Keeping It Reel? Films of the 1980s and 1990s
Clara E. Rodríguez
Chances are you cannot recall the last time you saw a Latino in the movies who was not somehow enmeshed in violence, whether as victim, villain, or cop. Violence in movies is not the exclusive domain of Latinos. Indeed, it seems to be pervasive and is cause for great concern at all levels, from local PTAs to the U.S. Congress. 1 But the now long-standing--and growing--association in the media of particularly Latino images with violence is becoming ever more obvious. This association began with the early bandidos of the silent screen; took voice in the westerns of the subsequent period; moved to urban settings in the 1960s and 1970s with images of juvenile delinquents; and continues in the 1980s and 1990s with gangs, criminals, and drug fords. Although this association has always been present, it has intensified and become more predominant in recent popular films. As in society in general, males are more often associated with crime and violence than females, but as the chapters and photos in this volume indicate, in the past other images predominated at times and prominent Latino male actors were less narrowly typecast.
Some of the best-known Latino movies of the past two decades, for example, Scarface ( 1983), Carlito's Way ( 1993), The Specialist ( 1994), American Me ( 1992), Mi Vida Loca ( 1994), El Mariachi ( 1993), and The Mambo Kings ( 1992), illustrate this strong association between Latinos and crime. Set in Latino communities, these movies often had as central to their themes, or as an unspoken backdrop, crime, drugs, and violence. This was the case whether the films were written or directed by Latinos or non-Latinos.
Scarface ( 1983), for example, was a remake of a 1932 film in which no Hispanic characters or themes appeared (the mobsters were Italian). In the 1983 version, directed by Brian DePalma, the film is set in Miami and involves Cuban, Colombian, and Bolivian drug lords. The main character is Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino), a coke-snorting Cuban refugee with few redeeming moral scruples and a blind ambi-