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Latino Images in Film

Latino Images in Film

Charles Ramírez Berg
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  • Book Info
    Latino Images in Film
    Book Description:

    The bandido, the harlot, the male buffoon, the female clown, the Latin lover, and the dark lady-these have been the defining, and demeaning, images of Latinos in U.S. cinema for more than a century. In this book, Charles Ramírez Berg develops an innovative theory of stereotyping that accounts for the persistence of such images in U.S. popular culture. He also explores how Latino actors and filmmakers have actively subverted and resisted such stereotyping.

    In the first part of the book, Berg sets forth his theory of stereotyping, defines the classic stereotypes, and investigates how actors such as Raúl Julia, Rosie Pérez, José Ferrer, Lupe Vélez, and Gilbert Roland have subverted stereotypical roles. In the second part, he analyzes Hollywood's portrayal of Latinos in three genres: social problem films, John Ford westerns, and science fiction films. In the concluding section, Berg looks at Latino self-representation and anti-stereotyping in Mexican American border documentaries and in the feature films of Robert Rodríguez. He also presents an exclusive interview in which Rodríguez talks about his entire career, fromBedheadtoSpy Kids,and comments on the role of a Latino filmmaker in Hollywood and how he tries to subvert the system.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79822-9
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-10)

    The University of Texas at Austin, where I teach, happens to be an orientation center for the Fulbright Scholars Program. Every summer, scores of foreign students from around the world and in various disciplines begin their graduate study in this country by coming to campuses like the University of Texas for an introduction to U.S. higher education and American culture. After several weeks here, they go on to their respective universities across the country to commence graduate work.

    On several occasions I have had the opportunity to give lectures to these students on the topic of this book, the representation...


    • ONE CATEGORIZING THE OTHER Stereotypes and Stereotyping
      (pp. 13-37)

      Before we can appreciate cinema’s century-long pattern of stereotypical representation, we need to have a more precise understanding of what stereotypes and stereotyping are—in general and as they appear in the media. I address these fundamental issues in this chapter by focusing first on social scientific theory (surveying mainly psychological and sociological perspectives) in order to clarify some of stereotyping’s more prominent features and develop a working definition of it. In the process, I gradually introduce notions of the representation of Otherness in the media from cultural studies. In this way, I synthesize a theoretical framework for my critical...

      (pp. 38-65)

      It should be stressed that there are significant differences between stereotypes as mental constructs, the topic that began the last chapter, and the stereotypes found in image-based mass media and in particular, the movies,which are the subject of the rest of this book. To begin with,“the picture in our heads” kind of stereotype exists in the individual mind, whereas the mediated stereotype exists on the screen as a public commodity. The individual’s stereotypical mental construct may or may not remain a private image; it may or may not travel far beyond the individual or in-group circles; it may or may...

      (pp. 66-86)

      The history of Latino images in U.S. cinema is in large measure a pageant of six basic stereotypes:el bandido, the harlot, the male buffoon, the female clown, the Latin lover, and the dark lady. Sometimes the stereotypes were combined, sometimes they were altered superficially, but their core defining—and demeaning—characteristics have remained consistent for more than a century and are still evident today. But there have also been exceptions to this rule: studio-made films that went against the stereotyping grain, stars who managed to portray Latinos with integrity despite a filmmaking system heavily reliant on stereotyping, and, more...

    • FOUR SUBVERSIVE ACTS Latino Actor Case Studies
      (pp. 87-108)

      I maintain that there have been Latino actors whose performances have managed to resist stereotyping—resisted, that is, as much as they could while being caught in the grip of Hollywood’s stereotypical filmmaking conventions. It’s a claim that several critics of women actors and performers of color have made over the years.¹ But proving that actors have subverted stereotypes has always been difficult. To begin with, the actor tends to possess the least amount of authorship of any of the key creative artists on a film set. Actors have always been hired hands. In the Hollywood studio era, actors were...

  6. PART TWO THE HOLLYWOOD VERSION: Latino Representation in Mainstream Cinema

      (pp. 111-127)

      One of the key tenets of genre criticism is that genre films embed social concerns within their repetition of familiar narrative patterns, stock characters, genre-specific locales, and iconography. But as authors Peter Roffman and Jim Purdy argue in their book-length study,The Hollywood Social Problem Film, the Hollywood social melodrama or “social problem” film is the exception. A genre that flourished from the 1930s to the early 1960s, the social melodrama’s project was to expose topical issues rather than to conceal them. “The problem film,” Roffman and Purdy say, combined “social analysis and dramatic conflict within a coherent narrative structure,”...

