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First Latina Director Makes it to the National Film Registry

It’s been almost 18 years since the release of Real Women Have Curves and the groundbreaking film is still making history with its addition in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress in December. As a result, the 2002 film’s director Patricia Cardoso — who is Colombian — became the first Latina to be included in the registry. “I am thankful, it’s an honor and I don’t take it for granted,” Cardoso said of the Library of Congress’ announcement.

The film stars America Ferrera as Ana, a first-generation Mexican-American teenager trying to figure her life out as she transitions into adulthood. The coming-of-age story tackles universal themes including body image and beauty standards, as well as the complicated mother-daughter dynamic, while also focusing on the immigrant experience and cultural norms.

Ferrara — who is of Honduran descent — was 17 and an unknown actress when she took the role that would make her a breakout star. “I was excited that there was a with a Latin-American girl in the lead, one who came from a background that felt similar to mine,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I’d never seen a movie like it, and I’d never seen a character like this portrayed in film before… What’s special about the film is that so many people can watch it and see in themselves and the dream they have for themselves that their parents, family, or friends didn’t see for them. The specificity of it made it feel universal.”

“Real Women Have Curves” is one of 25 movies the Library of Congress added in 2019 to the world’s largest library to showcase the arts of the U.S. It was a record year with the addition of seven films — including Real Women Have Curves — directed by women.

“What a way to start a career. It was a once-in-a-lifetime role. Hoping we can create more of these opportunities for Latino talent,” Ferrara tweeted after the announcement.

It’s been more than 30 years since Cardoso left her hometown of Bogotá, Colombia, to attend UCLA, becoming the first Colombian woman awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study film in Los Angeles. Real Women Have Curves won the Sundance Film Festival’s Dramatic Audience Award and made her, as well as, former undocumented Mexican playwright Josefina López who co-wrote the screenplay inspired by her own life. She approached it with the mindset that, “the problem isn’t that I’m undocumented, Mexican, working-class, or overweight; the problem is society.”

With a mostly Latin-American cast rounded out by George Lopez and Lupe Ontiveros, the film was significant then for highlighting the Latinx experience and to this day remains one of the most iconic and visible films of its kind. Latinx representation on film remains scarce nearly two decades later with only 3 percent of the 100 top-grossing films from 2007 through 2018 featuring Latinx actors in lead roles. Behind the camera, only 4 percent of directors are Latinx and only 19 of those credits were held by Latinas.

Cardoso is a film professor at the University of California, Riverside and her recent work includes directing episodes of the Party of Five reboot that focuses on a Latinx family in the aftermath of sudden deportation of the parents back to Mexico.

“For me, being one of the first Latinx woman directors is very important. But I would wish I wasn’t the first one. I wish there were many, many more before me and certainly hope there are many more coming behind me,” Cardoso said.

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