Latinx Film and Media

Gentefied’s The Grapevine (Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez 2020-2021)

Gentefied is a Mexican American comedy-drama television series created by Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez, that premiered on Netflix in 2020. Sadly, it was cancelled after two seasons in 2022. Gentefied follows the story of three Mexican-American cousins and their struggle to survive in dignified ways in contemporary Los Angeles. As the title suggest, the series centers on how gentrification affect the Mexican primos threatening the things they hold most dear: their neighborhood, their immigrant grandfather, and the family taco shop.

What is gentrification?

Gentrification occurs when wealthier realty corporations, individuals or families move into a neighborhood, often attracted by lower property prices. As these newcomers invest in the area by renovating homes, opening businesses, and improving infrastructure, property values rise. This increase in property values can lead to higher rents and property taxes, making it difficult for existing residents, especially those with lower incomes, to afford to stay. Gentrification can also bring changes to the neighborhood’s culture and character, as new businesses and residents may not reflect the diversity and traditions of the original community.

Discussion questions:

1. Elaborate on the interconnected challenges brought by gentrification and represented in the episode:

.family separation

.housing

.neglect/erasure of local cultures and small businesses

.job insecurity

.dangerous and unhealthy working conditions

.different forms of displacement

2. What tactics do the characters in the show employ to resist or negotiate the effects of gentrification in their lives?

The Garden Left Behind (Flavio Alves, 2019)

Plot

The Garden Left Behind follows Tina (played by Carlie Guevara), a Mexican trans woman who moved to New York City as a child and, as an adult, lives with her grandmother, Eliana. Eliana is a loving figure who sometimes has difficulty understanding Tina’s transition and overall existence as a diasporic working woman.

During the film, Tina must struggle with her immigration status and socio-economic and medical barriers to transition and make ends meet. She also navigates a troubled love relationship with a cis man and general societal tensions and repressions regarding her trans existence. 

Production

In terms of production, this award-winning film features an authentic cast with transgender actors in trans roles and Latinx performers in Latinx roles. The same happens behind the camera as the production team collaborated with the Trans Filmmakers Project, among other film and LGBTQ+ organizations.

Even though the screenplay was developed and written by Brazilian director Flavio Alves and John Rotondo, two queer cisgender men, they engaged in timely research. 

In the Press Kit, Alves says, “To write the script, we interviewed trans women and men from many different backgrounds. To do the story justice, we met with more than 30 trans-led organizations, with hopes of including their concerns about the fictional story we were building. We needed to do our due diligence by listening to and incorporating the narratives that the trans community themselves provided to us.”

Recommended Vice News Episode

Presentation(s)

Cruz,Brandon

Fornes Jr,Brandon Lee

Macdonald,Merlin S

Group Discussion

After reading together page 77 of David Spade’s essay “Queer and Trans Liberation Requires Abolition,” pick one of these three topics and discuss them with partners tracing how the discussions of these texts could be integrated.

  1. Intersectionality

The directors present Tina as a nuanced, intersectional character. Her life on the screen allows us to think about different interconnected Latinx and queer facets.

Why is projecting an intersectional perspective vital for this film? Bring examples.

(Spade, 76)

  1. The right to pleasure, joy, and love (the garden)

The film purposely dedicates time on screen to showing Tina’s self-care habits, intimacy, and her group of Black and brown trans friends. The film shows how they support each other with daily and medical advice but also as an emergent activist group against police brutality and transphobia.

Why are these scenes foregrounded in the movie? How do they function? What are they trying to convey?

(See 1:00:02)

  1. Black trans activism- against everyday violence and transphobia

The screenwriting team mentioned that they “interviewed several trans women who helped” them to shape Tina’s storyline. They acknowledge that the transgender experience is different for everyone, but they say that nearly every person they interviewed had experienced some sort of violence, including physical, verbal, and emotional. 

Clearly, one of the goals of the movie is to raise awareness of the frequent violence against trans people and some possible tools to combat it.

How are trans-organizing and activism represented in the film?