    • SIX THE MARGIN AS CENTER The Multicultural Dynamics of John Ford’s Westerns
      (pp. 128-152)

      John Ford’s depiction of people of color is the most distressing feature of his body of work. It has prompted a number of critics to take him to task for his insensitive portrayals of ethnic minorities. An early attack came from Robin Wood, who in 1971 noted (in “‘ShallWe Gather at the River?’ The Late Films of John Ford”) the director’s abstraction of Native Americans into savage threats to civilization as well as his paternalistic attitude toward them, which “continued basically unchanged” fromDrums along the Mohawk(1939) “right through toCheyenne Autumn” (1964).¹ This paternalistic streak was elaborated...

    • SEVEN IMMIGRANTS, ALIENS, AND EXTRATERRESTRIALS Science Fiction’s Alien “Other” as (among Other Things) New Hispanic Imagery
      (pp. 153-182)

      It’s a movie image we’ve all seen: a mysterious craft gliding through outer space carrying a menacing passenger toward Earth. I am thinking of the very beginning ofPredator(1987, d. John McTiernan), one of the hit movies of the summer of 1987, though the scene might be one from any number of science fiction (SF) films, either from the 1950s SF movie Golden Age or from the current SF renaissance. In the case ofPredator, this unexplained Alien¹ invasion sets into motion yet another deadly confrontation between an extraterrestrial and a human hero called upon to save the world....


      (pp. 185-189)

      The chapters in this section tell of only a small part of the Latino cinematic response to Hollywood stereotyping. In order to situate the documentaries that I analyze in Chapter 8 and the career of Robert Rodríguez that I cover in Chapters 9 and 10, however, it would be helpful to have a general understanding of the history of Latino directors in American film. While there is not enough room to do a full-blown history here, I can at least sketch out its main features.

      The most organized and sustained Latino body of work has come from Mexican American filmmakers,...

    • EIGHT EL GENIO DEL GÉNERO Mexican American Borderland Documentaries and Postmodernism
      (pp. 190-218)

      Some scenes from my own personal border documentary:

      The first house I lived in as an infant in El Paso, Texas, was onla mera frontera, as close as you could live to the U.S./Mexico boundary line and still be in the United States. The house was on West Main—the last residential street before Mexico (or the first,depending on one’s perspective). Across the street a steep slope dropped down to the Rio Grande River valley, with Mexico on the other side. The Mexican hills facing us were in my earliest recollections bare desert, craggy and dotted with ocotillo bushes...

    • NINE ETHNIC INGENUITY AND MAINSTREAM CINEMA Robert Rodríguez’s Bedhead (1990) and El Mariachi (1993)
      (pp. 219-239)

      Columbia Pictures’ distribution of Robert Rodríguez’s low-budget independent first feature,El Mariachi(1993), shortly after signing him to a lucrative two-picture contract, marks a significant break with two decades of Chicano cinema. As I’ve said already in this book, this New Wave is much moremainstream than earlier Chicano filmmaking and far less overtly political, and its appearance raises some interesting issues for Chicano cinema.¹ The key one for me is this: Is it possible for ethnic or otherwise marginalized filmmakers to enter mainstream media institutions and maintain their ethnic identity? Or is co-optation inevitable? As I have argued elsewhere² and...

    • TEN THE MARIACHI AESTHETIC GOES TO HOLLYWOOD An Interview with Robert Rodríguez
      (pp. 240-261)

      Bedhead(1990): d., sc., d.p., ed.

      10 Minute Film School

      10 More Minutes (Anatomy of a Shootout)

      El Mariachi(1992): d., ed., co-p., sc., d.p., sound ed.

      Roadracers(1994): d., camera op., co-sc., ed.

      Desperado(1995): d., sc., p. (co-p. Elizabeth Avellan), ed., Steadicam op.

      Four Rooms(1995): “The Misbehavers” d., sc., ed., camera op.

      From Dusk Till Dawn(1996): d., ed., camera op., Steadicam op., sound rerecording mixer

      The Mask of Zorro:left in preproduction phase

      The Faculty(1998): d., ed., sound rerecording mixer, camera op.

      From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money(1999): direct-to-video feature, co-executive producer...

    (pp. 262-272)

    So . . . where are we?

    The overall picture is conflicted. As I mentioned in the Backstory section, a notable group of Latin American and American Latino filmmakers are actively producing American films. And on this front, who is to say that the most impressive anti-stereotyping and consciousness-raising Latino coup within American pop culture is not the fact that Robert Rodríguez’sSpy Kidswas the first Latino-directed film to be promoted through McDonald’s Happy Meals? Furthermore, according to reports by the popular media at least, we are in the midst of a “Latino boom,”with performers like Salma Hayek, Andy...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 273-304)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 305-314)