Ask yourself this question; what are some inspiring films with strong leading Latinas? Are you able to name at least 10? Difficult right? With more and more films coming out with strong characters, you can’t help but wonder…where are the Latinas at? Now I’m sure there are films out there, that’s not what I’m saying. But they’re not popular, and that is what is at question.
The research began. Wanting to keep the search general to see what would come up, I typed in “inspiring films with a strong female role” on the internet. A bunch of lists with great known films came up. Films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), Kill Bill (2003), The Devil Wears Prada (2006), The Hunger Games (2012), and so many more. Although those films are great, what was disappointing was that the majority of those lists had films with white female leading roles. The only popular films on the list with a strong leading Latina were Selena (1997) and Frida (2002).
Why aren’t more Latinas being portrayed as strong independent women like the other films? One can wonder if stereotypes could be the culprit. Hollywood likes to depict Latinas as the help, sexpots or as Spanish-speaking only immigrants. Take a look at Maid in Manhattan (2002) with Jennifer Lopez playing as Marisa Ventura. Don’t get me wrong, yes she is a single, Latina mother working hard at a first-class Manhattan hotel. She also has a mother who is against her, reminding her of her ‘social class’ and to stop dreaming of becoming a manager at the hotel. And the movie does touch upon social class. But Marisa’s character is just another incompetently created identity of how society views Latinas. Classic Cinderella, rags to riches, story. Being the help and then getting ‘rescued’ by a white man whom she has fallen in love with? Come on, there’s no strength or independence there.
That’s just one movie out of a few. Take a look at Spanglish (2004). Where Mexican immigrant and single mother Flor Moreno played by Paz Vega, is a maid for a well-off white family. Here’s the thing, she barely speaks English! I’m not writing off the movie though because it is interesting to see two different cultures clashing. However, it focuses on a Latina struggling to communicate with others. Did you know that not all Latinos speak only Spanish? As a matter of fact, some Latinos don’t speak Spanish at all…yes you read right! It’s equivalent to assuming a ‘white’ person only speaks English but little did you know that this person is Russian. Get it?
Why are these films with Latina stereotypes the popular ones? Hollywood loves to poorly represent minority culture, for sure. According to the USC Annenberg’s “Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity (CARD) in Entertainment” (February 2016), Latinos are among the least represented speaking roles in film and TV, even though they make up about 17 percent of the U.S. population. Fewer than 38 percent of the actresses are Latina, and according to the report, they are the most sexualized distinguishable minority group. Rita Moreno once said in an interview,
“I made movies for a long time when I was young and I always had to have an accent. But that wasn’t the worst problem. If I played a Latina, I always had to be too sexy and too easy. I hated that”
So what am I getting at here? When Latinas are represented, they mostly play stereotypes. Our storylines do not have to involve being a maid and falling in love. Nor does it have to focus on our language barrier, because again, not all Latinos just speak Spanish. And enough with objectifying Latinas as being sexy and spicy, we have other amazing attributes! In fact, stop objectifying women. Period.
We need more Latinas on the writing team, behind the camera and on the screen to represent our true strength and genuine magic. On an interview, America Ferrera took the lack of diversity personal and said,
“…it’s not an award ceremony problem. It’s a creation of content issue. We need more in art and entertainment that is reflective of the world that we live in. And there’s just not enough reflection in it for women, for people of color. There’s still a huge amount of stories that have yet to be told, and we need those voices to find those platforms so that they can share those experiences.”
Latinas, we have to stand up and represent our true selves since no one seems to want to. As a Latina myself, I’m tired of seeing my culture downgraded. Where are the strong leading Latina roles in popular films? I want to see ya’ll writing, producing, directing and acting in them! Queens, if this article does anything to you, may it encourage you young writers to pursue your dreams in representing strong Latinas in films.