It’s no secret that Latinos have been portrayed negatively in Hollywood since its inception. Characters have often been criminals, starting with the banditos of early film, which became the drug lords and criminals of today. We are all for Latinos on screen, but why are we always portrayed in a negative way?
Some of these films we love, referring to them as classics (heck, I even wrote a story on how some of these movies celebrated their 25th anniversary). Although we live for seeing our faces represented, we also have to take a second to look at the content of these productions. While every culture has good and bad, positive and negative narratives, we can’t continue to allow our worst to constantly be highlighted, while our best struggles to get seen. Whether it’s acting or not, it becomes part of how we are seen at large. How many stereotypes from these films do you see present in the anti-immigrant rhetoric of today?
Bronco Billy and The Greaser
The 1914 silent film, Bronco Billy and The Greaser, one of numerous “greaser” films, which portray Latinxs as dangerous, immoral, drunks. The hero in the story is a white cowboy, who rescues the white leading lady from this criminal. These films were released in a time when there was conflict in the Southwest, along the U.S. and Mexico border. Think about how many such narratives have been presented in Hollywood since then.
West Side Story
West Side Story is a classic. We will forever be incredibly proud of Rita Moreno and her accomplishment being the first Latina to win an Oscar for her role in the film. But think about it: Not only is she the only actual Puerto Rican (and/or Latinx) in a film partly about Puerto Ricans, but the film portrays Latinx as gang members. Latinx gang members who fight against white youth.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Westerns are especially racist films. Latinxs are often portrayed as lazy Mexicans, “comically” dumb Mexicans, or dangerous banditos. In the film, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, a Latinx character is “the ugly.”
Fort Apache, The Bronx
Fort Apache, The Bronx pissed off a lot of POC people when it came out in 1981. People protested against the stereotypical portrayal of inner-city (in this case The Bronx) African-Americans and Latinxs as criminals, drug addicts, and drug dealers. Even a Latina nurse in the film turns out to be a drug addict. Who are the men in power who must fight off these “barbarians?” White cops.
Scarface is such a major film. It’s also another movie which used a non-Latinx actor to portray a Latinx character (Italian-American actor Al Pacino as Cuban Tony Montana). Some idolize Tony Montana due to his rags to riches story, his power, and immense wealth. But how did he get it? Drug dealing, murder, and crime.
American Me is a part of a group of Latinx movies which came out in the 1990s. We consider these classics, and often quote them, but what are these films really saying? It’s a double-edged sword: it was major that Edward James Olmos directed, produced, and starred in the film, and that it warns against gang life. But it still puts Latinxs and gang members in the same category, which is so damaging (especially since this portrayal is often what is seen from Hollywood).
There are way too many Latinx gang and mafia films. They reflect a small facet of Latinx life, but since what people see on TV and film of Latinos is often negative, it amplifies the negative associations with our culture. Carlito’s Way, which tells the tale of a Puerto Rican criminal who tries to leave his life of crime, but can’t. It perpetuates the myth that Latinos have to attain wealth, success, and power from crime, and that they have no other choice (even if they want to stop).
John Leguizamo has talked about how roles for Latino men in Hollywood are those of criminals. Because of this, he has created his own projects. In 2002, Leguizamo played the role of Victor Rosa, a heroin dealer in the South Bronx.
Romancing the Stone
Romancing the Stone is meant to be a comedy, but it’s not funny for Latinxs. The film portrays Colombians as murderers, and smugglers, and refers to the country as a “third world toilet.”
Crocodile Dundee II
As adults, we often look back at the “innocent” TV shows and movies we saw (or knew about) as kids, and realize how racist they were. The 1988 film, Crocodile Dundee II continues the played-out story of a white man, who has to save a white woman from the dangers of murderous Latinos (in this case, a Colombian drug cartel).
Maria Full of Grace
We are proud that Maria Full of Grace garnered Catalina Sandino Moreno with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. We aren’t proud that the role that got her the nod perpetuates the stereotype of Colombians as criminal drug smugglers.