With Latinx Heritage Month finally here, we’re excited to spotlight our community and our contributions to every industry. One of those industries is film, especially Latinx documentaries that spotlight and uplift our history. When we are often written out of history books, it’s important to teach the next generations about where we came from and what it took to get here, as well as educate those outside the community about our stories from all across the diaspora. When we are visible, we are more likely to be taken seriously in social and political issues, and it’s overall crucial to have our voices heard. This is not an exhaustive list but is a select round-up of Latinx-centered documentaries centered on our culture and history. Read on to learn more about 15 documentaries about Latin American history to stream this Latinx Heritage Month and all year round.
Fragmentos is a short film following artist and sculptor Doris Salcedo, who receives 39 tons of melted weapons previously owned by the extreme left-wing FARC guerilla from Colombia. As a result of a 52-year armed conflict in Colombia that left 8 million people, thousands of women were raped by the guerilla. Throughout the film, viewers see Salcedo invite victims of sexual violence to help forge the metal, share their experiences, speak about their pain, and fight for justice. By creating what would become the Monument for Peace, she helps survivors create a stunning work of art out of their pain, melting and burning the weapons, showing their resilience and strength despite their trauma. The film also sheds light on the war itself and the consequences of a peace agreement that is yet to be fully established in the country.
Fragmentos is available to watch on YouTube.
Our Disappeared (2008)
Our Disappeared documents the personal journey of director Juan Mandelbaum as he searches for friends and loved ones who disappeared in Argentina at the hands of the government during a military dictatorship that lasted from 1976 to 1983. The film begins when Mandelbaum finds out his past girlfriend Patricia was among those who disappeared and his return to Argentina to find out the fates of others he never saw again thirty years after the military coup. As he educates viewers on the political context that led to the dictatorship and the start of resistance movements, he also reflects upon his own personal regrets and choices, like not participating in radical student groups, fleeing Argentina in 1977, and cutting himself off from friends and family. Using archival footage, he pieces together a story of three generations carrying the trauma of the dictatorship and its aftermath.
Our Disappeared is available to watch on Kanopy.
Break It All: The History of Rock in Latin America (2020)
Break It All is a documentary series about the history of rock throughout Latin America starting with Ritchie Valen’s “La Bamba” and the Beatles but quickly becoming something much more. Over the course of six episodes, the series touches on important artists like Soda Stereo, Caifanes, and Los Prisioneros, and crucial cultural and political movements that gave rise to this music like the Argentine dictatorship and the Zapatista uprising. By blending music and history together, the series paints a nuanced, powerful picture of the genre and hints at the development of modern reggaeton and rap.
Break It All is available to watch on Netflix.
The Latino Americans (2013)
The Latino Americans is a groundbreaking documentary series that documents the 500-year history of the Latinx community in the U.S., which at the time of release was made up of more than 50 million people. Told in three parts over six hours, the series touches on topics including immigration, war, labor, technology, and in the background of the Great Depression, WWII, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement. Driven by history as much as personal stories, this is a comprehensive look at our history from the sixteenth century all the way up to the present day. The film also features interviews with important Latinx icons from a variety of industries like Rita Moreno, Dolores Huerta, Linda Chávez, and Gloria Estefan.
The Latino Americans 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 Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.
Cuba and the Cameraman (2017)
Cuba and the Cameraman focuses on the island of Cuba through 45 years of history and over 1,000 hours of raw footage of three families as they grow, struggle, and adapt to the problems of each era. The film begins in the early 1970s when people at large felt optimistic about the country’s future, to the ’90s in the aftermath of the Soviet Union, and up to 2016 during the death of Fidel Castro. Special attention is paid to Castro’s social programs and the nation’s relationship with the U.S.
Cuba and the Cameraman is available to watch on Netflix.
Guatemala: Heart of the Mayan World (2019)
Guatemala: Heart of the Mayan World spotlights the many beautiful sights throughout Guatemala from Sierra de las Minas to Esquipulas to numerous ancient Mayan cities. It also gives voice to the history behind these sites, exploring the nation’s culture, geography, and food. Especially if you’re looking for traveling tips and knowledge about the locales, this is a great watch to see ideal places to hike, eat, and overall enjoy beautiful landscapes, as well as learn important history along the way.
Guatemala: Heart of the Mayan World is available to watch on Netflix.
Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America (2012)
Based on the book by journalist Juan González, Harvest of Empire is a film that attempts to give an answer to the debate about Latin American immigration to the U.S. and the immigration crisis that still looms large today. This is a great overview of the role that the U.S. has played both economically and militarily in the region by interfering and intervening in LATAM politics to prevent the spread of communism (oftentimes by installing puppet governments) as well as how that played a direct part in the huge migrant wave that the country faces today. The film focuses on historical moments like the U.S.’s control of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Mexico; the U.S.-backed military regimes of the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, and much more. Using modern immigrant stories, archival material, and interviews with important Latinx figures like Junot Díaz, Maria Hinojosa, and Luis Enrique, this is a powerful look at how the U.S. has dealt with a problem of its own making.
Harvest of Empire is available to watch on YouTube.
Banana Land: Blood, Bullets, and Poison (2014)
Banana Land is a must-watch documentary about the horrifying ways that LATAM has been affected by the crimes of Chiquita Brands International, Dole Food Company, and Del Monte Foods who use the region to harvest millions of bananas every year. Spanning time and place, the film starts with the rise of banana plantations in Colombia in the 1900s, then focuses on pivotal historical moments that still affect us today. Events include the Santa Marta Massacre that happened as a result of protests from thousands of banana workers, as well as Colombia’s hiring of Las Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, a terrorist group, to control banana workers and exploit them for their labor. This is an eye-opening exposé of the reliance of the U.S. on these big corporations in the Global South and the murder, crimes, and protest suppression of underpaid workers that come with it.
Banana Land is available to watch on YouTube.
La Manplesa: An Uprising Remembered (2022)
La Manplesa explores the little-known history of police brutality against the Latinx community, namely the police shooting of Salvadoran immigrant Daniel Gomez in 1991. The documentary explores what happened on the night of the shooting in the barrio of Mount Pleasant and the protests that took place on the streets of Washington D.C. Using firsthand accounts, testimony, song, poetry, and theater, the film shines a light on a dark moment in Latinx history but also what can happen when our communities organize, demand an end to violence, and fight for justice.
La Manplesa is available to watch on YouTube.
When the Mountains Tremble (1983)
When the Mountains Tremble centers on the civil war between the Guatemalan military and the Indigenous Maya peoples of Guatemala that was fought from 1960 to 1996 as a result of unjust land distribution. Told through the eyes of Nobel Prize winner and Quiché indigenous woman Rigoberta Menchú, the film focuses on incidents of execution, oppression, forced disappearances, and violence against Indigenous peoples. Many of them were poor laborers who were exploited by the European-descended upper class. The film was so influential that it was used as evidence in the Guatemalan court to charge the government with crimes against humanity including genocide. The film is a testament not only to the horrors faced by the Indigenous peoples of Guatemala but also of their resilience and strength.
When the Mountains Tremble is available to watch on YouTube.
500 Years: Life in Resistance (2017)
500 Years explores the history of Guatemala focusing on the events that led to the tipping point of the nation, namely the trial of former dictator General Rios Montt for crimes of genocide and the coup of President Otto Perez Molina. Told from the Indigenous Mayan population of Guatemala, the film focuses on their struggles against injustice, erasure, and oppression and explores issues of racism, power, and corruption. This is the third and final chapter of the documentary trilogy directed by Pamela Yates covering Indigenous Guatemalan history.
500 Years is available to watch on Kanopy.
Cuando Las Aguas se Juntan (2023)
Cuando Las Aguas se Juntan / When the Waters Gather follows a group of Colombian women who, despite war and armed conflicts, have fought for peace and justice in their country. The film sees them win sexual violence cases, fight against the cocaine economy, and come together to heal the pain of war. Most importantly, they reshaped themselves into a new political movement that focuses on solidarity, love, and the humanity and voices of women.
Cuando Las Aguas se Juntan is available to watch on YouTube.
Las madres de la Plaza de Mayo (1985)
Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo focuses on the Argentinian military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983, which overwhelmed the public and country with brutality, violence, and thousands of unexplained disappearances. Many abductions were children, leaving behind mothers who then became politically active through a group known as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo who would regularly protest in the Plaza in Buenos Aires. For years, they staged weekly protests and demanded information and accountability from the government about their missing children despite facing intimidation tactics from the government. They continue to stand together and fight for justice, human rights, and freedom. A powerful example of woman-led activism, this is a must-watch to get an even deeper look at Argentina’s Dirty War.
Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo is available to watch on YouTube.
The Latin Explosion: A New America (2015)
The Latin Explosion is an uplifting watch about the influence of LATAM on U.S. music, arts, entertainment, and media. Using videos of performances, archival footage, and interviews, this is an overview of important historical moments like the rise of Afro-Cuban music in 1940s New York, as well as Latinx musicians who created and continued the Latin boom like Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Celia Cruz, and more.
The Latin Explosion is available to watch on HBO Max.