Latino Studies Telenovelas
Frederick Luis Aldama, Theresa N. Rojas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 March 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0074


The global popularity of telenovelas is reflected in the recent explosion of material that examines the growing impact of the genre on both cultural production and international markets. They are made in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, and in the United States (Miami). There have been important remakes that have, for instance, moved shows from their Latin American origins to the United States as with the Colombian Yo soy Betty, la fea remade in the United States as the popular prime-time show, Ugly Betty. Mexico’s largest export was Televisa’s telenovelas, with markets in 125 countries outside of Latin America. They are popular not just in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States, but also in Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, and Sweden, as well as eastern Europe, Russia, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and China, They are viewed in countries all over the world; for instance, while we have seen diminished interest in soap operas in the United States, there is a tremendous rise in popularity of telenovelas. There are several approaches to the study of telenovelas. Some seek to understand them as possible shapers of attitudes and behaviors, others to consider their production and distribution, and yet others seek to understand how they are built. Several areas of exploration and analysis include: (1) their shared generic features such as noncontinuous seriality: they average 120–200 episodes and run 2–5 days a week, with each storyline ending in total closure—unlike soap operas that continue indefinitely, telenovelas have large story arcs that have a final end; (2) their interwoven plots and subplots, which take place in domestic settings and revolve around romantic themes, class divisions, mysteries, comedic situations, teenagers, historical periods, and drug-related stories, among others; (3) the way that telenovelas touch on issues of class, race, and sexuality; (4) the importance of lens and frame (especially dramatic use of close-ups); and (5) production constraints such as budget and audience approval.

General Overviews

Scholarship on telenovelas ranges from historical genealogies to sleuthing out generic identifiers, from works that investigate local production and reception phenomena to those that analyze global significance and influence. Allen 1995 brings together a wide variety of scholars who focus on the history, locality, and cross-cultural themes found in soap operas and telenovelas from around the world. Estill 2001 considers how the Latin American telenovela not only grows from earlier serialized storytelling traditions, but in so doing also creates foundational fictions of the nation. Matelski 1999 deals with telenovelas from around the world and how each geographic region (nation) informs differently the themes and characterizations (cultural patterns) as well as audience reception. Podalsky 2003 takes as its subject how the mass media company Televisa constantly gives shape to its telenovela TV programming to grow a global and local television viewing market. Essays collected in Rios and Castañeda 2011 discuss the industry, techniques, themes, and audience of telenovelas from around the world. Mazziotti, et al. 1993 and Medina and Barró 2010 consider matters of industry as well as questions of the very nature of the telenovela. Stavans 2010 collects essays that consider the critical debates, histories, and specific examples of telenovelas.

  • Allen, Robert C., ed. To Be Continued . . . Soap Operas Around the World. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

    This is the most commonly cited collection of essays on soap operas and telenovelas through the 1990s. The volume consists of eighteen essays ranging from a brief history of serial narrative to issues of negative stigma and mass popularity.

  • Estill, Adriana. “The Mexican Telenovela and Its Foundational Fictions.” In Latin American Literature and Mass Media. Edited by Edmundo Paz-Soldán and Debra A. Castillo, 169–193. New York: Garland, 2001.

    Ellis discusses the evolution of Latin American telenovelas from the 19th century Latin American popular romance novels. She contextualizes the roots of the contemporary telenovela (the melodramatic novel) as well as tracing the influence of radionovelas and newspaper serials.

  • Matelski, Marilyn J. Soap Operas Worldwide: Cultural and Serial Realities. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999.

    Matelski provides an overview of soap operas around the globe beginning with their development in the United States and extending through North America, Central America and the Caribbean, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Near and Middle East, and the Pacific. Appendices include lists of selected soap operas and corresponding countries.

  • Mazziotti, Nora, Eliseo Verón, Jesús Martin-Barbero, Jorge A. González, María Teresa Quiroz, and Anamaria Fadul. El espectaculo de la pasión: Las telenovelas Latinoamericanas. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ediciones Colihue, 1993.

    This small volume is a collection of six essays on telenovelas in Spanish. Each essay, with the exception of Verón, focuses on telenovelas in a particular country: Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. Veron’s essay “Relato televisivo e imaginario social” (pp. 29–43) explores broader issues concerning television’s blurring of the lines between fiction and reality.

  • Medina, Mercedes, and Leticia Barró. “La telenovela en el mundo.” Palabra Clave 13.1 (2010).

    This article in Spanish posits an economic theory of the transnationalization and globalization of telenovelas generated by several key producers and exporters: Televisa (Mexico), TV Globo (Brazil), TV Azteca (Mexico), Telefe (Argentina), RCN (Colombia), Telemundo (United States), and Venevisión y Radio Caracas TV (Venezuela).

  • Podalsky, Laura. “Los globalizados también lloran: Mexican Telenovelas and the Geographical Imagination.” In Contemporary Latin American Cultural Studies. Edited by Stephen Hart and Richard Young, 151–166. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Podalsky discusses the Mexican telenovela’s simultaneous promotion of a strong national identity and participation in globalization. Using examples of telenovelas broadcast on Mexico’s Televisa network, Podalsky analyzes its popularity despite the limitations of its format.

  • Rios, Diana I., and Mari Castañeda, eds. Soap Operas and Telenovelas in the Digital Age: Global Industries and New Audiences. New York: Peter Lang, 2011.

    The editors bring together the most recent scholarship on telenovelas and soap operas. With a particular eye toward the effect of digital technology on the globalization of the genre, the sixteen essays cover a range of approaches and methods that include focus on telenovelas’ historical, sociological, feminist, and generic dimensions.

  • Stavans, Ilan, ed. Telenovelas. Ilan Stavans Library of Latino Civilization 1. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010.

    This volume compiles ten essays on telenovelas and soap operas that range from an overview of the soap opera and telenovela genre to specific case studies of Mexican telenovelas. The essays include discussions of gender, class, and how the telenovelas continue to take cues from and shape Latino culture.

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