In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latin American Cinema

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies, Surveys, and Textbooks
  • Journals and Trade Magazines
  • Bibliographies and Filmographies
  • New Latin American Cinema, Third Cinema, Cinema Novo
  • New Media, Digital, and Experimental Cinema

Cinema and Media Studies Latin American Cinema
María Mercedes Vázquez Vázquez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0275


How might the term “Latin American Cinema” be defined? The term is not exempt from controversy any more than the concept of Latin America itself, which was first imagined by the French Michel Chevalier in the mid-19th century and later coined by the Colombian José María Torres Caicedo. The question of whether a cinema that is specifically Latin American exists and, furthermore, whether it is productive to conduct research from this broad perspective often appears in prologues to Latin American film studies. Given its age (a considerable number of national cinemas in the region are more than one hundred years old), volume, and quality, there are few histories of Latin American cinema as a whole, although this gap is being filled with a profusion of projects since 2015. Most Latin American film studies focus on one or two national cinemas, but overall, Latin American cinema has been studied mostly as a compilation of national cinemas even in volumes in which the relevance of the national framework has been questioned. As the largest film industries (if the application of this term to any Latin American cinema is accepted), it is not surprising that the cinemas of Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina are the privileged objects of study, with Cuban cinema following closely due to its importance in the development of the New Latin American Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s. Studies on this latter “continental movement” (also including Third Cinema and Cinema Novo) abound and appear in publications devoted to World Cinema as well as Latin American Cinema exclusively, although some scholars regret the neglect of Third Cinema’s theory and practice in general film theory textbooks. Research on cinemas produced after the New Latin American Cinema movement often considers this as a major historical referent. Studies on Latin American filmmaking from the 1990s on are diverse and more specific than earlier research, with a range of genres and topics including humor, the road movie, orientalism, cinematic and digital cultures, horror, football, the Mexican revolution, exile, indigenous themes and subjects, as well as the more prevalent research on gender, class, ethnicity, and realism. As in the case of European cinema, auteurist approaches have dominated Latin American cinema studies. However, this field, traditionally centered on narrative and avant-garde fiction features, is experiencing a significant increase in the inclusion of documentaries, commercial, and experimental cinemas. The growing literature on transnationalism, spectatorship, and production mirrors contemporary transformations in state funding, supra-national initiatives, film festival engagement, and redefinitions of independent filmmaking across the region.

General Overviews

General overviews of Latin American cinema (including all or most Spanish-language cinemas of the Americas, the cinema of Brazil, and occasionally other small cinemas) have evolved according to general developments in Latin American film scholarship from the mid-20th century to the early 21st century. Studies range from books published in the 1980s, privileging political cinema by auteurs who contributed to the cinematic construction of the nation, to later attempts at grasping the nature of the interconnections among different Latin American cinemas without positing a unified Latin America. Hennebelle and Gumucio-Dagron 1981, the first general history of Latin American cinema, was written in French and generated subsequent continental and national histories. It is informed by a decolonizing and anti-imperialist approach typical of an era when political filmmaking represented the most visible face of the region’s cinematic output. Schumann 1987, with its emphasis on the effects of dictatorships and democracies on film, partakes of the same spirit and was inspired directly by the earlier volume. Hart 2015, on the contrary, argues that although in some isolated cases film was directly related to national histories, it has a history of its own in which technological advances play a pivotal role. Paranaguá 2003 also moves away from Schumann’s explicit aim of supporting the revolutionary impulse of New Latin American Cinema to pay more attention to the market, distribution, exhibition, and consumption in the region, instead of focusing mainly on production. King 1990 offers a similar comprehensive approach, including industrial and critical studies and opening the research agenda to previously under-represented genres and figures. In contrast to Paranaguá, however, whose periodization intertwines—but does not conflate—different national filmographies in each section, King 1990 is structured around nations according to the argument that the “cinema of the last thirty years can only be understood by examining national situations” (p. 66). Schroeder Rodríguez 2016 closely follows the useful comparative approach of Paranaguá 2003; however, this volume is more suitable as an introductory volume for undergraduate students in Latin American studies departments than for research specialists. Paranaguá convincingly argues that only a truly comparative approach inside and outside Latin America (particularly, Hollywood and Europe) and a focus on film consumption can yield novel explanations to cinematic phenomena. Stock 1997 presents models for contemporary theoretical discussions grounded on a cultural praxis by respected film scholars known for their familiarity with several cinemas, such as Paranaguá, Julienne Burton-Carvajal and Laura Podalsky, as well as essential references for the study of specific national cinemas like the editor Ann Marie Stock (Cuba), José Carlos Avellar (Brazil), and John Mraz (Mexico), among others.

