In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latina/o Americans in Film and Television

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Introductory Works
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Television History
  • Television and Contemporary Issues
  • Spanish-Language TV and US Latina/os
  • Latina/os and Children’s Television
  • Latina/o Media Audiences

Cinema and Media Studies Latina/o Americans in Film and Television
Mary Beltrán
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0098


Latino Americans, also termed Hispanics, as individuals with ancestry in the US Southwest, Mexico, Puerto Rico, or Latin American countries, are widely diverse, even while their cinematic and televisual representations have often flattened differences in their construction of an imagined, universal Latin-ness, or Latinidad. This representational history has its roots in social history and particularly the historical oppression of Mexican Americans. Mexican Americans also historically have been the largest US Latino group. In 2011, they made up 64.6 percent of all Latino Americans, followed by Puerto Ricans (9.5 percent), Salvadorans (3.8 percent), Cuban Americans (3.5 percent), and smaller but increasing numbers of Latinos of Central and South American descent. Given their varied histories, Latino Americans differ widely with respect to such factors as class, immigrant generation, and media habits. Spanish-language usage is a commonality among many but not all Latino Americans. Younger Latino Americans are also increasingly acculturated, demonstrating hybrid media consumption of both English- and Spanish-language popular culture forms. Latino representation in US film and television is increasingly important to scholarship on American media, as the Latino population has grown exponentially in the last century and is expected to continue to increase. Latinos became the largest nonwhite group in the United States in 2000 and now make up more than 17 percent of the population and 20 percent of youth under the age of eighteen, according to the US Census Bureau. Scholarship on Latino representation in US film and English-language entertainment television, however, is still relatively new. Academic books on the topic began to be published in the early 1980s; pioneering scholars included Arthur Pettit (Image of the Mexican American in Fiction and Film, 1980), Frank Javier Garcia Berumen (The Chicano/Hispanic Image in American Film, 1995), Charles Ramírez Berg (whose work was later collected in Latino Images in Film: Stereotypes, Subversion and Resistance, 2002), Chon Noriega (editor of Chicanos and Film: Representation and Resistance, 1992), Rosa Linda Fregoso (The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicano Film Culture, 1993), and Clara Rodríguez (editor of Latin Looks: Images of Latinas and Latinos in the US Media, 1997). Some of the work of these scholars necessarily involved establishing the legitimacy of studying Latinos and film and television representation, as Angharad Valdivia (see Valdivia 2008, cited under Anthologies) and Ramírez Berg (see Berg 2002, cited under Introductory Works) have noted. The next generations of scholars have benefited from these inroads in Latino studies and media studies and the growth and acceptance of cultural studies traditions. Scholars in recent decades have explored Latino American media representation and stardom in US film and television from a variety of disciplinary and methodological approaches. This article reviews the most useful scholarship on Latinos and US film and television, with special attention to the salient themes and notable scholars in the field.

General Overviews

When Latino representation in US film was a burgeoning topic in film studies and Chicana/o and Latina/o studies in the 1980s and early 1990s, a handful of book-length studies were written that attempted to document and analyze the evolution of these representations throughout the history of the medium. The earliest studies (e.g., Pettit 1980 and Berumen 1995) are important as pioneering works that began to document historical patterns in how Latino and Latina characters had been portrayed and the narrative functions that they typically served. These studies tend to suffer, however, from their status as “firsts”: they are typically lacking with respect to critical depth and their need to lump together myriad portrayals into categories. While the authors’ conclusions apply well to film portrayals and film industry logics about Latina/o actors and characters up to the time of publication, they can feel out of date to a contemporary reader. Perhaps this is the reason for the lack of published historical overviews on Latino Americans and film since that time. More recently, an important, highly useful publication that provides an overview of scholarship on Latina/os and American media from all sectors of the world of media studies scholarship is Valdivia 2010, part of a series by Polity Press on various ethnic groups and media studies, which is a first of its kind in expertly summarizing and evaluating media studies scholarship with a focus on Latina/os.

  • Berumen, Frank Javier Garcia. The Chicano/Hispanic Image in American Film. New York: Vantage, 1995.

    In this early history of Latina/o representation, Berumen engages analysis of films and their production and analysis of film reviews in the popular and trade press. His survey lacks the critical depth of more recent scholarship, but, importantly, it was one of the first.

  • Pettit, Arthur. Images of the Mexican American in Fiction and Film. College Station: Texas A&M Press, 1980.

    In this pioneering study, Pettit surveys how Mexican and Latino men and women have been portrayed in both American literature and American film through 1976, with particular attention to how portrayals in literature influenced Latino portrayals in early cinema.

  • Valdivia, Angharad N. Latina/os and the Media. Malden, MA: Polity, 2010.

    Notably broad, in-depth survey of scholarship and the questions of concern when examining Latina/os in the entertainment and news media in the United States. Excellent overview for scholars in both the social sciences and the humanities.

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