Happy National Hispanic Heritage Month—part two! As a companion of sorts for my The History of Hispanic & Latinx Representation in Film blog to celebrate NHHM, I wanted to compile a list of 10 great introductory films and documentaries to stream and watch this month that feature Hispanic and Latinx storytellers. I tried to compile an inclusive list in terms of genres, styles, and filmmakers, but this list is by no means comprehensive!
Feel free to leave your recommendations for positive representation of Hispanic and Latinx filmmaking in the comments below because I'd love to watch them! The best way to combat stereotyping and encourage change is by supporting authentic storytellers and their art.
The Ring (1952)
Director: Kurt Neumann
Starring: Lalo Rios, Gerald Mohr, Rita Moreno & Jack Elam
Where to Watch: Prime Video
A young American of Mexican descent (Rios) in East Los Angeles, California, uses the boxing ring to make a better life for himself and his family and learns as much about being a Latino in white society as he does about boxing.
DYK? The Ring is one of the first Hollywood sports-centered films that addressed discrimination against Chicanos.
Zoot Suit (1981)
Director: Luis Valdez
Starring: Daniel Valdez, Edward James Olmos, Rose Portillo, Charles Aidman, Tyne Daly, John Anderson, Abel Franco, Mike Gomez, Francis X. McCarthy, Alma Martínez, Lupe Ontiveros & Tony Plana
Mexican-American gangster Henry Reyna (Valdez) and others in his group are accused of a murder in which they had no part. They are then rounded up by the police because of their race and their choice of clothing. The gang members are thrown into prison and put through a racist trial. As Henry considers his fate, he has a conversation with El Pachuco (Olmos), a figure from his own conscience who makes him contemplate a choice between his heritage and his home country.
DYK? Zoot Suit received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical and was admitted to the National Film Preservation Board's National Film Registry for cultural significance in 2019. Director Luis Valdez went on to write and direct La Bomba (1987), a biopic about Ritchie Valens starring Lou Diamond Phillips in his first starring role a few years later.
Stand and Deliver (1988)
Director: Ramón Menéndez
Starring: Edward James Olmos, Lou Diamond Phillips, Rosanna DeSoto & Andy García
Los Angeles high school teacher Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) is being hassled by tough students like Angel Guzman (Lou Diamond Phillips). But Jaime is also pressured by his bosses, who want him to control his raucous classroom. Caught in the middle, he opts to immerse his students in higher math. After intensive study, his students ace California's calculus test, only to learn that their scores are being questioned. They'll have to retake the exam in order to quiet the critics.
DYK? First-time writer and director Ramón Menéndez and his fellow UCLA Film School graduate, co-writer and producer Tom Musca, secured the movie rights to Jaime Escalante's story for one dollar. When the project was rejected by independent studios, the filmmakers financed the production with grants and endowments from institutions, including PBS.
El Mariachi (1992)
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Carlos Gallardo, Consuelo Gómez, Peter Marquardt, Reinol Martínez, Jaime de Hoyos, Edith Gonzalez, Ramiro Gómez, Jesús López Viejo, Luis Baro & Óscar Fabila
Where to Watch: Prime Video
El Mariachi (Gallardo) is a traveling guitar player with a modest desire to play music for a living. Looking for a job, he stops at a bar in a tiny town, where his simple, peaceful lifestyle is interrupted. Local hit men, expecting enemy assassin Azul (Martínez) to invade their town, believe that the visiting musician is the professional killer they are looking for. Unwittingly embroiled in vicious mob warfare, El Mariachi must shoot his way out of town if he is to survive.
DYK? El Mariachi holds the Guinness World Record for the lowest-budget film to make $1 million at the U.S. box office. With a stated production budget of only $7,000, this self-financed, self-produced film went on to make a total of $2,041,928 in cinemas worldwide after it was picked up for distribution by Columbia Pictures.
My Family [Mi Familia] (1995)
Director: Gregory Nava
Starring: Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales, Eduardo Lopez Rojas, Jenny Gago, Elpidia Carrillo, Constance Marie, Jacob Vargas, Jennifer Lopez & Edward James Olmos
Where to Watch: Prime Video
A second-generation Mexican immigrant narrates his family history, beginning with the journey of his father, Jose (Vargas), across Mexico to Los Angeles where he meets Maria (Lopez) and starts a family. Each subsequent generation contends with political and social hardships, ranging from illegal deportations in the 1940s to racial tensions and gang fights in the '60s and '70s. Yet through it all, or perhaps because of it, the family remains strong.
