It’s Black History Month, a time when we celebrate the important Black changemakers, icons, leaders, and more throughout history and in the present day. We should be listening to Black storytellers this month and every month, and films are a great way to do just that. In both Latin America and the U.S., Afro-Latinx stories are often either misrepresented, told by non-Black creators, or completely erased from the narrative altogether because of anti-Blackness and maintaining the status quo in a whitewashed media landscape. LATAM history is Black history, LATAM stories are Black stories, and it’s important to watch films that uplift Black voices and teach us something along the way.
This is not an exhaustive list but is a good starting place to round out your understanding of LATAM cultures with an Afro-Latinx and Black perspective. Read on to learn more about 17 Afro-Latinx films you need to watch this month and all year round.
City of God (2002)
City of God (dir. Kátia Lund, Fernando Meirelles) is a film adaptation of the 1997 novel of the same name by Paulo Lins, which follows two boys growing up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, one an aspiring photographer and the other a hopeful kingpin. They eventually get caught in the development of organized crime in the suburb of Cidade de Deus—City of God. Spanning a little over a decade, the film shows the violence and horrors the boys face, as well as hope and redemption. It received four Academy Award nominations and is often considered one of the best films of all time.
City of God is available to watch on Paramount+, Apple TV, and Roku.
Black Mexicans / La Negrada (2018)
Black Mexicans (dir. Jorge Pérez Solano) is the first-ever feature film in Mexico that focuses on the Afro-Mexican community and gives them visibility in the mainstream media. Exclusively starring locals from towns in the Costa Chica in Oaxaca rather than professional actors, the film tells the story of Juana and Magdalena, two women who both live with the same man. As much as the practice is widely accepted in their Afro-Mexico community, sharing his love hurts them both, and they will have to change their situation if they are to survive it.
Black Mexicans is available to watch on Vimeo.
Ludi follows the titular character, a Haitian immigrant and nurse living in the Little Haiti neighborhood in Miami who finds herself under pressure to send money back to her family. Even though she’s working double shifts to make ends meet, she needs more money to send to her niece so she takes on a job as a private nurse even though her job doesn’t allow side nursing gigs outside her hospital. The film is a powerful look at the dark side of trying to achieve the American Dream.
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Beba is a coming-of-age documentary and cinematic memoir depicting her experiences growing up in New York City as the Afro-Latina daughter of a Dominican father and a Venezuelan mother. Throughout the film, she explores her deep historical, societal, and generational trauma, her multicultural and ethnic identity, her ambitions to be an artist, her longing to connect and learn from others, and her urge to create her own path despite the systems, racism, and political unrest standing in her way.
Beba is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV.
La Playa D.C. (2012)
La Playa D.C. (dir. Juan Andrés Arango) follows Tomas, an Afro-Colombian teenager who left the Pacific Coast in the face of war and grows up only knowing racism and anti-Blackness from his community. When he discovers the disappearance of Jairo, his younger brother and closest friend, he takes to the streets to find him, face his past, and find out who he really is outside of the influence of his family. The film was chosen as the Colombian entry at the 86th Academy Awards and while it was not nominated, it remains an important piece of Afro-Latinx representation in the country.
La Playa D.C. is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Pelo Malo (2013)
Pelo Malo follows a 9-year-old Venezuelan boy obsessed with straightening his “bad” curly hair, which causes friction with his mother who worries about his more feminine nature. From taking him to the doctor for an unnecessary check-up to forcibly adding a male father figure into his life in the name of stability, his mother reveals her homophobic, antiquated beliefs. Throughout the film, he interacts with kids in the neighborhood who bully and belittle him, only feeling truly loved and accepted by his elderly Black grandmother. It’s powerful exploration of gender and sexual identity and what it means to grow up poor and in a traditional household.
Pelo Malo is available to watch on Kanopy.
They Are We (2015)
They Are We is a documentary following a family separated by the transatlantic slave trade for 170 years, who are then brought together by song and dance. Viewers follow an Afro-Cuban group in Perico, Cuba that has preserved and been singing and dancing the traditional songs and dances, first created on the slave ship that originally brought their ancestors known as the Josefa to the island. When the inhabitants of a remote village in Sierra Leone watch a recording of the Cubans’ song and dance filmed by a filmmaker, they recognize the words and movements, and invite their descendants home for the biggest celebratory festival in the village’s history.
