Exploring the Intersection of Hispanic Film Cultures in America

Posted on: Mar 26, 2024

Photo Credit: Tinseltown // Shutterstock

By Manuel Izquierdo

As a Cuban American, we didn’t have a lot of on-screen representation of our heritage when I was growing up. I know each Latin American country is widely diverse, but fundamentally, we share similar values and traditions that weren’t represented on the big screen.

Yes, today we are experiencing this renaissance of Hispanic movies like Coco, Encanto, Blue Beetle, A Million Miles Away and more. Despite their rising presence in traditional media, there’s a curious quiet when it comes to their vocal representation in Hollywood. Their voices resonate powerfully in smaller, yet passionately dedicated communities across the U.S., particularly in places like Miami, Texas and New York.

Let me take you on a journey through some of my personal favorite heartfelt moments of Hispanic filmmaking culture, with a special nod to my own experiences in Miami video production.

A Brief Evolution of Hispanic Film Culture

Hollywood has evolved significantly over the years, with Hispanic-based movies carving out a niche within mainstream cinema. Initially, Hispanic characters and stories were often relegated to stereotypes, lacking the depth and authenticity that truly represented the diverse experiences of Hispanic communities. The shift occurred as films like Selena and Frida brought the richness of Hispanic culture to the forefront, demonstrating a growing demand for more inclusive and genuine storytelling. These movies celebrating the lives of iconic figures Selena Quintanilla and Frida Kahlo garnered critical acclaim. They also showcased the commercial viability of Hispanic narratives, paving the way for further exploration of these rich cultural stories.

One of the most notable shifts in recent times was seen with Sofía Vergara in Modern Family. Instead of being reduced to a comedic stereotype for her Hispanic background, she was a full character. Vibrantly displaying what it means to be a Latin American in today’s culture, Vergara broke barriers and challenged the stereotypical representation.

This stark contrast can be seen when comparing her character to earlier Hispanic characters on TV, such as Desi Arnaz who played Ricky Ricardo in I Love Lucy. Arnaz’s character served as a precursor to the transformation of Hispanic representation in media, but it is through the vibrant and multi-dimensional portrayal of characters like Vergara’s that we truly see the positive evolution of the narrative.

The momentum continued into the 21st century, highlighted by the successes of Hispanic filmmakers such as Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant) and Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity). All have achieved global recognition, and in some cases, Academy Awards, for their unique storytelling and visual styles. We have also seen animated features like Coco beautifully capture Mexican traditions and the significance of family, have further solidified Hollywood’s embrace of Hispanic themes.

This transition toward more diverse and representative content marks a new era in Hollywood, where the influence of Hispanic cinema is increasingly recognized and celebrated. As the industry continues to evolve, the promise of a more inclusive and varied cinematic world looms large, driven by the rich narratives and vibrant cultures of Hispanic communities.

Advocating for More From Hollywood

Every subculture has its heroes and there are vocal champions advocating for more inclusion. Every Hispanic filmmaker making movies today falls into this category, but there’s one I specifically want to highlight: John Leguizamo. If you’re not familiar with him, he has played supporting roles in John Wick and The Menu, voiced characters in Shrek and Ice Age and more. He has been advocating for more representation in Latino films and TV throughout his career, holding a firm belief that Hollywood has failed the Latino community.

He once stated in an interview that while Hispanics make up more than 20% of the U.S. population, accounting for 25% of the total box office sales in the U.S., only 5.2% of film leads and 3.1% of TV leads are Hispanic, with less than 1% of those roles being significant (The Hollywood Reporter).

I think it also comes down to us as Hispanic filmmakers being willing to go out and tell those stories more frequently. For the first part of my career, I didn’t want to say anything about my past. I grew up with all these giant cinematic stories that were all based on someone else’s traditions. It’s only recently that I’ve started to feel the need to express the stories of our heritage. That’s why it’s so important to attend local film festivals, to see and get involved with authentic voices from varied backgrounds and cultures.

Networking Locally

There’s a well-known notion in stand-up comedy that each city has its own unique sense of style and comedy. As a comedian, it is believed that you should study and learn how to make people laugh in each city or region. The same is true with filmmaking. Every city, every cultural hub has its own unique voice and story to tell. I’ve noticed a plethora of amazing Hispanic-based filmmakers in both New York and Texas. They’re doing a lot of great work there, hosting large community events where they celebrate Hispanic cultures like nowhere else.

I am the most familiar with my hometown of Miami. With its kaleidoscopic mix of cultures, I believe Miami stands as a beacon for Hispanic filmmakers. This city has been my canvas and classroom. It’s a thriving hub of Hispanic culture, where filmmakers can weave tales that resonate with authenticity and passion.

There are amazing community programs like Miami Film Lab that help empower local filmmakers to tell authentic stories and collaborate. Online gig communities like Staff Me Up allow you to find and connect with talented multicultural people, which is key to thriving in this space.

Looking Ahead

The path for Hispanic filmmakers to achieve appropriate representation in Hollywood is not going to be an easy feat. Similar to any culture out there that’s trying to ensure proper representation of who they are on the big screen, it’s challenging and there is a long road ahead. It’s important to utilize every resource available to connect with people of our heritage and with people of other cultures. By doing so, we can learn from one another and thrive together. This will bring about a transformation in the media landscape, creating a more welcoming environment not just for ourselves but also for the next generation of storytellers and creative minds. I’m excited to witness what the future holds for us.

Manuel Izquierdo is a Hispanic American Filmmaker that runs his own video production company based in Miami Florida called Mi Media Productions. He loves to bring to life unique and innovative stories to share with the world but also believes in promoting a healthier film community, so don’t forget to stop by and say hello.

Browse thousands of jobs and find your next gig! Sign up or log in to Staff Me Up and get on set today!

You may also like:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *