Academic journal article Afterimage

Stereotypes But: Gender Roles in Contemporary Latin Cinema. (Feature)

Academic journal article Afterimage

Stereotypes But: Gender Roles in Contemporary Latin Cinema. (Feature)

Article excerpt

Hollywood does not portray Latinas or Latinos very often and when it does, it typically presents them in a predictable, and often unfavorable, light. The public is accustomed to seeing Latinas/os as barrio dwellers with little hope outside of lives of drugs and crime, or in subservient roles they cannot overcome. (1) Latina/o independent filmmakers are taking the issue of (re)presentation into their own hands, however, and the results have yielded innovative portraits of Latinas, in particular, who lead complex, multifaceted lives. These filmmakers are using a well-known representational strategy: stereotyping to explore gender roles, family expectations and assimilation.

The idea of representation in film is a complex one. As bell hooks so accurately and succinctly points out,

There are several theories of representation that can inform a discussion on film practices. (3) The most productive one is a "constructionist approach" (4) since it involves the production of meaning by looking at the connections among three different aspects of everyday life: the material world--people, places and events; the conceptual world, the mental images/pictures we have of those things; and the signs, arranged into systems of communication, that we use to refer to concepts. (5) Making meaning, therefore, is contingent upon the practice of interpretation, that is to say on our ability to understand and use a series of codes. As meanings change and become flexible, the codes of a culture also--although imperceptibly--change. "If meaning could be fixed by representation, then there would be no change--and so no counter-strategies or interventions." (6) But because meaning is slippery and can never be finally fixed, there is room for new representations or new ways of interpreting already known represe ntations, in this case of Latinas/os.

Two films in particular--Rum and Coke (2000) by Maria Escobedo and Luminarias (2000) by Jose Luis Valenzuela--express as well as develop scenes of social conflict and contradiction. Furthermore, these representational strategies can be conceived of as "constitutive" and are not merely reflective of everyday practices. Therefore, if we consider the perspective of the dominant society that Latinos are "welfare-ridden, AIDS-ridden, drug-ridden, dropout-ridden, teen-age-pregnancy-ridden," (7) we will see that the two films under consideration disrupt the perception of Latinas/os as social problems, because they present powerful, successful, professional Latinas. The narrative structures of the films, and the power structures represented in them, propose representations that interpellate both the real and the stereotypical.

Rum and Coke was written, directed and edited by Escobedo, a Cuban-American woman who lives and works in New York City. It is the story of Linda De Leon, a fiery, thriving television producer who lives by herself and is involved in an apparently perfect romantic relationship with Steve. In this relationship, she is considered on equal terms and her independence is respected. Linda struggles to reconcile the learned and assigned roles of the two cultures she has acquired through her life as a Latina living in the United States.

Luminarias was written by Evelina Fernandez, a Chicana living in Los Angeles, and directed by Valenzuela. It is the story of four upper-middle-class Chicanas in search of love and enduring relationships. Andrea is a lawyer who is divorcing her husband. Sofia is a therapist who thinks she likes "white men." Irene is a clothes designer with an appetite for young Latino men and a sex drive suppressed for the 40 days of the Catholic Lenten period. Lilly is a visual artist who is always falling for the wrong man. These four women confront the learned stereotypes of themselves and of others, as they try to define and create a space in which they can feel comfortable with the two cultures they straddle-Anglo and Latina. …

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