DYK? Actors Jennifer Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Constance Marie, Jacob Vargas, and Lupe Ontiveros reunited to work together on director Gregory Nava's 1997 biopic of the late Tejano singer Selena.
Real Women Have Curves (2002)
Director: Patricia Cardoso
Starring: America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros, Jorge Cervera Jr., Ingrid Oliu, George Lopez, Brian Sites, Soledad St. Hilaire, Lourdes Pérez, Josefina Lopez, José Gerardo Zamora Jr., Manuel Edgar Luján & Erica Moller
In East Los Angeles, 18-year-old Ana Garcia (Ferrera) struggles between her ambitions of going to college and the desires of her overbearing mother for her to get married, have children, and oversee the small, rundown family-owned textile factory.
DYK? In 2019, Real Women Have Curves was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, which deemed it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Even the Rain [También la lluvia] (2010)
Director: Icíar Bollaín
Starring: Luis Tosar, Gael García Bernal, Juan Carlos Aduviri, Karra Elejalde, Raúl Arévalo, Carlos Santos, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Milena Soliz & Leónidas Chiri
Where to Watch: Netflix
Mexican filmmakers Sebastian (García Bernal) and Costa (Tosar), shooting a film in Bolivia about the conquest by Christopher Columbus, become embroiled in controversy when their film schedule runs up against the Cochabamba protests. With local natives rising against the privatization of their water supply. As more and more problems beset the production and the riots escalate, the tension increases between the crew members.
DYK? Even the Rain is dedicated to the memory of activist, historian, and writer Howard Zinn, who wrote The People's History of The United States (1980).
The Book of Life (2014)
Director: Jorge R. Gutiérrez
Starring: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Ron Perlman & Kate del Castillo
Manolo (Luna), a young man torn between fulfilling his family's expectations and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears.
DYK? The swirl in Manolo's hair is a tribute to the swirled hill from The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), one of director Jorge R. Gutiérrez's favorite films.
McFarland, USA (2015)
Director: Niki Caro
Starring: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, Michael Aguero, Rafael Martinez, Ramiro Rodriguez, Morgan Saylor & Elsie Fisher
Track coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) is a newcomer to a predominantly Latino high school in California's Central Valley. Coach White and his new students have much to learn about one another, but things begin to change when White realizes the boys' exceptional running ability. More than just physical prowess drives the teens to succeed; their strong family ties, incredible work ethic, and commitment to their team all play a factor in forging these novice runners into champions.
DYK? In real life, Coach Jim White retired in 2003 after twenty-three years of coaching.
La Llorona (2019)
Director: Jayro Bustamante
Starring: María Mercedes Coroy, Sabrina De La Hoz, Margarita Kenéfic, Julio Diaz, María Telón as Valeriana, Juan Pablo Olyslager & Ayla-Elea Hurtado
Alma (Coroy) is murdered with her children during a military attack in Guatemala, but 30 years later when former general Enrique Monteverde (Diaz), who ordered the genocide, is found not guilty based on a technicality, Alma returns to the world of the living to torment the man.
DYK? La Llorona was the first Guatemalan film to ever be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was also Guatemala's official submission for the Best International Feature Film category for the 93rd Academy Awards in 2021.
Mucho Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado (2020)
Director: Cristina Constantini & Kareem Tabsch
Featuring: Walter Mercado
Where to Watch: Netflix
Once the world's most famous astrologer, Walter Mercado seeks to resurrect a forgotten legacy. Raised in the sugar cane fields of Puerto Rico, Walter grew up to become a gender non-conforming, cape-wearing psychic whose televised horoscopes reached 120 million Latinx viewers a day for 30 years before he mysteriously disappeared.
DYK? In January 2019, after Lin-Manuel Miranda posted a photo of him and Mercado on his social media accounts, many long-time Walter Mercado fans were surprised after learning he was still alive, even after years out of the public eye.