They Are We is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV.
Angelica follows the titular character, an Afro-Puerto Rican woman who returns home to PR after many years after her father has a stroke. Once home, she’s again forced to confront her strained relationship with her mother and relatives who discriminate against her for her skin color. After her father dies, she must make a choice between staying home or leaving again to rediscover herself and embrace herself as the independent, strong Black Puerto Rican woman she is.
Angelica is available to watch on Vimeo.
Orfeu Negro / Black Orpheus (1959)
Orfeu Negro (dir. Marcel Camus) is a groundbreaking romantic tragedy film known for its complex representation of Black men in LATAM. The story is based on the play Orfeu da Conceição by Vinicius de Moraes and the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. Set in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval, the story follows Orfeu confronting issues of marriage, self-discovery, and death. The music composed for the film has become bossa nova classics, and was won multiple awards including an Academy Award and Golden Globe.
Orfeu Negro is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Marighella is a political thriller film following the life of controversial Afro-Brazilian writer, politician, and guerrilla fighter Carlos Marighella. When the country is consumed by a CIA-backed military coup in Brazil, he organizes a resistance movement alongside a handful of young revolutionaries to act against violence and American imperialism. The film was censored for two years in Brazil but quickly became #1 at the box office and has become a symbol for Black liberation and freedom.
Marighella is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Ventos de Agosto (2014)
Ventos de Agosto follows Shirley, who lives in Brazil’s Alagoas state, a seaside town where one day a body washes ashore with a bullet wound. Shirley spends her time caring for her grandmother and working in a coconut farm with her boyfriend, Jeison, who becomes fascinated with figuring out the mystery of the corpse. All the while, a researcher arrives to study the wind which the locals find odd but it turns out there’s more to the work he’s doing. The film observes the different forms of erosion in people and their environment that will leave you thinking about it long after you’re done watching.
Ventos de Agosto is available to watch on Vimeo.
Quilombo is a historical drama based on the real-life events of Black Brazilian slaves in the 1600s. After they organize and pull off a slave revolt in 1641, they escape to the jungle where they begin to build a new life with self-governing communities for several decades with the help of the legendary Ganga Zumba. Blending folklore, political resistance, and hope, this film remains a reminder of Black independence and resistance.
Quilombou is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango (2013)
Tango Negro is a documentary that reveals the deep historical ties between traditional African music and the tango which is said to have originated in brothels in Buenos Aires. With musical performances and interviews with locals, musicians, and scholars, the film gives credit to the true history of tango as an invention by slaves who were taken to South America, including Argentina and Uruguay, and who wanted to maintain a sense of culture and dignity through dance and music.
Quilombo is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Sugar Cane Malice (2021)
O dia de Jerusa (2014)
O dia de Jerusa is a 22 minute film following Jerusa, an elderly woman who lives in Bixiga, São Paulo. On one ordinary day, a woman named Silvia comes to her door asking her to answer a questionnaire for a washing powder survey as she’s done with the other neighbors. But the moment they meet, it’s clear Silvia will become much more than a solicitor and provides Jerusa an afternoon of memories, happiness, and joy.
O dia de Jerusa is available to watch on YouTube.
Favela Rising (2005)
Favela Rising is a documentary exploring life in Brazil’s slums through the eyes of Anderson Sá, an ex-drug trafficker who organizes the music group Grupo Cultural AfroReggae from the ground up. While he initially intended it to be an opportunity for the youth to be exposed to different music genres including soul, reggae, rap, and hip-hop, the group quickly grew to include workshops on dance, recycling, football and more. He hopes that their work will prevent vulnerable youth from entering the world of drugs and gang violence as he once did, and give them the tools they need to succeed in Brazil and beyond. Since its release, the film has won multiple international awards and was even short-listed for an Oscar.
Favela Rising is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Black in Latin America (2011)
Black in Latin America is a documentary series based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Henry Louis Gates Jr. In each episode, he demonstrates the history that caused the cultural collision between Africa and Europe, and later Latin America and the Caribbean. Focusing on Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru, viewers get a rich survey of the region and an insight into the life and stories of Latinxs of African descent.
Black in Latin America is available to watch on Roku and YouTube.