Women’s History Month is a time of year to celebrate women and support their voices. Even though we should be doing that everyday, there’s no better time than now to support women in film both in front of and behind the camera, especially Latina actresses who remain underrepresented in the entertainment industry. Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative in partnership with National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) and Wise Entertainment published a report in 2021 tracking the lack of Latinx representation in Hollywood both in front and behind the camera. Only 3 percent of movies featured Latinx actors in lead roles from 2007 through 2018 in the 100 top-grossing films. Still, throughout the years, we’ve been lucky to see ourselves represented on-screen in Latinx films that have become classics because of the beautiful storytelling and compelling performances. This is not an exhaustive place but is a starting place as you seek out Latina-led movies and celebrate our stories. Read on to learn more about 11 Latina-led films you need to watch for Women’s History Month and all year round.
Real Women Have Curves (2002)
Starring America Ferrera in her feature film debut, Real Women Have Curves is a film adaptation of the original play by Josefina López, which follows 18-year-old Ana García who attends high school in Beverly Hills and dreams of going to college despite her Mexican immigrant family’s financial struggles. She deals with the critique of her weight and her complicated relationship with her mom and her hopes that she’ll join her at the textile factory where she works. Acclaimed for its message of body positivity and self-love and authentic depiction of Latinas and Mexican American families, the film is now considered one of the most influential movies of the 2000s. In 2019, it was inducted into the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, the first Latina-directed film to receive the honor.
Real Women Have Curves is available to watch on Hulu and HBO Max.
West Side Story (2021)
West Side Story is a remake of the 1961 musical film of the same name starring Rita Moreno with Rachel Zegler, and Ariana DeBose. Inspired by Romeo and Juliet, the film takes place in New York City and follows Maria and Tony, who fall in love at a dance but are torn apart by their loyalties to their opposing gangs, the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Compared to the original, the remake actually cast Latinx actors in Latinx roles and added additional depth and complexity to the characters. In the year following its release, the film received critical acclaim and numerous awards and nominations including seven Academy Award nominations and four Golden Globe nominations, winning three.
West Side Story is available to watch on Disney+.
Frida is a biopic about the public and personal life of the iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, played by Salma Hayek. It showcases her physical disabilities, multiethnic identity, queer sexuality, political activism, and her complicated love affair with fellow painter Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). The film shows how she remained both a controversial and beloved figure throughout her life and earned Hayek an Academy Award nomination for best lead actress.
Frida is available to watch on Hulu and HBO Max.
Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
Like Water for Chocolate is a film adaptation of the classic Mexican novel of the same name by Laura Esquivel. It follows Tita, a girl growing up on the De la Garza ranch with her family, including her tyrannical mother Mama Elena, whom she endures through her love for cooking. As the youngest of her sisters, Tita is expected to follow the tradition of forgoing marriage in order to take care of her mother until she dies. Against her family’s wishes, however, Tita falls in love with a local boy named Pedro but everything takes a turn when he marries her sister instead. Upon its release, it received critical acclaim, became the highest-grossing foreign film in the U.S., and it was nominated a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Like Water for Chocolate is available to watch on Hulu.
Two years after the death of iconic Tejana singer Selena Quintanilla, played by Jennifer Lopez, Selena was released to celebrate her life and career before her tragic death. Director Gregory Nava and Lopez spent time with Selena’s parents and siblings learning about the real Selena behind the icon. The film was a critical success and helped introduce Selena to new audiences while solidifying her status as one of the most successful and important Latin artists of all time. It also helped make a star out of Jennifer Lopez and catapulted her career. In 2021, the film was selected United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for its historical and artistic significance.
Selena is available to watch on HBO Max.
In the Time of the Butterflies (2001)
In the Time of the Butterflies is a film adaptation of the beloved novel of the same name by Julia Alvarez featuring an all-star cast including Salma Hayek, Marc Anthony, and Edward James Olmos. It depicts a fictionalized account of the lives of the Mirabel sisters Minvera, Patria, Dedé, and María Teresa known for their activism against the Rafael Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Both the film and the book have become iconic works in the Latinx community and have garnered critical acclaim. The film ends with a reminder that the day of the sisters’ death, November 25th, is observed throughout LATAM as the International Day Against Violence Towards Women.
In the Time of the Butterflies is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Set in 1970s Mexico City, Roma from director 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. The film was inspired partially by Cuarón’s upbringing in Mexico City and provided unprecedented Indigenous representation in Hollywood.
Roma is available to watch on Netflix.
Mosquita y Mari (2012)
Mosquita y Mari is one of the most influential Latinx LGBTQIA+ films. It follows two teen girls, Yolanda and Mari, who become best friends after meeting at school. At first, their differences seem to keep them apart, with Yolanda good-girl attitude and hopes to attend college, and Mari’s bad grades and focus on financially supporting her family. But soon, they find themselves unexplainably attracted to each other, which brings them together as much as it hurts and causes misunderstandings. It’s a story about enduring friendship and love and finding your own way.
Mosquita y Mari is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Maria Full of Grace (2004)
Maria Full of Grace is a critically-acclaimed drama film following Maria Álvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno), a Colombian teen who works de-thorning roses at a flower plantation under poor conditions. Desperate to support her family and her unemployed, single sister, she stays on until her boss abuses her, and she becomes pregnant with her boyfriend’s child. In desperation she becomes a drug mule for a trafficking ring alongside her best friend Bianca and along the way she faces trials and tribulations on her path toward finding freedom. Moreno was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Maria Full of Grace is available to watch on HBO Max.
Quinceañera follows two cousins growing up in Echo Park, California: Magdalena, a 14-year-old girl who discovers she’s pregnant, and Carlos, who is gay and struggling to find a place to live. Estranged from both their families, the cousins move into their great-uncle Tomas’s house, for safety and comfort, later deciding to raise Magdalena’s baby together. Throughout the film, they struggle with issues of gentrification, teen parenthood, religion, and identity, all while planning Magdalena’s quinceañera and trying to get their lives together.
Quinceañera is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Girlfight is a sports drama film that follows Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez), a Brooklyn teen who gets into frequent fights at school thanks to her hard home life with her brother Tiny and single father Sandro. Sandro projects his boxing aspirations onto her brother against his wishes as he wants to be an artist instead. When Diana visits their boxing gym and defends Tiny in a match, she decides to train and become a boxer herself, despite her father’s disapproval and the misogyny she faces in such a male-dominated field. It premiered on January 22, 2000, at the Sundance Film Festival, and won the Grand Jury Prize.
Girlfight is available to watch on Amazon Prime.