Latinx Film and Media

Latinx/e Representation in the US- Aguilar, Exposito and Castro

The American Latino Experience by Carlos Aguilar

Latinos are not a monolith. American-born or -raised Latinos have unique life experiences, straddling the line between assimilation and pride in their heritage, which the big studios frequently fail to acknowledge. Such movies do exist, though often on the periphery. And they’re worth seeking out to help foster conversations about the intricacies of Latinidad.

Largely untold in mass media or classrooms, the history of Latinos in the United States is long, winding, and impossible to dissect in simple terms. Shaped by arbitrary borders in the aftermath of wars, colonization, and waves of migration from nearly two dozen nations across the Americas, our presence is intrinsic to this country. Yet, American Latinos remain mostly invisible in our collective narrative.

Border-crossing stories or those set in Latin America don’t fill the void created by the lack of American Latino narratives. They don’t reflect the lives of, say, Chicanos in California, Tejanos in rural Texas, or Nuyoricans in the Bronx — specific identities that have faced oppression in the United States. Instead, the entertainment industry desperately tries to fit all Latinos under one label, devoid of nuance, often erasing Afro-Latinos and Indigenous people.

Group Discussion

Do you think that the increasing change in demographics in the US will bring positive changes in terms of Latinx representation and for Latinx media makers?

Do you think that contemporary Latinx creators should use their platforms for socio-political critiques?

What stereotypes about Latinos/as/x are you happy to see gone from mainstream media?

ARTURO CASTRO is the writer, executive producer, and star of the Comedy Central show ALTERNATINO.  Based on Castro’s own web series of the same name, ALTERNATINO was a variety series centered around the Latinx millennial experience.

Diaspora Baby

Suzy Exposito is a culture columnist with the Latino Initiatives team at the Los Angeles Times. She joined the newsroom as a music reporter in October 2020 and previously spearheaded the Latin music section at Rolling Stone. Exposito has also written for NPR, Pitchfork, and Revolver.

.Defining the always elusive “Latinidad”

The word “Latino,” as we know it, describes a loosely allied archipelago of nations once colonized by Spain and Portugal — each claiming its own cultural practices and dialects distinguished by borders. Dávila explains that once Latinos came to be in the U.S. — or, in the case of Puerto Rico and what used to be Northern Mexico, violently absorbed by it — Latinos of all nationalities were homogenized into one ethnic group.

Yet what also binds Latinos in the U.S., albeit less romantically, is geopolitics: We were brought together by the brutalities of European conquest, then later U.S. imperialism, and economic migration. “Latinos [are] a group of people who do have a shared experience… of mixing, of journeys, of surviving empire,” said Tobar.

.Latinx population vs issues of representation 

In 2021, the Pew Research Center reported that nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. are Hispanic; more Hispanic people are being born here than immigrating here; and in 2021, 72% of U.S. Latinos ages 5 and older could speak English proficiently, up from 59% in 2000. If people like me are more common than ever before, what’s so hard to understand?

Then, Latinos were racialized: not by their varying colors and phenotypes, but by the fact that they spoke Spanish. (Sorry, Brazilians!) This is how we ended up with Spaniards like Antonio Banderas playing Latin Americans in film, people rallying to use “Hispanic” as a race on census forms, and the problem of our representation being left to Spanish-language media to resolve. So long as companies like Televisa and Univision got us covered — while famously marginalizing Latinos who are visibly Black, Indigenous, and Asian — those making decisions in English-language media still believe they don’t have to.


In her 2001 book, “Latinos Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People,” Dávila warned of such cynical campaigns to define Latinos in marketing terms [for example the 200 percent], pushed by “a global media industry that continues to dismiss Latinos as mere consumers rather than as active stakeholders who are worthy of jobs, opportunities, participation, and equity in these highly profitable cultural industries.”

Considering these arguments…

.Why Esposito’s project of Latinx goths was rejected?

.How do intersectionality and multiculturalism clash with the stereotypes and expectations about Latinx in the US?

.What makes Exposito hopeful “as we work to redefine ourselves apart from consumer habits”? What makes you hopeful?

Welcome + Elements of Mise en Scene

Group Discussion: Debriefing on the Syllabus

What struck your attention? What interested you the most about it? What question(s) or concerns do you have? Do you recognize any of the authors and sources we will discuss? Do you usually watch Latinx films, videos, or TV? If that is the case, what was the last thing you watched from the region?

Entry Question

Apart from the story, the plot, and the actors’ performances, are there other elements of movies and TV shows that you usually pay attention to?

Elements of mise-en-scene-G. Lathrop and D. Sutton

Mise-en-scene, a French term meaning “place on stage,” refers to all the visual elements of a theatrical production within the space provided by the stage itself. Filmmakers have borrowed the term and have extended the meaning to suggest the control the director and his collaborators have over the visual elements within the film image. Four aspects of mise-en-scene that overlap the physical art of the theatre are setting, costume, lighting, and movement of figures and the camera. Control of these elements provides the director an opportunity to stage events and engage in visual storytelling.


The setting, as an important visual element of film, includes all that the viewer sees which informs time and place.


Costume, or clothing and its accessories, is also an important visual element in film. Costume can serve to enhance the narrative, or story, for instance, by suggesting the social position of characters.

Figure Behavior

Figure expression and movement are used by the director to support the narrative as well as help develop the thematic unity of a film.

Figure expression refers to the facial expressions and the posture of an actor, whereas figure movement refers to all other actions of the actor, including gestures.


Lighting, like the other aspects of mise-en-scene, is a tool used by the director to convey special meaning about a character or the narrative to the viewer. Lighting can help define the setting of a scene or accentuate the behavior of the figures in the film.

Camera Shots and Angles

What mise en scene elements can you identify in the making up of Fernando Frías’s film I’m No Longer Here?