Monday, August 20, 2018

The Best Latina-Theme Movies in America

By José Alberto Hermosillo
The Best Latina-Theme Movies in America Festival in LA © 2018
In recent years, Latinas’ traditional stereotyping roles in Hollywood seem to be fading – The cliché characters are part of the past. No more nannies, naïve women who marry wealthy white males, cholas, gangbangers, housekeepers, aliens, robbers, drug dealers, and illiterate or unsophisticated immigrants from Latin America.

Optimistically thinking, more visionary Latinos and non-Latino directors start producing movies that can change the chip for a new perspective about Latinas in Hollywood. A place where, one day, race will no longer be an issue. 

In the “New Latin Cinema,” Latinas now perform as lawyers, journalists, police officers, students, healers, explorers, hip-hop singers, renowned chefs, and dreamers.

In those relatively new films, essential names of Latina actresses stand out, such as Salma Hayek, Eva Mendez, Sofia Vergara, Kate del Castillo, Penelope Cruz, Jennifer Lopez, Zoe Saldana, Aimee Garcia, Gina Rodriguez, America Ferrera, Elpidia Carrillo, and many more.

Surprisingly, our research found that many of these original Latina-themed films need to make more money at the box office to recuperate the investment. The need for more profitability is why studios and investors do not continue making those highly valued productions.

Nowadays, thanks to the immense buzz of word-of-mouth from parents and teachers, people in the industry, critics, and the passionate writings of enthusiastic movie aficionados, Latina movies are generating favorable revenue in streaming services. 

However, we must continue making those “marvelous gems” with Latinas, keeping the unsung voices alive.

A few months back, to celebrate Mother’s Day in Downtown Los Angeles, the charming film “Luminarias,” directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela, had a free screening with the cast and crew. This event makes us think, why are we not producing a stunning all-Latina-cast movie like this one every year?

Perhaps we can start a new tradition of creating quality films like “Luminarias” that can propel the new generation of talented Latinas into the film industry.  
Latinos feel proud of the richness of their cinema made in the United States and that image exported to the rest of the world. 

The selection of Latina-themed movies represents a kaleidoscopic collection of whimsical, vibrant, colorful, flavorful, and compelling films.

The Best
Latina-Theme Movies
    1. “Filly Brown” USA (2012). Directed by Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos.

   “Filly Brown” recounts the personal journey of young Maria Jose ‘Majo’ Tonorio, a talented hip-hop rhymer. Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”) catapulted to stardom with this breakthrough performance. She plays Majo, a girl struggling to break into the music industry, while her mother, Maria Tonorio, played by Jenni Rivera, is in prison.

    The motion picture transcends its well-executed script, the music evolution, and the dominant performances, including those by Lou-Diamond Phillips, Emilio Rivera, Khool-Aid Rios, and Edward James Olmos.

    The upbeat film is considered a footprint for the empowerment of Latinas. It stands between the musicality of Eminem’s “8 Mile” and the prison experience shown in “American Me” by James Olmos.

    2. “Real Women Have Curves” USA (2002). It is directed by Patricia Cardoso and based on a play by Josefina Lopez.

    Exquisitely written by Josefina Lopez and George LaVoo, this highly-praised, coming-of-age drama breaks barriers of gender, generation, and stereotypes.

    Through its many layers, the heartfelt story recounts the life of a hard-working young Latina and the decisions she has to make: to stay with her Mexican-American family and work with them or go to college like any other “American girl.” 

 America Ferrara achieves a breakthrough performance, and Lupe Ontiveros (“As Good as It Gets,” “The Goonies”) plays a rigorous mother. Both are extraordinary, and Ingrid Oliu is exceptional as the older sister.

3. “Luminarias” USA (1999). Directed by José Luis Valenzuela.

Charming and genuine, “Luminarias” has captivated audiences with its “diversity” and the richness of every character who leaves a long-standing impression on the viewer.

The feel-good comedy delicately stands for interracial marriage, equality, and women empowerment. 

The all-star cast ensemble includes Evelina Fernandez, Marta DuBois, Angela Moya, Dyana Ortelli, Seidy Lopez, and the memorable Lupe Ontiveros. They delightedly played four passionate and professional Latinas as they came together to tête-à-tête on dating, love, and “Sex in the City of East Los Angeles.”

