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Latinx Representation in Film

Selected Filmography

The selected filmography, organized chronologically, contains up to 10 films per decade. These films were selected because they were "firsts" of some kind (e.g. first Latinx-centric film or the first Latina/o/x actor to win or be nominated for an Academy Award), or because they are agreed upon by scholars as being historically significant or well-known at the time of their release. 

Film titles listed in the filmographies part of the Library's collections will link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Please note that not all films listed below are part of the Library's collections. To gain access or request a viewing session of films part of the Library's moving image collections, please contact the Moving Image Research Center to confirm availability. Please keep in mind that many collections are stored off-site and advance notice is needed to prepare items.


This period marked the emergence of the first motion pictures. Films in this initial era heavily relied on stereotypical perceptions of non-white and immigrant communities. Latinos, primarily Mexican Americans and Chicanos, were represented as violent and villainous and beginning in 1907 were represented and called “greasers” very often in films. Latinas, also primarily Mexican Americans and Chicanas in this decade, were portrayed as sensual, shallow characters whose main purpose was to be desired by Anglo characters. Most of these Latine characters were played by Anglos. Common plot lines and settings of this silent film era include vengeful Mexicans, Anglos who are romantically or sexually involved with Mexican “senoritas,” and some films on the Mexican Revolution and Pancho Villa.


This decade marked the start of an era of protest by Latin American countries against the vilification and denigratory representations of people of Latin American descent. The explicit depiction of Mexican American men as "greasers'' stopped during this era, though simplistic and reductionist depictions of Latinos persisted. One common plot line was a "cantina girl," typically a woman who sensually dances and sings and whose only role is to be "head over heels" for an Anglo man. Another common plot line was Mexican bandidos attacking or taking revenge of Anglo lead characters. Other common film topics of this era include the Battle of the Alamo, the American expansion to California, and conflicts along the border. It is during this decade that Latine actors Lupe Velez, Dolores del Rio, and Gilbert Roland began to appear in many films.


This decade marked the beginning of sound films. In 1934, the Motion Picture Production Code went into effect. Also known as the “Hays Code,” the code set standards for what was morally appropriate to depict in movies. As a result of the code, Mexican and Mexican American men could not be successfully involved with Anglo women, though Anglo men could be involved with light-skin Latina women. This period also marked the beginning of the Good Neighbor Policy, and after protests by Latin American nations against denigration of Latines in American film, Hollywood produced some films that were slightly more "sensitive" to Latin American response. Carmen Miranda, Dolores del Rio, and Lupe Velez were three major Latina actresses of the time. Bordertown was "one of the most famous Hispanic-themed films."


As concerns mounted surrounding WWII, the U.S. increased efforts on good-neighbor policies into the 40s, which resulted in limited but more "cheerful" depictions of Latinos on screen. Prior to WWII, these films presented an idealized or elite view of Latin American countries and characters, while after the war U.S.-based Latino storylines resurged. Throughout the 40s, plotlines often relied on common stereotypes of the cheerful entertainer or exotic, Latin lover. Actors like Carmen Miranda, Anthony Quinn, Cesar Romero, Rita Hayworth, and Lupe Velez often found themselves constrained and defined by these stereotypical characters, despite their talent and career success. At the same time, we see trailblazing performances by actors like José Ferrer, who was the first Latino to win an Academy Award in "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1950).


The 1950s is forever marked by the Cold War and House Committee on Un-American Activities Committee Hearings, which targeted many Hollywood stars and ultimately resulted in a reduction in the Latina/o stars that commanded much of U.S. Cinema in the 40s (Rodriguez, p. 101). As Latinx characters and storylines declined, the U.S. Latinx population continued to rise throughout the 50s, (Rodriguez, p. 106). Past exotic bombshell stereotypes continued throughout this era, while social problem genre films increased, contributing to the "violent, lower-class, criminal image" stereotype that populated the following decades (Rodrigeuz, p. 145). Ricardo Montalbán, Anthony Quinn, Katy Jurado (particularly for her role in the 1952 film "High Noon"), and José Ferrer stand out throughout this decade, and offer phenomenal and award-winning performances. "Salt of the Earth" (1953) is significant for its multidimensional depiction of Latinx characters.


