood for the most part relies upon using some seriously tired stereotypes of Latin American life.

Mainstream Influence

One of the biggest Latina stars is Jennifer Lopez. With her Puerto Rican heritage she has done much to elevate the roles that Latin Americans can play in the modern Hollywood star system. Despite this, the New York native has frequently had to undertake roles such as the struggling single mother in Maid In Manhattan that perpetuate the all-too-familiar cliché of the Latin American household staff. Although Lopez’s role painted a sympathetic picture of the hard-working Marisa Ventura working in an upmarket hotel, the saccharine presentation of the social roles unfortunately oversimplified the issues at the heart of the story.

Even when Latin Americans are featured as bit parts in successful Hollywood films, it’s often to the detriment of their global image. The inclusion of a particularly unsavoury Brazilian restaurant in the 2011 hit comedy Bridesmaids did little to boost the image of that culture. By presenting Brazilian cuisine as being dirty, foreign and capable of poisoning an entire wedding party, it painted an unfortunate picture of Latin American culture that would forever be distinct from regular American life.

Socially-aware Portrayals

However, in recent years there has been more of a socially-aware portrayal of Latin American lives on the silver screen. The Mexican movie director Alejandro González Iñárritu made a notable case for updating the roles of Latin Americans with his 2006 film Babel that dealt with significant social themes of injustice and followed the plight of a Mexican woman having to deal with the harsh conditions of working in the US.

Conversely, the popular director Robert Rodriguez has made much of his Mexican-American heritage by turning Latin American clichéson their head with the uproarious Machete action movies that not only blew up the current wave of Hollywood clichés, but present a knowing look at the injustices felt all across the American continent.

Western Remakes

The other option of course for many stories of Latin American life is that they get Americanized with Hollywood a sucker for making remakes of foreign-language films. El Secreto de Sus OjosWe Are What We AreThe Silent HouseHidden in the Woods and Nine Queens are all examples of Latin American films that have been remade into English-language films. Some are saying that Y Tu Mamá También will be the next to be Americanized. We don’t know that for certain, though we do know that it’s almost certain that, with the quality of Latin American films currently being made, at least one will be remade Hollywood-style in the not-too-distant future.


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