(See 26:00; 44:25 ) (Spade, 78)

Recommended Podcast Episode

I’m No Longer Here (F. Frías, 2020) + Mexican Deejays (C. Ragland)- Day 2

In Monterrey, Mexico, a young street “gang” spends their days dancing to slowed-down cumbia and attending parties. After a mix-up with a local cartel, their leader, Ulises, is forced to migrate to the U.S. but quickly longs to return home. The director, Frias, captures the surreal (dreamy) sensation of feeling utterly alone despite constantly being around  (Mexican/Latine) people as Ulises struggles to find his way in New York.

Entry Questions

Pick and answer ONE of the following prompts 

OPTION ONE

I’m No Longer Here suggests that once you migrate, it’s impossible to reproduce your homeland and, more so, to really return to your place of origin. Expand on this idea by referring to the protagonist’s journey, Ulises.

OPTION TWO

Compare the two major cities and neighborhoods represented in the film: Monterrey and New York. How does Ulises experience poverty and community differently in each of these spaces?

OPTION THREE

Discuss the importance of costume, hair, and sound design in the mise-en-scene of I’m No Longer Here. Why do you think these particular elements are central to telling the story and presenting the characters’ cultural identity and their Cumbia sub-culture?

Presentation(s)

Zambrano,Gianni Ariana

Zapata,Kaylen Melanie

Zetino,Natalia

Close-reading Discussion:

.New York-area Mexicans remain relatively marginalized, exerting little impact on local sociopolitical structures and leading a relatively precarious economy… most of these young men have been sent by their families to the US to work… despite the difficulty of traveling to their homeland, many of them remain in close touch with their relatives and friends in Mexico (339-340) (See 5:40; 1:02:14)

.Organized social dances are an important way to examine how marginalized immigrant communities can transform the cultural landscape in this country. In the case of New York, Mexican sonidero bailes (deejay dances) are held most weekends in clubs, restaurants, community centers, and bingo halls in Queens (New York). Although young women are present at these events, they are typically outnumbered by young men at a ratio of at least three to one. (340) (See 21:00)

.The sonideros are responsible not only for the music, but also for many other aspects of the event. At times, they are the organizers and promoters of the dances themselves, and they also provide the elaborate and colorful light systems and obligatory smoke machines. The sonidero, who is always male and usually five to ten years older than most of the dancers, is recognized for his voiced “personality” which he manipulates with a myriad of processed tape loops, pre-recorded samples, and sound effects (such as delays, reverb, echoes, and phase-shifters). With his synthetically distorted voice and other effects, he achieves the desired sound: big, loud, and superhuman. (342) (See 48:20)

I’m No Longer Here (Frías, 2020) + Mexican Deejays (C. Ragland)- Day 1

Entry Questions:

Migrants use music in various ways in their new environments: to stay connected to their home culture, resist cultural assimilation, navigate their evolving identities, and strengthen bonds within their ethnic, racial, or class communities.

Is there a musical genre you personally identified with a particular Latinx group in the US?

Metaphorically speaking, how does this music illustrate aspects of the (im)migrant experience?

Can you identify these aspects highlighted in I’m No Longer Here?

Origins

Cumbia started as a folk music style in coastal Colombia, blending influences from the region’s diverse population, especially Afro-indigenous groups. It became popular across Colombia in the 1940s and 1950s and then spread to other Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, notably Mexico. It’s deeply connected to working-class communities, but newer versions are more global yet with outstanding local variants, as in the case of Monterey. By the turn of the millennium, Mexicans had reconfigured cumbia to such an extent that many Mexicans believe cumbia is of Mexican origin.

How are the Mexican characters in I’m No Longer Here “reconfigured” cumbia?

Presentation(s)

Crisantos,Jennisa J

Fernandez,Sienna Chanelle

Cruz,Michelle

Discussion:

Pick one of these quotes by musicologist Cathy Ragland to expand on the cultural movements portrayed in the film.

.In these weekend dances, the deejay, or sonidero as he is known, together with those in attendance, creates a powerful transnational musical and social experience. By manipulating music and simultaneously reconfiguring time and place, they turn feelings of displacement and marginalization into a collective sense of identity and connectedness. (339) (See 7:50)

.In the process, they dramatize and mediate their own experiences of a modem life that oscillates between and encompasses both Mexico and the US. They effectively portray and create a modernity animated by both real and imagined interpretations of history and culture and by their shared experiences of travel, dislocation, and a reinvention of their lives as both Mexicans and Americans. (339) (See 18:00)

Basquiat (Julian Schnabel, 1996) + King of the Line (Negrón-Muntaner and Ramírez) Day 2

29:35-36:45

How do Negrón-Muntaner and Ramirez expand further the previous clip?