  • Hart, Stephen M. Latin American Cinema. London: Reaktion, 2015.

    Original approach connecting technological innovations to aesthetic and ideological changes in filmmaking. The focus is on texts produced from the silent era to the year 2013.

  • Hennebelle, Guy, and Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron, eds. Les cinémas de l’Amérique latine: Pays par pays, l’histoire, l’economie, les structures, les auteurs, les œuvres. Paris: Lherminier, 1981.

    This history of Latin American cinema in French is the first general history of Latin American cinema. It uses the term “Latin American Cinema” in a French-initiated fashion that is rarely understood in the early 21st century. It includes not only Spanish-language cinemas and the cinema of Brazil but also most small cinemas of the region produced in English, French, and Dutch languages. This seminal work inspired some of the first histories of national cinemas.

  • King, John. Magical Reels: A History of Cinema in Latin America. London: Verso, 1990.

    Organized in a country-by-country structure, this is the first English-language volume analyzing Latin American cinematic currents in the 20th century. This essential study understandably devotes more attention to the three larger cinemas (Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina) than to smaller ones, but it still provides a useful continental description of film production in chronological fashion. Its major contributions are the selection of representative films and filmmakers, the attention to developments in national film legislation, and shifts in state-sponsorship schemes. A Spanish translation is available.

  • Paranaguá, Paulo Antonio. Tradición y modernidad en el cine de América Latina. Madrid: Fondo de Cultura Económica de España, 2003.

    This is the first comparative history of the cinemas of Latin America. It avoids a homogenizing or “Bolivarian” (continental) approach to Latin American film historiography based on the belief that “there is no Latin American cinema sensu stricto” (p. 23). It employs an effective comparative approach mainly focusing on periods and figures that previously have been neglected. Its attention to exhibition and distribution in addition to production adds value to this impressive volume. In Spanish.

  • Schroeder Rodríguez, Paul A. Latin American Cinema: A Comparative History. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016.

    This book adopts a useful comparative approach through the study of fifty paradigmatic films that illustrate shifts in the region’s cultural history with regard to discourses on modernity and identity. Studies of canonical films from the silent period to contemporary cinema allow Schroeder Rodríguez to explore questions of race, gender, and foreign influences, among others.

  • Schumann, Peter B. Historia del cine latinoamericano. Translated by Oscar Zambrano. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Legasa, 1987.

    The first history of Latin American cinema published in Latin America, covering most Spanish-language cinemas and Brazil until 1985−1986. Combining cinematic historiography with critical appraisal, it is structured around major political and economic developments. This organizing principle emphasizes the effects of modes of government on film and places more importance on political than commercial cinema. Useful chronological exposition of the effects of governmental policies and Hollywood on national industries. In Spanish.

  • Stock, Ann Marie, ed. Framing Latin American Cinema: Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

    This authoritative volume updates the theoretical framework of Latin American film studies and proposes alternative models for Latin American film criticism foregrounding intersections of historical frameworks and cultural forms. The interweaving of Anglo-American and European film and social theory with Latin American theory provides models for effective film criticism.

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