It’s Native American Heritage Month and while we should always be uplifting Indigenous voices, this is a dedicated time of the year for all of us to educate ourselves about the land we’re currently occupying and its original Indigenous occupants and their histories. Movies play an important part in raising awareness of Indigenous communities and history while also helping a community so often overlooked feel seen. Especially in Latin America, Indigenous peoples are frequently silenced, erased, and misrepresented in media. Without their perspective, the history of the region remains incomplete and inaccurate. Now more than ever, it’s important for us to seek out their voices in the films we watch.
This is not an exhaustive list but is a good starting place to round out your understanding of LATAM history with an Indigenous lens including Mexico, Brazil, and Guatemala. Read on to learn more about nine films about Indigenous LATAM History you need to watch this month and all year round.
Set in 1970s Mexico City, Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuarón) follows the life of a Mixteco (Indigenous Mesoamerican) housekeeper for a well-to-do family as she becomes pregnant in an era of political unrest and protests. 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.
The Other Conquest (1999)
The Other Conquest (dir. Salvador Carrasco) tells the story of the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 1520s from the point of view of the Aztecs. Specifically, we see the world through Topiltzin’s eyes, an Aztec scribe who witnesses the historic Massacre of the Great Temple in 1520, is captured by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés, and is forced to live with a friar. This is an in-depth look into the resistance of Indigenous people against Spanish colonization.
The Other Conquest is available to watch on YouTube.
Ixcanul (dir. Jayro Bustamante) follows a young girl named Maria 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. Maria is played by Indigenous Guatemalan actress María Mercedes Coroy, who appears in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Released in 2015, the film made history by being the very first to be spoken in the Kaqchikel language.
Ixcanul is available to watch on Kanopy.
El Norte (1983)
El Norte (dir. Gregory Nava) takes place during the Guatemalan Civil War, which began in 1960 and lasted for more than thirty years. It follows a brother and sister before and after their family is murdered during a government massacre, and their journey to “El Norte” or the United States. As the film also depicts their new life in Los Angeles, it also pays tribute to the life, history, and contributions of Indigenous Guatemalans in LA and the U.S. at large.
El Norte is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Birdwatchers (dir. Marco Bechis) centers on one of the oldest groups of Indigenous Brazilians, known as the Guarani-Kaiow. Forced to live on a reservation, they attempt to reclaim their ancestral lands that have belonged to white men for several generations, and that now is owned by a local farmer. Throughout their journey, they experience inward conflict and the harsh effects of colonialism and capitalism. However, their joy is also uplifted through the tradition of birdwatching and community building.
Birdwatchers is available to watch on Roku.
Coração do Brasil (2013)
In the mood for a documentary? Look no further than Coração do Brasil (dir. Daniel Solá Santiago), which explores the lives of Indigenous communities in Brazil following the deaths of activists and brothers Cláudio and Leonardo Villas-Bóas. They originally traveled to the country in the 1940s to help open it up for colonist and capitalistic interests at the expense of the Xingu people, only to help them establish government protections from invaders, politicians, and corporations, and even found a national park. They would later be considered pioneers and allies by these tribes. Using this history as a background, viewers will see Brazil 50 years after the brothers’ original arrival and how the villages, communities, and legal statuses of Indigenous peoples In Brazil have evolved over the decades.
Aluna (dir. Alan Ereira) is another must-watch documentary, this time following the Kogi tribe in Colombia. As the sequel to a BBC documentary from 1990, the film follows the Kogi Mamos after originally offering their environmental warning to the world, then retreating to their community in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. Twenty-two years later, the Kogi tribe returns to reiterate their message, this time taking control of the camera and demonstrating their sacred planetary healing practices, history of the land, previously unrecorded holy sites, and knowledge with Western scientists in an effort to save a dying planet.
Aluna is available to watch on YouTube.
Garifuna in Peril (2012)
Garifuna in Peril (dir. Alí Allié and Rubén Reyes) is a ground-breaking docufiction film depicting the historical and modern issues of the Garifuna Afro-Honduran Indigenous community. The story follows Ricardo, a Garifuna language teacher in Los Angeles, as he tries to take care of his family and protect his language, culture, and community against tourism, all while trying to build a Garifuna language school in Honduras. At the same time, we also see the everyday struggles of Ricardo’s son and theater actor Elijah, and his daughter Helena navigating a romance with an older man. The film is a powerful exploration of the issues that Indigenous peoples everywhere face including loss of culture, language, identity, and ancestral land. It also made history for being one of the first (and arguably only) films in history to feature the Garifuna language, which was at one point under threat of extinction.
Garifuna in Peril is available to watch on TubiTV.
Gone with the River (2015)
Gone With the River (dir. Mario Crespo) follows Dauna, a young independent-minded Indigenous Warao woman living in Venezuela’s Orinoco Delta. Throughout the film, she longs to explore what lies outside of her community, marriage, and traditions. Caught between two worlds, she pays a price to find her identity and act as a bridge between the country’s Indigenous and Spanish cultures. Jumping back and forth in time across three decades, this is a powerful film about Warao life, womanhood, and finding yourself.