U.S. Lawmakers Suggest 25 Movies About Latinos to the Film Registry

March 8, 2021
In The News

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is continuing work it started in January, when it nominated the movie “Selena” for the National Film Registry, with a list of 25 more films it would like to see the registry add.

The movies nominated by the caucus last week are from as early as 1982, and they also include films like “Spy Kids” (2001), a comedy featuring a Latino family, and “Frida” (2002), an Oscar-winning movie about the artist Frida Kahlo. The registry typically adds new movies in December.

“It is essential that the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry reflect the true diversity of American culture,” the chairman of the caucus, Representative Raul Ruiz, a Democrat from California, said in a statement. “Including more Latino films in the National Film Registry will help elevate Latino stories, promote an inclusive media landscape, and empower Latino filmmakers and storytellers.”

Established by Congress in 1988, the registry preserves films that it deems “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Each year, a committee selects 25 films to add.

“The Library of Congress is grateful for the nominations from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and for their interest in the National Film Registry,” Brett Zongker, a spokesman for the Library of Congress, said in a statement, adding, “The registry seeks to ensure the preservation of films that showcase the range and diversity” of America’s film heritage.

Latinos make up the largest minority group in the United States, at 18.5 percent of the population. But they continue to be underrepresented in films and on television. A 2019 study from the University of Southern California’s School for Communication and Journalism found that only 4.5 percent of all speaking characters across 1,200 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2018 were Latino.

Of the nearly 800 films in the registry, at least 17 are examples of Latino stories. The number of Latino directors in the registry is tiny: There are 11. Of them, nine are men and two are women.

Representative Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas, led the move for nominations. Latino creators and their stories are often pushed away by gatekeepers of American culture, like Hollywood and the national registry, Castro has said. He added that Latinos are often portrayed negatively in all media — as gang members, drug dealers or hypersexualized women.

In a letter to the Librarian of Congress, Castro and Ruiz wrote that such misconceptions and stereotyping in media are significant factors “motivating ongoing anti-Latino sentiment in American society,” affecting areas “from immigration law to the education system to the current public health crisis.”

The caucus’s list was developed through feedback from constituents, and movies were also identified by, among others, the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, the National Hispanic Foundation of the Arts, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the Latinx House (which uses a gender-neutral term for Latinos).

“Our stories have often been missing from American film, and even less often been recognized as important cultural pieces in American history,” Castro said in a phone interview. “This is an effort to change that.”

The 25 films the caucus chose reflect stories from a variety of nationalities, including Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Colombian, Argentine, Salvadoran and Nicaraguan.

The list speaks to many parts of the Latino experience, including people who are native to the United States and its territories and those who migrated to the country because of its politics and interventions in Latin America, Theresa Delgadillo, a Chicana and Latina studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in an interview.

“It is an important way to influence that diversity effort in an industry,” Delgadillo said about the caucus’s effort.

She and other professors, though excited about the effort, were also critical of the list, because, they say, there were few stories about Latinas and L.G.B.T.Q. people.