Those lovable women open up their hearts to everyone, including themselves.

   4. “Selena” USA (1997). Directed by Gregory Nava (“My Family,” “El Norte”).

    The biopic on the Texas-born Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla. She jumped to stardom after her concert at the Astrodome in Houston. This is one of the best performances by Jeniffer Lopez. The cast includes Edward James Olmos, Jon Seda, Jaquie Guerra, Jacob Vargas.

   5. “Frida” USA (2002). Directed by Julie Taymor  

    The biopic on the iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is the Oscar winner of Best Makeup and Best Original Music. It gave its first Oscar nomination to Salma Hayek, who gave a super interpretation of the world-renowned painter.

    6. “María Full of Grace” Colombia/USA/Ecuador (2004). Directed by Joshua Marston (Forgiveness of Blood, Come Sunday”).

    It is a vivid, provocative, heartless, brutal work of art that will make you look at life differently.

    Oscar© nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno plays Maria Alvarez, a pregnant young woman who risks her life when the drug cartel hires her to introduce drugs as a mule from Colombia to the United States.

    As the film unfolds vigorously, we see how women overcome oppression in two hostile, different, and unrelated countries.  

7. “My Sister’s Quinceanera” USA (2013). Directed by Aaron Douglas Johnston.

The minimalist, coming-of-age story chronicles the life of a family of five preparing for their sister’s fifteenth birthday in rural Iowa. The single mother works all day, and the older brother, Silas Garcia, cares for the little ones. 
Silas feels the urge to leave town for a better future, but he is also attached to the promise to stay with his sister for her quinceañera celebration.

8. “East Side Sushi” USA (2014). Directed by Anthony Lucero.

It is a beautifully crafted, independent film about the challenges a single Mexican mother has to go through to achieve her dreams and provide a better life for her family in a world dominated by men.

Masterfully directed by Anthony Lucero, the “fusion drama” mixes Latino and Asian cultures easily. 

The performance of Diana Elizabeth Torres as a sushi chef is delightful.

The U.S. distribution was not as practical as in the Mexican market, where the film, shot in Oakland, California, became a massive success with the ingenious idea of renaming it to “Sushi a la Mexicana” or “Mexican Sushi” in English. 

9. “Bread and Roses” United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland (2000). Directed by Ken Loach.

Maya (Pilar Padilla) and Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo) are two Latina cleaners in downtown Los Angeles who get organized to unionize the entire cleaning community with the help of Sam Shapiro (Adrien Brody "The Pianist").

The film is directed by the two-time Palme d'Or-winning British legend Ken Loach.

    10. “Tortilla Soup” USA (2011). Directed by Maria Ripoll.

    “Tortilla Soup” is an enjoyable family comedy about three sisters, Leticia (Elizabeth Peña), Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors), and Maribel (Tamara Bello). The household has to confront some challenges as their father, Hector Elizondo, loses his sense of gusto and olfato (taste & smell), something tragic for the renowned chef.

    The feel-good movie steps away from the original Ang Lee’s “Eat Drink Man & Woman” by blending Latin food, Brazilian music, and the stylish Californian lifestyle, elements that make this film a real treat for the spectator.

11. “Woman on Top” USA (2000). Directed by Fina Torres (Celestial Clockwork,” “Liz in September”).

Penelope Cruz is steamy hot as she plays this Brazilian chef, Isabella Oliveira. She had to leave her husband in Bahia to start a new life in San Francisco. There, she will meet a young and talented American producer who will help her begin the successful cooking show “Passion Food.”

The catchy trailer mixes food, humor, and light sexual substance. “Your mouth will water, your lips will burn, and your heart will race.”

    12. “Beatriz at Dinner” USA (2017). Director Miguel Arteta (“Star Maps,” Youth in Revolt).

    Salma Hayek is a holistic, middle-aged woman seeking relevance in modern-day society. As she gets stranded at a fancy dinner with an all-mighty political mogul, she realizes she has nothing to lose and plenty to gain. She will try to get her ideological and political points of view across.

