Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Dynamics of the Mother Archetype in Mexican Cinema Shaped by Women: Analysis of Pioneer Matilde Landeta's Screenwriting and Film Directing in la Negra Angustias

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Dynamics of the Mother Archetype in Mexican Cinema Shaped by Women: Analysis of Pioneer Matilde Landeta's Screenwriting and Film Directing in la Negra Angustias

Article excerpt

In Mexican cinema, the image of the mother has dominated the national discourse through the creation of myths and female archetypes connected with the universal Madonna-Whore dichotomy. These archetypes have proliferated in Mexican culture and are rooted on the Guadalupe (1)-Malinche (2) paradigm, continually reconfigured since the nineteenth century and reshaped during every national project. Various representations of this alternative set of "good mother"-"bad mother" archetypes are found in different expressions through popular culture, especially after the Mexican Revolution of 1910. But even before, romantic literature dealing with the Guadalupe-Malinche binary, such as Jose Olmedo y Lama's essay "Malintzin" (1874) as well as the first novel dealing with the Malinche myth: Dona Marina (1883), written by Irineo Paz, offer examples of cultural representations that compete for the hearts and minds of a selected group of educated male Catholic Mexican readers, mostly white Creole, and a few privileged "Mestizos."

With the establishment of the young film industry, the national mother dichotomy of Guadalupe-Malinche began to reach a wider audience within the first decades of the twentieth century. Some novels such as Federico Gamboa's Santa (1903) and the Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos' Dona Barbara (1929) explore the possibility of a potential reconfiguration of binary oppositions regarding the role of women and mothers by inserting the creation of new female identities, such as the "redeemed-through-death-whore" in Santa and the "Devourer mother" in Dona Barbara. These female prototypes got to the big screen and became very popular in Mexico in the 1930s and 1940s while galvanizing the original Guadalupe-Malinche opposition.

Another enormous cultural influence during the first part of the twentieth century derives from the long tradition of the "novel of the Mexican Revolution," (1910-1917) usually dominated by male authors. Thus, Matilde Landeta's unpublished screenplay (Landeta 1949), (3) and her resulting film adaptation (1949) of Francisco Rojas Gonzalez's novel La negra Angustias [Black Angustias] (Rojas Gonzalez 1944), are rare exceptions as texts written by women, that deal with the revolution, and which portray an Afro-Mexican "soldadera" (woman soldier) mother. This essay examines the representation of motherhood on the battlefield by comparing the three versions of Angustias's story: Rojas Gonzalez's novel, Landeta's screenplay adaptation, and also the film directed by Landeta. Although Landeta generally follows the story traced by the original source, the screenplay adaptation and the film proper display significant adaptation differences that beg further analysis. The idea of the Mexican mother as a self-denying, unselfish woman, who always puts her children's and husband's interests before hers, has historically served as an object of consumption in the cinema industry. Julia Tunon observes that, customarily, the good mother in Mexican film should preferably be a long-suffering woman who endures all kids of torments, pains, and misfortunes, frequently dying in the process (Tunon 1998: 73). In this respect, Landeta's adapted screenplay is an exception to the preferred melodramatic formula of the self-sacrificing mother, the image that was successfully sold in Mexican popular culture for decades, especially during the golden age of Mexican film. (4)

The concept of motherhood has traditionally functioned as a common cultural tool to keep intact established gender roles within the traditional masculine oriented power structure of Mexican society. In addition to exploring the notion of the combatant mother in film, I also address the concept of "mestizaje," since these two elements have historically been closely related to the idea of national identity. Coined during the colonial period, "mestizaje" stems from the term "mestizo (5)" included in the system of castes. "Mestizaje" comprises the process through which that blood mixing takes place. …

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