Race and Classification: The Case of Mexican America

By Ilona Katzew; Susan Deans-Smith | Go to book overview

8 Reconfiguring Race, Gender,
and Chicano/a Identity in Film

Adriana Katzew

VISUAL IMAGES bombard us everywhere. Indeed, ours is a “preeminently visual culture.”1 Whether through television or film, we are continuously processing both explicit and subliminal visual messages about who we are and what we should be. As a cultural vehicle, the visual media determines the ideas consumed by the audience, and to a large extent also sustains the status quo.2 Television, for instance, creates ideologies or, at the very least, reflects and fosters the ones that already exist.3 Furthermore, as psychiatrist Frantz Fanon argues, messages in films “work their way into one's mind and shape one's view of the world of the group to which one belongs.”4 Historian Carlos Cortés states more explicitly that the mass media educates—for better or worse—by disseminating information, images, and ideas regarding race, ethnicity, culture, and foreignness, and that viewers, in turn, learn from the media and construct meanings from their interactions with it both consciously and unconsciously5

Given the importance of the role of the media, how do Mexican Americans see themselves reflected in it? Most tend to see negative, stereotyped, or limited representations of themselves.6 This is true despite the fact that Mexican Americans comprise a significant percentage of the U.S. population.7 Since the late 1960s, however, a number of Chicanos/as have worked in film and TV to subvert one-dimensional and stereotyped representations and instead present more complex depictions of people of Mexican origin in terms of racial, ethnic, and cultural identity8 In this essay I focus on two films, Zoot Suit (1981) and Real Women Have Curves (2002). Both films are based on plays written by Chicanos/as and they are directed by Latino/as, still infrequent in

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