    The hefty stereotypes and ambiguity of the central character were a big turn-off for many viewers. At the same time, some applauded the fact that this movie was brave enough to tackle the subjects of ecology, inequality, personal growth, and freedom for all.

    This independent film gained relevance for being one of the first 2016 post-electoral movies making explicit reference to the person in power.

    13. “La Misma Luna/Under the Same Moon” Mexico/USA (2007). Director Patricia Riggen (“The 33,” “Miracles from Heaven”).

    Kate del Castillo portrays a domestic worker in Los Angeles, while her son Carlitos (Adrian Alonso) will try to reunite with her a few months later. In a highly emotional border drama, the child’s epic journey across the desert takes twists and turns, and he meets other fantastic characters. 

The film explores the necessities that migrant families have to endure to remain together.

    The excellent cast includes Eugenio Derbez, America Ferrera, Jesse Garcia, Maya Zapata, Carmen Salinas, Mario Almada, and Los Tigres del Norte. 

   14. “Quinceañera” USA (2006). Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”).

    Magdalena (Emily Rios) faces a miracle pregnancy on the eve of her Quinceñera. Her father, a strict preacher, won’t allow such conduct, forcing her to move out to live in the house of her Great Uncle Tomas. Her robust cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) lives there and does what he pleases.

    The naturalistic beauty of this coming-of-age story received recognition at the Sundance Film Festival by showing the dilemma of teen pregnancy and the illusion of having a 15th birthday celebration. At the same time, her cousin Carlos has a difficulty: to continue his gay lifestyle or be part of the barrio’s gangbangers. 

    The importance of this eye-opening teen drama resides in observation, intolerance, and confrontation between generations.

    15. “Nine Lives” USA (2005). Directed by Rodrigo García (Last Days in the Desert, Mother and Child, Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her). 

    Influenced by the director’s father (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), the magical realism of this minimalist collection of vivid vignettes unfolds a profound depiction of the lives of nine fascinating women. They are isolated by an invisible wall built by their fears and interconnected by the miracle of life and the meaning of being a woman.

    The fantastic cast includes Glen Close, Amanda Seyfried, Robin Wright, Holly Hunter, Molly Parker, and Elpidia Carrillo.

   16. “Trade” Germany/USA/Mexico (2007). Directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner (“Summer Storm”). Adapted by Jose Rivera (“The Motorcycle Diaries”).
    “Trade” is a film of intoxicating beauty and great courage. It is also known as “The Girls Next Door,” a vivid exposé on human trafficking.

    The compelling story follows the ordeal of a kidnapped girl named Adriana, played by Paulina Gaitan (“Sin Nombre,” “Narcos”), and her desperate brother Jorge, Cesar Ramos (“4 Moons”). He follows the captors from Mexico into the United States to save her.

    This ambitious flick has no mercy in addressing the global problem of human trafficking, where good and bad people interact in a long-lasting journey. Actor Marco Perez from “Amores Perros” is stunning as one of the kidnappers. The cast is also extraordinary, including Kevin Kline, Kate del Castillo, Kathleen Gati, and Guillermo Ivan.

   17. “Americano” France (2011). Directed by Mathieu Demi.    
    “Americano” is a beautiful and meaningful story that connects every character’s hidden past with an uncertain present, centering on the life of two incredible women and the man who can place the puzzle together.   

    After the passing of his mother, an American/French man embarks on a personal journey, searching for the truth. He returns from Paris to California to sell her apartment, only to discover his mother’s relationship with Lola (Salma Hayek), an enigmatic woman from Tijuana.

    18. “Elegy” USA (2008). Director Isabel Coixet. (“My Life Without Me,” “Map of the Sounds of Tokyo”).

    It is a sophisticated and exquisite adaptation of Roth’s novella, The Dying Animal. “Elegy” centers on a relationship between a mature professor, David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), and a young Cuban student, Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz).
Consuela’s education and good manners are put aside to a compulsive sexual obsession between the student and the professor. The state of affairs becomes an elegy for the lost causes of forbidden love, poetically speaking.

19. “Girl in Progress” USA (2011). Patricia Riggen (“The 33,” “Miracles from Heaven”).

    It is a heartfelt, captivating movie with universal values. Eva Mendez is Grace, a single, hard-working mother who deals with her all-of-the-sudden teenage daughter Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez). 

