Latin American Culture Movies

Monday, March 28 by C.T. Wright

Latin American culture movies are as powerful and relevant as those of the rest of world cinema. Whether the movie is made in Latin America, the United States, or is an international co-production, the depictions of the people being portrayed are the most important thing. For those unfamiliar with these stories, here’s a list of films to enjoy:

  1. “City of God”(2002). This fact-based movie from Brazil depicts a side of Latin American culture seldom seen on screen. Life in the crime-ridden favelas of Rio de Janeiro is the topic and this crime thriller about a budding journalist who escapes the trappings of his community is a rousing tale. It’s intensity rivals the action of any South Central L.A. gang tale and it’s seriousness makes it a must see.
  2. “Apocalypto”(2006). Mel Gibson’s epic about the disintegration of Latin American culture prior to the arrival of Spanish explorers is sprawling in its detail and heartbreaking in its simplicity. Though it depicts a culture seldom seen on screen its plot is a simple story about freedom and love of family that all can empathize with.
  3. “Motorcycle Diaries”(2004). This biopic about a young Ernesto “Che” Guevara follows him and his best friend on a road trip across South America. Years before Che would become an internationally known revolutionary he got a crash course in the realities of Latin American culture by visiting the indigenous peasants that populate South America. The effect the trip had on him make this worth watching.
  4. “Viva Cuba”(2005). This adolescent love story explores Cuba’s political issues through the eyes of children. Emigration is one of the most sensitive Latin American cultural issues, particularly in Cuba. The movie is neither preachy nor apologetic; it is however, heartwarming and extremely entertaining.
  5. “American Me”(1992). This urban epic explores the underbelly of Latin American culture from the tough streets of predominately Latino East L.A. to the ethnically segregated state prisons of California. The movie chronicles the rise of the Mexican organized crime gang, "La Eme", which is also known as the Mexican Mafia. It’s a harrowing look at social injustice and the repercussions it can bring.
  6. “Central Station”(1998). This film about a young boy and the unlikely relationship he strikes up with a middle-age woman is one gem of a Latin American culture movie. In poetic fashion the movie traverses the Brazilian countryside revealing nuances about the people we encounter and their local customs.
  7. “La Bamba”(1986). The story of the young Chicano teen idol from this glory days of Rock N’ Roll is both inspirational and heartbreaking. Richie Valens, who shortened his name from Valenzuela, died in a plane crash at the height of his popularity. The fact that he made a Mexican folk song a popular American radio hit is a testament to the appeal of Latin American culture.
  8. “The Mission”(1986). Robert DeNiro stars as an 18th century slave trader in the jungles of South America. His interaction with the Jesuit missionaries of the Spanish and Portuguese colonial powers is what drives this movie. The ramifications of the interactions with traditional Latin American indigenous cultures remain obvious to this day.
  9. “Selena”(1997). Jennifer Lopez stars as Selena Gomez, the Tejano pop singer killed by a love-crazed fan. Its significance in a list of Latin American culture movies is that it portrays a young girl’s hopes of integrating int the American mainstream; a hope that immigrants have had for decades.
  10. “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation”(2006). An adolescent boy is abandoned by his parents in Sao Paulo, Brazil during one summer in 1970. Unbeknownst to him the political upheaval in the country has driven his father into hiding. The boy ends up having the adventure of a lifetime; befriending an elderly Jewish man, falling in love, and watching Pele help win the World Cup with friends.
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