The 1960s includes historic achievements by Latina/o actors in spite of the limited roles available to them. Throughout the 60s, film roles often hinged on social problems or offered stereotypical portrayals in Westerns. "West Side Story" (1961) is the first big production to "focus on Latinos in the Northeast," and featured Rita Moreno who won an Oscar for her supporting role (Rodriguez, 121). Other notable performances include José Ferrer in "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), Anthony Quinn in "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1962), and Katy Jurado in "One-Eyed Jacks" (1961). Other stars increasingly found roles in television, like Cesar Romero's iconic Joker in the "Batman" series and movie (1966). Coinciding with the growth of the Chicano movement in the 60s, the short film "I am Joaquin" (1969) directed by Luis Valdez is a critical contribution to U.S. cinema.


Influenced by the civil rights movement, the 1970s saw the growth of visual arts and music, the genesis of ethnic studies programs, the continued growth of Chicano cinema, and the birth of many local and national Latinx organizations and institutions (Rodriguez 150). While big Hollywood productions continued to offer few opportunities for Latina/os, this era's innovative cinema arose from independent theater groups and cultural centers. Independent funding and educational opportunities increased as outlets for beginner filmmakers. These opportunities enabled the production of Latinx-led films like "Alambrista!" (1977), "Raíces de Sangre" (1978), "Please, Don’t Bury Me Alive" (1976), "El Super" (1979), "Amor Chicano es para siempre" (1978), and "Después del terremoto" (1979). Much of this work countered the negative depictions on the big screen. Nosotros, founded in 1969 by Ricardo Montalbán and other established Latina/os and Hispanic actors of the day, advocated for better representation in Hollywood and TV alongside other community organizations and public theaters. Those involved did so at significant risk, often facing considerably negative career backlash in response (Reyes & Rubie 30). Their work, and the many organizations like it, has funded and enabled countless opportunities for past and future Latinx filmmakers.


Latine Cinema of the 1980’s is characterized by a shift toward more diverse narratives and perspectives. Films like "El Norte" provide a more nuanced portrayal of the Central American lived experience and migration into the United States. "El Norte" (1983) would eventually be inducted into the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1995. Other films like "Salvador" (1986), "Last Plane Out" (1983), and "Under Fire" (1983) also discuss Central American narratives, however, they are told from the perspective of American journalists. The films "Zoot Suit" (1981), "La Bamba" (1987), and "Stand and Deliver" (1988) "all deal with various aspects of Chicano or Puerto Rican juvenile and domestic life in the United States" (Keller, p. 210). This era of Latine Cinema delves further into the lived experiences of Latino immigrant stories and perspectives. Despite a more increased representation of this experience, "Chicano men started to be associated with urban violence in the late 1970s and early 1980s…this trend continued in the 1990s and early 2000s with Latino characters other than Mexicans" (Liberato et al., 2009).


The 1990s are a period where Latine cinema becomes even more accepted and integrated into the mainstream. "In the span of time from 1990 to 2000 the Hispanic population grew 61 percent and current estimates suggest that by the year 2050 Latinos will account for one-third of the united states’ population" (Padilla, 2009). This demographic shift of more Latinos in the United States is reflected in the success of Latine cinema during this time. Films like "Selena" (1997) and "The Mask of Zorro" (1998) had significant popularity and commercial success. Older characters and personalities of Latine Cinema experience a resurgence as well with Latino Westerns and Action films increasing in popularity through films like "El Mariachi" (1992), "Desperado" (1995), and "The Cisco Kid" (1994).


Latine Cinema of the 2000s sees a continued shift toward more diverse representations of the Latino community on screen. "Sleep Dealer" (2008) is a science fiction film that utilizes the imaginative possibilities of the genre to interrogate ideas of immigration and labor exploitation. A film like "Spy Kids" (2001) centers on a Latino family and demonstrates the commercial potential for Latino stories in the mainstream. In addition, films like "Maria Full of Grace" (2004), "Under the Same Moon" (2007), and "Sin Nombre" (2009) continue the tradition of compelling immigrant stories through Latine Cinema into the 2000s.