Latin Women in Film
Filmmaking, at its core, is a storytelling medium. Whether it is fiction, non-fiction, linear, non-linear, feature or documentary film, the goal with film is to tell a compelling story of an intriguing subject. That subject is often a person, event, place, or place in time. The amazing thing about the film medium, if executed properly, is that it can tell us a story about someone we think we have known through stories, written works, and history books and make us realize we may have not really known the person at all.
What is even more impressive is it can tell us a story of someone we knew absolutely nothing about and make that much more of an impact in our knowledge. This is the case for films that are made about Latin Women throughout history that are either highly known, or barely known by the general population and/or history scholars. Films such as Lucia (1968), Camila (1984), and Frida (2002) are motion pictures that tell the stories of revolutionary Latin Women and Important historical events through women’s perspectives from various regions in Latin America that include Mexico City, Argentina, and Cuba.
Some of these stories are well known, or at least are thought to be well known, such as Frida. However, the stories of Camila O'Gorman and the historical situations analyzed in Lucia are less known throughout popular history, especially in the United States and these film’s goals are to broaden the audience to hear and know these important stories of these revolutionaries. The non-fiction narratives of Camila O’Gorman and Frida Kahlo, along with the realistic fiction narratives of all three Lucias show examples of women who challenged societal norms of all sorts and revolutionized their times because of it. This is shown through the film medium by their respective motion pictures.
Lucia (1968) is a motion picture written and directed for the screen by Humberto Solás. Solás, a filmmaker from Havana, Cuba, has directing credits for popular Cuban films such as, La Huida (1958), and Cantata de Chile (1975) . Lucia aims to highlight different periods in Cuban History over 6 decades in order to show the gradual change of women in society through the times in the perspective of three different women, all named Lucia, in their respective period in time.
The first part of the film depicts who we know as the first Lucia or Lucia I, portrayed by Cuban actress Raquel Revuelta, set in the beginning of La Guerra de Independencia Cubana or the Cuban War of Independence; 1895. This segment of the film shows Lucia, a member of the upper class, who’s mind revolves around the war, specifically the rebel army because her brother is a soldier in that army. She worries for him, of course. Like most women in the late 19th century, Lucy’s mind also revolves around who and when she will marry. Because of her brother, her feelings towards the war and politics are negative.
With that said, she meets a man, a married man, named Rafael (Eduardo Moure) who she falls madly in love with, she elopes and begins to build a life with him. Lucia is eventually betrayed for information of her people and the war by the one she loved. Because of this, Lucia’s brother ultimately dies in a raid. This shows just how involved society truly was for the people who lived in the crossfire of Cuba and Spain during the war, even those who didn’t want anything to do with it.
The second story, or Lucia II, takes place in 1933 Cuba. Lucia, now portrayed by Eslinda Nuñez, shows a different class as Lucia comes from much more humble beginnings from a family of the middle class. This is a life Lucia is not content with and seeks more. This is when Aldo, a young man after the revival of the revolution, comes into play for Lucia. Seeking a fuller and more exciting life through this movement, Lucia and Aldo find tragedy when Aldo is murdered for his efforts in overthrowing the dictator of that time, Gerardo Machado. This depiction of 1930s Cuba shows the political involvement that can be ignited with the desperation and limitations of the middle class such with Lucia. The third part of Solás’ Lucia or Lucia III contains the backdrop of Cuba in the 1960s.
Contrary to the other Lucias who are searching for love and/or marriage this Lucia, portrayed by Adela Legrá, is newly married to Tomas (Adolfo Llauradó). I feel as though this chapter was the most effective in showing the dynamics of women in the revolution. What’s most fascinating about it is that it decides to do it through comedy. Tomas is a man’s man who refuses to let his wife out of the house (out of conservative society’s societal norms for women). T
hrough comedic depictions such as Tomas nailing the windows and doors shut for comedic effect, it is seen what the symbolism behind it is comically nudging at a man’s reluctance at the time to be part of a revolution that is already happening. Tomas’ traditional ways show the grasp this character has to the past. When Lucia leaves him and is defended by her fellow females, it’s a clear depiction of power in numbers for what’s happening in the revolution. Traditional v Modern Times. The film ends in a Federico Fellini-esque type of way by simply allowing the argument between the two go on as it fades out. This is very effective to show that the argument would, simply, go on.