.By representing “bodily, emotional, and psychological sensation, through various aesthetic means, including collage, repetition, improvisation, copying, scaling, designing, and color, Basquiat generated a dense sensorial archive that revised, related, and recontextualized black, Caribbean, indigenous, and other knowledges, affects, and memories. (339)

.Basquiat likewise evoked not only writing in his texts but also the erasure and repression of stories, knowledge, and histories by way of “scratching on these things”: crossing out, smudging, and painting over letters… Basquiat employed words in a similar manner as he did crowns: to move and direct the reader’s eye to consider alternative associations that disrupt knowledge that has become so naturalized that it appears as “empirical truths.” (348)

.Like Schomburg, Basquiat referenced Afro-Latino history to complicate Anglocentric narratives on blackness and viewed what he would call “Spanish American” black history as a central part of global history. (353)

(See also pages 349, 351)

Presentation(s)

Rodriguez,Stefany Cristine

Silva,Anna L

Solano,Daniela

Unpacking the film

How do you interpret the character of Benny Dalmau, the Puerto Rican basketball player and artist? Why are his scenes important? What is your interpretation of the ending of the film? 21:15; 52:17; 1:38:49

How does the film (directed by white filmmaker, painter, and visual artist Julian Schnabel) reproduce in its mise en scene the white gaze/frame that impacted Basquiat throughout his intense short life? (See Negrón-Munataner and Ramirez, 362)

Basquiat (Julian Schnabel, 1996) + King of the Line (Negrón-Muntaner and Ramírez) Day 1

Art critics and scholars, Frances Negron-Muntaner and Yasmin Ramirez argue that Basquiat’s use of crowns and related symbols constitute a critical vocabulary of contestation that resignifies the concept of sovereignty (self-rule) in at least three distinct, if at times overlapping, ways:

.At one level, as Basquiat mined black stereotypes and inquired into the production of racist/ colonial orders… [the goal] is to achieve sovereignty through the eradication of “stereotypes, cultural appropriation, exclusion, ignorance, irrelevance,” and the “rhetorical imperialism” embedded in U.S. (and European) law and discourse.

.Basquiat’s pursuit of a (royal) place in Western art history led to a persistent inquiry into the relationship between subjectivity (who I am), lineage (who are my ancestors), and authority for Afro-diasporic artists. 

.Finally, Basquiat’s frequent deployment of crowns to honor black men is akin to Frantz Fanon’s characterization of postcolonial “true sovereignty” as the affirmation of black dignity and self-worth. (338)

Do you see these three arguments depicted somehow in Julian Schnabel’s film?

How does this painting, “50 Cent Piece” (1983), exemplify what Negrón-Muntaner and Ramirez argue?

Significantly, Basquiat writes “OPERATION BOOTST/RAP” at the same level and in proximity to “US OCCUPATION OF HAITI ENDS 1921,” linking different migratory flows originating in U.S. invasion and economic dispossession. Perhaps to underscore that the Puerto Rican exodus is a result of the invasion and not simply an immigrant phenomenon, Basquiat does not mention Luis Muñoz Marín, the Puerto Rican coarchitect of the migration policy, but his father, Luis Muñoz Rivera, who was acting as secretary of state and chief of the cabinet for the autonomist government of Puerto Rico when the United States invaded the island on July 25, 1898. (358)

See pages 353-359

Presentation(s)

Coria,Sara

Luna,Marlen

Unpacking the Film

Elaborate on the racially-based aggressions displayed in the film? What strategies did Basquiat use to navigate racism within the art world? 1:04

Self-care and Photo/Video Essay Projects Check-in

I. Self-care

Instructions:

Get together with your team, and discuss these three questions.

.What does self-care mean to you? 

.How do your personal, academic, or job responsibilities impact your ability to practice self-care? 

.What are some ways to overcome these challenges?

II. Photo/Video Projects Check-in

Tell us about your project. Create a mental map for us

.What topics and perspectives you will explore together?

.How do you envision your photo or video essay?

.Workflow: what things are working? What can be improved or changed?

When They See US Part III and IV

Entry Activity

Each of The Exonerated Five’s family reacted differently to their son’s imprisonment and reentry, and each of The Exonerated Five had to adjust to a world and a family that had changed while they were in juvenile detention and prison.

In groups of five, discuss how the families were impacted by their son’s incarceration. These could include relationships, employment, housing, mental and physical well-being, and financial factors.

Additionally, consider the scale of damage brought by mass incarceration. List ways neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and other communities are also impacted by incarceration.

5 minutes

Parts III and IV

In Parts Three and Four of “WHEN THEY SEE US,” Raymond’s grandmother’s birthday marks a somber occasion as she carries the weight of her grandson’s incarceration. The impact of the teens’ imprisonment on their families is profound, with Antron’s mother providing comfort for his nightmares, Kevin’s family urging him to hold onto hope, and Yusef’s mother encouraging him to stay close to his faith despite their struggles. Years later, Raymond, Antron, Yusef, and Kevin return home as men, facing the challenges of reentry. Meanwhile, Korey remains in prison, enduring brutal attacks and struggling with reality. Despite being denied parole for refusing to confess to crimes he didn’t commit, the truth is revealed when another inmate confesses to the assault, leading to The Exonerated Five’s vindication in 2002 and a $41 million settlement in 2014, the largest in New York City’s history.

Presentation(s)

Capellan,Jamyl B

Garcia,Kateryn Michel

Kouyate,Assetou

The Prison Industrial Complex– Angela Davis

1. Philosopher, professor, former political prisoner, and activist Angela Davis discusses the discrepancy between the supposed increase in crime rates, particularly among youth, and the heightened portrayal of crime and violence in the media, especially on television and in movies. Davis suggests that this media representation contributes to an exaggerated fear of crime in society, diverting attention from other pressing issues like unemployment, homelessness, and environmental degradation. (40-1)

How is that fear of crime portrayed in the series, particularly in Parts III and IV?

How are other essential issues neglected due to induced crime panics?

2. The expansion of the criminal justice system has given rise to a prison-industrial complex, accompanied by an ideological push to associate race with criminality, mainly targeting young Black men as the face of crime. This campaign instills fear not only in white people but also within the Black community itself. While acknowledging that some black youth commit violent acts, Davis emphasized that this should not justify the blanket criminalization of young Black and Latino men. The increasing incarceration of people of color is attributed to the prison system’s growth and its shift away from rehabilitation toward punishment and incapacitation. Super-maximum security prisons exemplify this trend, with inmates living in dehumanizing conditions, highlighting a departure from rehabilitation and the focus on punishment in the modern prison system. (38-9)

How does the series depict specific societal perceptions due to the blanket criminalization of Black-Latino men?

How do Korey’s experiences in Part IV show us the dehumanizing conditions within the prison system?

3. Davis writes: “Prisons have become an integral part of the U.S. economy, which, in turn, creates profit-based pressure for the ongoing expansion of the prison business. The process involves expanding prisons, incarcerating more people, and drawing more corporations into the punishment industry, thus creating momentum for further expansion and larger incarcerated populations.” (49)

How does Ava Duvernay’s series illustrate this cycle?

4. Angela Davis elaborates on how media and political discourses work together to create “public enemies.” What other examples Davis presents regarding this topic? (41-3)

Her critique moved us to think about the connections between the criminalization of Black Latino men and migrants from the Americas and Asia. What are Davis’s arguments concerning this connection? (46-47)

5. Davis denounces that our current society promotes forgetfulness about the “centrality of prison in our lives,” what are her points of discussion on this topic? (50-1)

When They See US Part I and II (Ava DuVernay)

Entry Questions

Unpack the significance of the title of the film series “When They See US”

What systemic issues in media bias are uncovered in the film, and what are our roles in ensuring proper reporting on social media and by news channels?

What is happening in the world now, or in the last five years, that reflects the media bias shown in these episodes?

The series

WHEN THEY SEE US is a four-part film directed by Ava DuVernay that depicts the wrongful arrest and imprisonment of the Exonerated Five, a group of teenagers of color from Harlem, for the rape and beating of a white female jogger in Central Park in 1989.

The series explores how the teens were prejudged as guilty by a biased criminal justice system, coerced into false confessions, and wrongly persecuted by sensationalist media coverage.

