Since 1990, Native American Heritage Month has been a time of year where we celebrate Indigenous peoples, cultures, traditions, and beliefs. One of the ways we can do that is by watching films that spotlight their stories and also educate us on their history. Indigenous representation in media and entertainment has been limited and sometimes harmful either because they perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes or completely ignore the real history instead perpetuating colonized views. In the U.S., Indigenous representation was found to be between 0.3 percent 0.5 percent in 2018 and 2019, with next to no Indigenous talent behind the camera either. It remains a similar story in Latin America, which is just as dictated by white supremacy and racism against their own Indigenous peoples. But we’ve been seeing improvement in the past few decades, with Indigenous talent either in main or important roles like Yalitza Aparicio in Roma and Tenoch Huerta in Wakanda Forever. This is by no means an exhaustive list but a starting place as you put together your to-watch list for November. Read on to learn more about 11 films featuring Indigenous LATAM stories and talent you should watch in honor of Native American Heritage Month.
Set in 1970s Mexico City, Roma follows the life of Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez, a Mixteco (Indigenous Mesoamerican) housekeeper for a well-to-do middle-class Mexican family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. As she becomes pregnant in an era of political unrest and protests, the lives of the family she takes care of also fall apart. The film stars Mixtec and Triqui actress Yalitza Aparicio in her acting debut for which she earned an Oscar nomination.
Roma is available to watch on Netflix.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
In the Black Panther sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Wakanda is struggling to keep world superpowers from mining their valuable vibranium for their own use following the death of King T’Challa. When these efforts threaten the underwater kingdom of Talokan, Wakanda meets Namor who threatens them with war if they don’t help protect his people and prevent foreign powers from possibly colonizing them. The film stars Tenoch Huerta as Namor, who is of Nahua and Purépecha descent, as well as Kaqchikel Maya Guatemalan actress María Mercedes Coroy as Namor’s mother.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is available to watch on Disney+.
Ixcanul follows a young girl named Maria (María Mercedes Coroy) and her family working as coffee farmers and make offerings to the goddess in the volcano their village is built on. Though Maria is in an arranged marriage with another man in her village, she soon becomes pregnant by her lover Pepe, who abandons her for the United States, causing a series of difficult and tragic events for her and her working family. Through her story, viewers will learn about the obscene levels of economic, linguistic, and social hardships that Indigenous Guatemalans face every day. The film made history by being the very first to be spoken in the Kaqchikel Mayan language.
Ixcanul is available to watch on Kanopy.
La Llorona (2019)
Based on true events, La Llorona follows former Guatemalan dictator Enrique Monteverde, who is taken to court to account for his role in the genocide of the country’s Mayan people. Trapped in his house by protests and abandoned by his staff, most of whom are Kaqchikel, he desperately hires Alma (María Mercedes Coroy) to work as a maid. Soon after she begins work, Enrique and the household begin experiencing supernatural activity like faucets turning on by themselves and recurring nightmares, and start believing that this force may be out for revenge for his crimes.
La Llorona is available to watch on Shudder.
The Fever (2019)
The Fever is a thriller film that follows Justino, an indigenous Desana Brazilian security guard who works at Manaus harbor. When his daughter Vanessa is accepted to the University of Brasíilia to study medicine, she reconsiders going when she sees his inability to fit in with urban life. At the same time, he begins experiencing disturbing visions and dreams that manifest into a mysterious fever, and hearing rumors about the presence of a strange creature lurking in the neighborhood. The film features a mainly indigenous Brazilian cast from the Desanos, Tucanos, and Tarianas peoples, and is spoken in the Tukao and Tikuna languages in addition to Portuguese.
The Fever is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl! / La fille Alligator (2017)
Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl! is an answer to the War of the Triple Alliance, which is largely considered one of the worst wars in LATAM history as it saw Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay massacring thousands of indigenous Paraguayans in the name of land and power. The film picks up 150 years later and follows Joca, a 13-year-old Brazilian boy, and Basano La Tatuada, an indigenous Guarani girl from Paraguay who calls herself “Tattooed Queen of the Apa River” after the river between their two countries. Over the course of the film, we see Joca falling in love with Basano and doing everything he can to win her love despite it being forbidden, showcasing the costs of war and conflict, and the lasting effect of memory and history.
Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl! is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
The Pool of the Nobodies (2022)
The Pool of the Nobodies follows Alex, an Indigenous migrant who is forced to live a life of crime to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Anayeli (María Mercedes Coroy), also an Indigenous migrant, is fighting to save both her and her unborn baby’s life. From deception to murder, both will embark on journeys to do unspeakable, unthinkable things to survive and live another day.
The Pool of the Nobodies is available to watch on YouTube.
Embrace of the Serpent (2015)
Embrace of the Serpent follows Indigenous shaman Karamakate, a member of the fictional tribe Cohiuano, who lives in the Amazon jungle in Colombia but has forgotten the knowledge and custom of his people. The film showcases two of his journeys 30 years apart, one in 1909 when he travels with Theo, a German ethnographer, and 1940 with American botanist Evan, to search for the rare plant known as yakruna. Evan deceives Karamakate into believing he is devoted to plants but is secretly hoping to secure rubber trees for the U.S., and as a result, the indigenous groups in the Amazon are exploited by rubber companies and missionaries alike. Karamakate is played by Antonio Bolívar, one of the last original Ocaina people of the Amazon, and the film features many indigenous languages including Ocaina, Ticuna, Bora, Andoque, Yucuna, and Muinane.
Embrace of the Serpent is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Wiñaypacha tells the story of Willka and Phaxsi, an elderly Indigenous couple who live in a remote region of the Andes of Peru. After their son emigrates, leaving them behind, they keep track of time, eat, and pray, never losing hope that he might return to them someday. Upon its release, it became the first film in history to be spoken entirely in the Aymara language.
Wiñaypacha is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Lina from Lima (2019)
Lina from Lima is a comedy film that centers on the titular character, a domestic maid who has immigrated from Peru to work for a wealthy Chilean family in Santiago. When she gets ready to return home for Christmas to see her teenage son for their annual trip, she begins to realize that he doesn’t need her as much as he used to and is allowed to carve out a new celebration for herself – omplete with song and dance, depictions of sex, dating, and love, and lots of glitter. The film stars Magaly Solier in the title role who is Quechua Peruvian.
Lina From Lima is available to watch on Apple TV+.
Retablo tells the story of Segundo Paucar, a 14-year-old Quechua boy from Ayachucho, Peru who is training to become a master retablo maker under the guidance of his father in order to carry on the family legacy and traditions. When he discovers his father in a compromising situation on his way to a community celebration in he Andes, his entire world is shattered as he struggles to understand his father’s secret and everything else that’s happening around him. The film stars Magaly Solier as his mother and feaures dialogue in the Ayacucho Quechua language.
Retablo is available to watch on Amazon Prime.