Though Lucia was a fictional portrayal I felt this film was truly affective in its attempt to depict this evolution for the women in Cuba. I felt it related to the readings from Margaret Randall’s book, “Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary: She Led By Transgression”. Haydée Santamaria’s journey through the Cuban Revolution felt eerily similar to the final two Lucias of the film, with a stronger parallel to Lucia III. Santamaria’s humble beginnings from immigration to a sugar refinery and then to become a revolutionary, high ranked one (for women at the time) at that feels similar to the drive that was sparked in women to want to pursue what they did in Lucia.
Of course, Santamaria would have more of an impact on a grander scale, but I think it is important to note that this is what’s beautiful about this film. It is depicting the everyday, common woman. It’s not showing the legacy of someone who made a grand impact but instead showing the drop of water that would make part of the ocean to create the tidal wave for change that was the Cuban Revolution.
Camila (1984) is a film written by María Luisa Bemberg, Beda Docampo Feijóo, Juan Bautista Stagnaro and directed by María Luisa Bemberg, respectively . The film targets similar themes to the first part of Humberto Solás’ Lucia.
The story of Camila takes place in Argentina in the late 19th century. The narrative follows a young, high class woman who isn’t happy about her current existence despite her social position, this is Camila O’Gorman. When she meets a Jesuit priest, who also comes from the rich class but decided to create his own identity far from his family, she falls in love. Camila and Ladislao create a wonderful life where their dedication focuses entirely on helping others. Shamefully, they are eventually found and arrested. This film helps viewers understand that the desire for societal change, even in the higher class, resonated, not just in one region or another, but throughout all of Latin America in all kinds of social classes. Women, like Camila, searched for a more fulfilling life.
What I enjoy about this portrayal of Camila O’Gorman is that it really highlights that the desire of a fuller life came internally by her, an original thought, and not by something she saw necessarily. The talk of the revolution brought by the war circulated, but it wasn’t her key focus. Her key focus was to challenge what she knew as life in order to create her own happiness. The story of Camila and Ladislao is a legendary story in Argentina, I’d argue that it’s their Romeo and Juliet. What’s fascinating to me is that this story revolves heavily on how Camila broke from her reality at a time that made it impossible considering the backdrop of Argentina at the time. This would include the Dictatorship of Juan Manuel de Rosas, her aristocratic family, as well as the constant societal norm that was to marry two people of wealthy descent almost as a business deal merger.
María Luisa Bemberg’s Camila is an exceptional example of how telling someone’s story could impact not just the audience it’s intended for but also people who have never heard the story. It is important to note that the film was executed by a Latin American FEMALE Filmmaker, something not so common in Cinema in the 1980s. Camila went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the United States garnering an audience for this narrative in places beyond Argentina. The film is still considered a film classic in Argentina today.
“Frida” (2002) is a film based on the book “Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo” by Hayden Herrera. It was written for the screen by Clany Sigal, Diana Lake, Gregory Nava, and Anna Thomas. The film stars Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo and Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera and was Directed for the screen by Julie Taymor. Taymor has directing credits that include Titus (1999), The Tempest (2010), and Across the Universe (2007), a musical based on the music and stories of the musical sensation, The Beatles. July Taymor’s Frida tells the story of Mexican artistic, political, and sexual revolutionary, Frida Kahlo.
The film is heavy in its depiction of Frida’s apprenticeship and relationship to husband, Diego Rivera, humanizing two of the greatest artists in Mexican history and art history. The film not only draws from Herrera’s Biography of Frida, but also from Diego Rivera’s autobiography, “My Life, My Art: An Autobiography” in certain instances. Not only does the film focus around Frida’s artistic aspirations, but also targets her political activism and standpoints, her different relationships and affairs, as well as her thoughts and known experiences in sexuality.
Frida shows just how Frida Kahlo challenged gender and societal norms. We must remember that this film is depicting a woman as an artist and an individual set in Mexico in the mid-twentieth century, particularly the 1920s-1940s. This was why Kahlo’s life was extraordinary and larger than life. The film does not shy away in showing these things. In one of the earliest scenes in the film, we see a young Frida at her sister’s wedding dressed in a man’s gray-flannel suit. Throughout the film, the audience truly does gain a taste of sexual liberation. The film shows just how sexually driven Frida was in a time where Catholicism thrived in Mexico and prudency was honored, in public society at least.
In the film, we see the affairs Frida had, with historical figures such as Diego Rivera, who later came to be her husband, Leon Trotsky, a Russian politician, and mentions of some more. Having relationships with multiple men was something that was, certainly, frowned upon in that area in that era. What is even more striking is that the film also points/nudges to Frida’s sexual experimentation with women, a societal issue that was, also, not accepted as far as bi-sexuality and homosexuality went in those times. This is considered to be revolutionary in the area of sexuality and sexual norms in Mexico.
