Living in a country rich in diversity, exposure to media in one’s native language appears to be minimal. With our current political climate, inclusivity of all is more important than ever. Having been born speaking Spanish, I feel a loss of connection to the language. I’ve walked by an arsenal of books at libraries only to find single shelves of Spanish films, books, music, and magazines all in one. Though a minority, we are also a majority.
However, my findings lead me to pick and choose a list of Spanish language films for my enjoyment, and now yours.
Exposure to queer people of color in general feels to me like hunting for an albino dodo bird, but Viva is a film that offers it all. Starring Hector Medina, the film is set in Cuba. Medina plays Jesus, a young hairdresser who often spends his time fixing wings for drag performers at a local drag club to make income and avoid prostitution. Wanting to perform, Mama, the club’s caretaker and also a performer, portrayed by Luis Alberto Garcia, gives Jesus a chance to perform. With mishaps and messiness, Jesus earns the name “Godzilla” from his fellow performers.
One night while performing and focusing on a man at the bar, Jesus’ singing comes to halt after getting punched in the face by the man at the bar. The man is Jesus’ father who has been serving prison time for killing another in a brawl, a former boxer, and a homophobe. Having now moved in with Jesus, he demands his son to cease going at the club. The film focuses on the relationship Jesus has with his father and the romance he has with drag.
The Washington Post described Viva as “slightly melodramatic, but director Paddy Breathnach finds ways to make it surprisingly moving at times, in the same way that he makes the Havana slums look paradoxically beautiful. Medina has a sweet, unforced screen presence, and holds our attention even when he is not performing at the club (but especially then).”
The film Roma takes place in, and is shot in, Mexico, a place that is not a manufacturing system of rapists and robbers, by the way. Circa 1970s, the film follows two maids working for a family, Antonio and Sofia. Their tasks are motherly: help take care of the four kids, cook, and clean. Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio, soon discovers she is pregnant, so Sofia takes the family on a vacation.
Roma’s storyline appears to be simple. The two-hour-long film is shot in black and white and takes a deeper look at the life of a domestic native female. Cleo witnesses Antonio’s departure from his family to run off with his mistress, Sofia’s emotional outbreaks of sadness and anger, and the struggles women face and overcome.
Cleo’s boyfriend and the father of her child denies ever being with her and refuses to assist Cleo with her pregnancy. While shopping for a crib with Sofia’s mother, Cleo witnesses the student protesters outside the shop, some who later come in and threaten customers and employees with a gun, one of whom is Cleo’s lover. Conflict in Cleo’s life doesn’t seem to end.
Roma’s director, Alfonso Cuarón, based the film on his childhood, and claims Cleo is a portrayal of an actual person. Netflix called the movie a depiction of “an artful love letter to the women who raised him,” and said that “Cuarón draws on his own childhood to create a vivid and emotional portrait of domestic strife and social hierarchy amidst political turmoil of the 1970s.”
With its artful use of black and white, Roma brings to light a life that is very real. The film also includes the native language of Mixteco alongside Spanish. Rather than domestic workers being played as background noise to indicate luxury, they are brought up to the spotlight. Roma includes trademarks about what it means to be native, female, and a hard worker.
The Netflix original film has been nominated for ten Oscars and is a winner of three.
Now for something a little more lighthearted.
Coco, though filmed in English, is f*cking the bomb. Growing up, I realized cartoons hardly ever had a family or a character who looked like what I was familiar with. I felt unwelcome being who I am. Now, watching Coco at the age of 16, holes in my childhood have been patched up.
The cartoon follows a young boy with a passion for music in a family that forbids it. Miguel later finds himself traveling to the land of the dead, in which he reconnects with deceased family members on Dia de los Muertos. Miguel discovers he is the grandson of a famous musician and is dead-set on finding him.
Coco brings a colorful look at Mexican culture and an insight to Day of the Dead.
Representation is important, especially living in a country with high claims of acceptance. These films showcase a variety of lives in a spectacular manner that would have otherwise been left behind. Binge watch away.