Latin Looks: Images of Latinas and Latinos in the U.S. Media

By Clara E. Rodríguez | Go to book overview

PART TWO
The Silver Screen: Stories and Stereotypes

The chapters in this section illustrate the long, but often buried, history of Latino actors in film as well as the stereotypes that have accompanied this history. Chapter 4 is a visual retrospective of Latina and Latino male film stars. In addition to providing a historical view, the photos indicate that the past was very different from the present in a number of significant ways. The following chapters illustrate the similarities that exist in the historic depiction of Chicanos, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and other Latinos in film. They also highlight Latino stereotypes in the past and present.

As the largest and earliest Latino group in film, Chicanos/Mexicans have the longest history in film. The chapters by Noriega, Berg, and Cortés each present a different overview of this history. In Chapter 5, Noriega describes three major film periods, the "Silent Greaser" films, the social problem films (within which three subgenres are included), and the Chicano-produced films. What is perhaps most important in Noriega's perspective is his analysis of how political and economic factors influenced these periods. He argues that the social problem films projected views of Chicanos that, in turn, legitimated the system that was oppressing them.

For example, the courtroom settings of many of these films implicitly contrast the psychological deficiencies of the Mexican defendant against the success of American institutional activism. In these films, the characters are ultimately shown to have destroyed the demons within themselves. They have succeeded in redirecting their inherent violence and orienting themselves toward "making it" under U.S. capitalism, usually with the help of Anglo friends. This means they are involved in more acceptable and distant areas, such as helping their people in the barrio or fighting for their country overseas.

The focus in these social problem films is not on the systemic ways in which Chicanos are denied opportunities, but on individual actions. As Noriega states, the films put the Mexican American on trial, not the racist individuals or society that put him there. At the same time, the trial or litigation in the movie reaffirms the activist and rectifying role of the legal system. It legitimates the system and sanctions

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