Political elements also need to be discussed when it comes to Frida because she was also considered a political participant/activist, something women were engaging in presently . Frida stood out in the midst of this. Frida challenged social norms in search for artistic, political, and sexual expression. Frida was proudly part of the Mexican Communist Party for quite some time before leaving when the party shunned her husband from the party.
When entering the US, they joined the Left Opposition party under Trotsky. Though Stalinists were constantly after Frida and Diego, (and Trotsky), they would fight for the working class through their new party affiliations. Frida’s political involvement was one that women paid attention to in Mexico; she is a renowned example of women revolution and feminism, today.
This film received mostly positive reviews with critics being enveloped in the beautiful aesthetic as well as the engaging storyline . The film intentionally was slated for an independent/art-house release to only five theaters in the United States but through its gain in popularity, ended opening to 238 theaters worldwide. The film grossed over fifty million dollars in the box office. The film’s critical and box office success pushed for a bigger audience to be exposed to the life of Frida Kahlo.
According to the UCLA’s “Hollywood Diversity Report”, the Degree of Underrepresentation charts indicate that in 2015-2016 Women Leads in Film are 2 to 1 and Women Directors are 7 to 1. The scarcity of Latin American Stories, Latin American Leads, and Latin American Filmmakers still exists today. So it is important to acknowledge those films that do exist and have made an impact. I feel as though films such as Lucia, Camila, and Frida sparked a conversation in their time are clear examples of telling compelling stories of revolutionary women through the art of cinema so that a larger audience are able to know about them. These depictions may be limited in the time frame that a motion picture is set to, but nevertheless are impactful to those willing to see them. I believe that cinema can definitely be a reflection society in its time, these films are great examples of that for generations to come.
- Humberto Solás, dir., “Lucia,” Havana, 1968.
- María Luisa Bemberg, dir.,”Camila” Argentina, 1984.
- Julie Taymor, dir., “Frida” United States/Mexico, 2002.
- Humberto Solás, dir., “Lucia,” Havana, 1968.
- Stephen M. Hart, A Companion to Latin American Film, Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK; Rochester, NY, USA, 54.
- New World Encyclopedia Contributors, “Federico Fellini”, 4 Apr 2017. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Federico_Fellini&oldid=1004121 (Accessed on 11/14/2018)
- María Luisa Bemberg, dir.,”Camila” Argentina, 1984.
- Hart, A Companion, 107.
- Julie Taymor, dir., “Frida” United States/Mexico, 2002.
- Jocelyn Olcott, Mary Kay Vaughan, and Gabriela Cano, Sex in Revolution: Gender, Power, and Politics in Modern Mexico, (New York, Duke: 2007)
- A.O. Scott “Film Reivew; A Celebrated Artist's Biography, on the Verge of Being a Musical.” New York Times 25 Oct. 2002.
- Darnell Hunt, “Hollywood Diversity Report” 27 Feb 2018, < www.socialsciences.ucla.edu, 2018, socialsciences.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/UCLA-Hollywood-Diversity-Report-2018-2-27-18.pdf> (Accessed 11 Nov 2018)
- Canby, Vincent. “Screen: 'CAMILA,' STORY OF LOVE IN ARGENTINA.” The New York Times, 15 Mar. 1985, www.nytimes.com/1985/03/15/movies/screen-camila-story-of- love-in-argentina.html.
- Hart, Stephen M. A Companion to Latin American Film. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK; Rochester, NY, USA: Boydell and Brewer, 2004.
Hunt, Darnell, et al. “Hollywood Diversity Report.” www.socialsciences.ucla.edu, 2018, socialsciences.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/UCLA-Hollywood-Diversity-Report-2018- 2-27-18.pdf.
- New World Encyclopedia contributors, "Federico Fellini," New World Encyclopedia, 4 Apr. 2017 ,http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Federico_Fellini&oldid=1004121
- Olcott, Jocelyn, Mary K. Vaughan, and Gabriela Cano. Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.
- Randall, Margaret. Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary: She Led By
- Roberts-Camps, Traci. Latin American Women Filmmakers. University of New Mexico Press, 2017.
- Sayre, Nora. “Screen: Solas's 'Lucia'.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Mar. 1974, https://www.nytimes.com/1974/03/01/archives/screen-solass-lucia.html
- Scott, A. O. “Film Reivew; A Celebrated Artist's Biography, on the Verge of Being a Musical.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Oct. 2002, https://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/25/movies/film-review-a-celebrated-artist-s- biography-on-the-verge-of-being-a-musical.html