It serves as a commentary on the oppressive institutions and systems in the United States that have long-lasting and far-reaching implications for vulnerable citizens and their communities. Lack of education, wealth, social capital and resources negatively impact poor people and people of color in the criminal justice system.

The Exonerated Five were fully exonerated in 2002 after DNA evidence, and a confession from the lone attacker proved their innocence. They settled with New York City for $41 million in 2014.

What is the difference between calling them “the Central Park Five” vs “the exonerated five”?

Parts I and II

Episode One of WHEN THEY SEE US depicts the events of April 19, 1989, when five teenagers from Harlem, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Raymond Santana Jr., and Yusef Salaam, are arrested and coerced into confessing to the attack of Patricia Meili in Central Park. Episode Two reveals how people in power, including Donald Trump, villainize the teens, with Trump even calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty before the trial. The series underscores the need to address inequities in the US American court system, including issues with the bail system, prosecutorial and judicial offices, and access to legal representation.

Presentation(s)

Baizan,Ada-Leah

Garcia,Nayid Nomar

Hudson,Justin Real

Discussion Questions

1.Victor Ríos argues that in the context of mass incarceration, labeling is “a process by which agencies of social control stigmatize and mark individuals, creating a cycle of criminalization. This “labeling hype” leads to feeling outcast and shame, fostering a deviant self-concept. The spiral of punitive responses from institutions begins with minor labels like “at risk” and escalates to more serious ones like “delinquent,” impacting social mobility and perpetuating criminalization. This process not only generates criminality but also sustains criminalization. (45)

How is the process of “labeling” portrayed in the first part of When They See Us?

2.”Informal labels, negative treatment, and stigma derived from a perception of criminality are imposed on individuals who have committed a crime but also are imposed on individuals who are from a group or community perceived to be criminogenic.” (49)

Discuss how the boys are criminalized based on the communities they come from.

Unequal access to resources can result in unequal access to justice. How this issue is portrayed in parts I and II of the series? Can you think of an example of unequal access to resources in your community?

3.”All the young men in this study believed that they were inherently criminal: their interactions with the world around them had led them to internalize a foreign concept, that criminality was part of their persona. In the context of punitive social control, some marginalized boys are fostered by punishment, at every stage in their development, encountering a social world that, in their account, treats them as suspects and criminals.” (52)

How does the young men in the film internalize criminality through their contact with the police?

When arrested, individuals should be made aware of their Miranda Rights:

1. You have the right to remain silent

2. Anything you say can and will be used against you

3. The right to have an attorney

4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you

Individuals also have the right to cease questioning if at any time a request for a lawyer is made.

How do you think the interrogations would have been different if the five teens had known their rights and asserted them? Or if adults — guardians or legal representation — had been present?

El Cantante + “Nothing Connect Us All But Imagined Sounds” (Part II)

In the second part of the essay, Valentín-Escobar discusses the cultural significance of how salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, is remembered and celebrated at his funeral. Despite Lavoe being known for his salsa music, efforts are being made to recognize him as part of the traditional Puerto Rican music genre, plena. This recognition is significant because it is seen as a way to reclaim Lavoe as an authentic Puerto Rican figure, particularly from Ponce, his hometown.

Some consider plena to be the authentic music of Puerto Rico, and associating Lavoe with this genre is a way of asserting his Puerto Rican identity. Valentín-Escobar suggests that this recognition of Lavoe as a plenero is not literally about music but more so about memory and identity. It also highlights how Lavoe, through his performances, blended different musical genres, including plena, into his salsa music.

Additionally, Valentín-Escobar discusses how Lavoe’s commemoration is about remembering him as a cultural hero and negotiating his significance (and body) across different Puerto Rican and Latin American communities and locations. The essay touches on the idea that music and memory can serve as a form of agency, allowing communities to assert their identity fluidly and evocating new cultural narratives.

Presentation(s)

Ortega,Yanelsa

Payano,Migdalia

Guaman,Danny Steve

.How does the film challenge Héctor Lavoe’s identity by centering the diasporic communities he navigated?

.The director Leon Ichaso and stars Marc Anthony and Jennifer López shape Lavoe’s music and legacy for XXI century audiences. What aspects of his story interested them the most? How do they want to remember him?

.How do controversies surrounding Lavoe’s personal life, as depicted in the film, highlight the complexities of locality, nationalism, and diasporic memory?