As Grace falls for a married doctor, the daughter has to find maturity on her own. In this story, we learn that children can make mistakes and mothers, too. 

   The magnificent cast includes Matthew Modine, Patricia Arquette, and Eugenio Derbez.

    20. “Go for It” USA (2011). Directed by Carmen Marron (Endgame). 

    “Go for It” is the story of a young Mexican-American woman in the hip-hop culture. The girl’s name is Carmen (Aimee Garcia), a junior college student in Chicago who has to confront her family and society to reach for her dreams. Her best friend Gina (Gina Rodriguez) deals with domestic violence.

    Being underprivileged does not mean that they can’t reach for higher stakes. Whether wrong or right, it is their lives.
    Young viewers will identify with the choices the characters have to make. 

21. “Bordertown” USA (2006). Directed by Gregory Nava (“Mi Familia,” “Selena”).

   This eye-opening film intends to tell what happened with the murders of the “Women of Juarez,” an unpleasant exposition of the truth.

    Jennifer Lopez portrays a brave American journalist from the ‘Chicago Sentinel’ who is trying to uncover what’s behind the fatalities by rape and torture of many young women in Ciudad Juarez-El Paso, on the Texas border. The terrific cast includes Antonio Banderas, Maya Zapata, and Martin Sheen.

    22. “Bless Me, Ultima” USA (2013). Directed by Carl Franklin (“Out of Time,” “Devil in a Blue Dress”).

    Magical realism transcends borders and time with the beautiful adaptation of Rudolfo Anaya’s novella, “Bless Me, Ultima.” The controversial and forbidden book is attached to the Latino roots of many New Mexico inhabitants who consider it a modern classic.

    In the middle of a battle between good and evil in a small town in New Mexico, a young man attaches himself to the lessons of life he gets from an elderly and wise medicine woman or “curandera.”

    The people in town sincerely believe Ultima is a wicked witch. They want to bring her to justice while the family is having a drama with many wounded soldiers returning from WWII.
    Miriam Colon is terrific as Ultima, Dolores Heredia as Maria, Benito Martinez, Joaquin Cosio, Reko Moreno, and Luke Ganalon as young Antonio.

    23. “La Guapa/Thou Shalt Not Kill” USA (2014). Directed by Kenneth Castillo (“Marigold the Matador,” “Counterpunch,” and “Confession of a Gangster”).  

    The film mixes crime, family drama, and a thriller – all genres in one grand action ultra-low-budget flick. The complex characters keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
    The terrific cast includes Anthony L. Fernández, Grace Serrano, Al Coronel, Maria Kahlo, Cindy Vela, Mauricio Mendoza, and Gabby Pensiero.

    A desperate woman, Grace Serrano, will do whatever it takes to save her daughter, including killing those who separate them. This original, artistic, and character-driven film has “mucho corazón.”

    24. “Mamitas” USA (2011). Directed by Nicholas Ozaki.

   This true-to-life, coming-of-age, high school drama – is set in Los Angeles – where two unique characters, the popular Jordin (E.J. Bonilla) and nerdy Felipa (Veronica Dias-Carranza), fall for each other. While the romance unfolds, other elements are essential to the story: friendship, school dropouts, parenthood, and family values.   

    Pedro Armendariz Jr., Joaquín de Almeida, Jennifer Esposito, and Jesse Garcia complement the cast of this little jewel of Latin Cinema.

    25. “How the Garcia Sisters Spent their Summer” USA (2005). Directed by Georgina Riedel (“Ana Maria in Novela Land”).
    It is a timeless film that invites its audience to their picturesque town in the middle of nowhere (Arizona) and to the heart of their flamboyant Latin family.

    The Garcia family represents three generations of Mexican-American women on emotional, social, and sexual awakening. The performances of America Ferrera, Elizabeth Peña, and Lucy Gallardo are surprisingly good.

    The story combines humor and magical realism, taking us to a place where we can spend a summer “bien suave” with the Garcia girls.

Related Note:
Latinas Tackle the “Latinx Issue” in Hollywood 
Related Articles:
Latinas Tackle the “Latinx Issue” in Hollywood


Festival in L.A. ©2018


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