Professor Rojo Robles in conversation with Daniela Toribio, Coordinator of Student Affairs for the Initiative for the Study of Latin America (ISLA)
Can you give us an overview of what your course “Latinx Screens” will be?
In my course “Latinx Screens” we will watch and study feature films, documentaries, TV episodes, and music videos made by or about Latinos/as/x. This class will provide a holistic introduction to Film Theory and Latinx Cultural Studies. Throughout the semester, we will explore audiovisual narratives and themes influential to major Latinx communities (Nuyorican, Mexican, Central American, and Dominican) while problematizing issues of (neo) colonialism, patterns of representation, gender, sexuality, race, social class, migration, urban life, and access to citizenship.
In what ways is your course relevant to the current world?
Latino/a/x people are a growing demographic in the US and we represent 25% of all movie tickets (before COVID 19). Despite this fact, mainstream media do a consistently poor job representing us in stories, behind and in front of the camera. This resistance is driven by corporate negligence and anxiety over racial and cultural differences. If we do get represented, it is through stereotypical roles such as the gang member, the domestic help, or the temporary love interest of a white protagonist. In my class, we are going to take a different route. We will look at how Latinx people represents themselves (as filmmakers, media makers, and performers) in more nuanced and dignified narratives and roles. We are going to compile a dispersed body of work and explore how Latinxs use audiovisual platforms as a way to comment on systemic marginalization but also to portrait a fluid cultural legacy.
What is one essential skill students take out of your course?
Besides watching key works of Latinx audiovisual culture in the US and learning the basic terminology of film analysis, my students will identify and dissect ethnic signifiers and film representations. We will analyze the role Latinx film, tv, and video plays in forming individual perspectives of ethnicity as well as participating in conversations on overlapping diasporas (especially the Black diaspora). Latinx Screens are also sites of hidden joys and imagining futures.
What are some of the films you will be screening?
We will watch the excellent documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child on the life and works of the great artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent. We will watch When They See Us a limited TV series by Ava Duvernay about a high-profiled fabricated case against Black and Latino youth during the late 80s. Through it, we will explore how the prison industrial complex also known as the school to prison pipeline has affected the Latinx community. Gun Hill Road it’s a recent feature film about trans identities and with a trans actor. It will allow us to look at transphobia and gender tensions in Nuyorican communities. We will establish how performance poetry helps queer Latinx to create supportive networks and platforms to express intimate ideas and worldviews. We will look at the recent context of Central American migration too by engaging with the feature film Sin nombre and will look at Tejano music and the iconic singer Selena in the now-classic film of the same name- with J. Lo as the protagonist. Also, we will watch, Raising Victor Vargas, an off-beat romantic comedy that explores Dominican masculinities and religious fervor. Those are some of the works we will watch and analyze. I’m excited about the selection. Music, performance poetry, youth cultures, gender constructions, and urban lives are some of the threads that unify the corpus.
Why do you think you will enjoy teaching this course?
I would have loved to take this course during my undergraduate and graduate years in Puerto Rico and New York. In the archipelago, it would have meant learning about the vibrancy of Puerto Rican communities in the US. Because of colonial, linguistic, political, and cultural tensions, Latinx works aren’t usually showcased in courses in Puerto Rico. Here in New York it would have meant recognizing the cultural legacy of my community. These films make me feel pride about how my people have navigated, survived, and created in this (many times) hostile country. With this class, I’m proposing to fill a gap in the curricula. I’m looking forward to putting Latinx audiovisual works on the academic map.
For a video version of this interview click here.