Latinx Film and Media

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.


Capellan,Jamyl B

Garcia,Kateryn Michel


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.



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.




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?

El Cantante and “Nothing Connects Us All But Imagined Sounds” (Part I)

.Years after he died, el sonero (improvisational salsa singer) Hector Lavoe is still remembered as a cultural hero. His legacy lives on through street art, plays, poetry readings, clothes featuring his image, [films,] and special salsa concerts across Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States.

.His music is kept alive by artists like Marc Anthony, Van Lester, and Domingo Quinones, who emulate his style. This way of honoring Lavoe represents a deep respect for the past and a connection to a musical tradition that transcends time and place.

.By celebrating Lavoe in these ways, Puerto Ricans in the diaspora express their identity and belonging, bridging the gap between their homeland and new homes.

Discussion Question

Cultural critic Wilson Valentín-Escobar argues that the performances that honor Hector Lavoe, whether through storytelling, music, dance, murals, or ceremonies, reflect the complexity of expressing identity and memory across different places. The scholar says that Lavoe’s legacy transcends physical boundaries, becoming a symbol that connects various geographical locations, including the NYC Puerto Rican diaspora, and engages with varying narratives of Puerto Rican identity and history.

How does the film El Cantante present the complexity of Lavoe’s figure and the “blending of diasporic and nationalist narratives into a collective memory”?

Discuss how including Puchi’s point of view adds nuances to the retelling of Lavoe’s life? What is the effect of this dual protagonist?

Thinking about the film and the essay, how did Hector Lavoe’s persona and music simultaneously embody the Puerto Rican “jíbaro” (islander) culture and the Nuyorican street sound?



Gomez,Angie Carolina


Performing Nuyoricanness

Following Valentín-Escobar, discuss the role of instrumentation, arrangements, and the free mixing of Afro-diasporic musical genres played in Wille Colón and Hector Lavoe Nuyorican identity? (210-211)

Elaborate on the record covers and album titles as a way to perform salsa’s street cred in New York? Concerning stereotypes about Puerto Ricans in the city, how do you interpret these images and titles? (212-213)

Valentín Escobar discusses that “many of Lavoe’s friends, fellow musicians, Salsa music promoters, and music journalists have described his life as plagued with adversity,” why do you think the film directed by León Ichaso emphasized this narrative? 

From Mambo to Hip-Hop and Between Blackness and Latinidad in the Hip-Hop Zone

Entry Question 

Before watching From Mambo to Hip-Hop and/or reading “Between Blackness and Latinidad in the Hip-Hop Zone,” did your conception of Hip-Hop include other cultural groups besides African Americans? Why? Why not?

A Hip-Hop Definition

Raquel Z. Rivera, Puerto Rican author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone, argues that “hip hop is most often historically defined in terms of music, visual arts (graffiti), and dance (breaking, popping, locking, rocking). Language, mannerisms, fashion, and other expressions of culture are considered by some to also be defining aspects of hip-hop. Hip hop, like earlier cultural expressions, has in many senses served as a bridge between Puerto Ricans, other Latina/os, West Indians, and African Americans.” (354)

Davey D Cook, an African American who grew up during this time in the South Bronx, explains: “Hip Hop was multicultural in the sense that it was Blacks and Puerto Ricans who put this whole thing down. We lived next to each other and, for the most part, shared the same urban problems. We also shared the same legacy of exploitation, oppression, and colonization.” (354)

When New York Puerto Rican youngsters began participating alongside African Americans in the early development of MCing as a lyrical/musical style, they were not exactly “defecting” from Puerto Rican tradition. Regarding social function and aesthetics, Puerto Rican oral and musical styles can be invoked as precursors of MCing as much as African American ones.

Island musical traditions like plena, bomba, and música jíbara can be invoked just as easily among rap’s forebears. Verbal duels featuring boasting, trading insults, sexual innuendoes, and improvisation are common in all three. Like rap, they are notorious for historicizing everyday events.

What would breakbeats be without the decades-old influence of Puerto Rican and Cuban musical traditions on African Americans in New York City? Those timbales and conga solos that were the heart of so many breakbeats got into soul and funk records from Africa via the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. (357)


Adams,Kianna Alexia

Griffiths,Alaynna Natasha


In her essay, “Between Blackness and Latinidad in the Hip Hop Zone,” Raquel Z. Rivera argues that the Puerto Rican input to Hip Hop has been depreciated or plainly erased because of ethnic and racial constructions in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Latin America. There is a marketing factor to the Puerto Rican exclusion. The U.S. music industry and the media centralized English-speaking African Americans over Puerto Ricans and Latinxs. But Rivera also posits that although conceived as multi-cultural and multi-racial, the Puerto Rican and Latinx identities (formed collectively) tend to reject the African heritage while celebrating Europeanness. This social process has created a false cultural divide between African Americans and Puerto Ricans. (352)

In the mid-1980s, as graffiti and the “breakdancing” craze faded into the media background, hip-hop became commercial popular music and was thought of as almost exclusively African American.  Back then [the 1980s], rap’s blackness was a big part of its commercial appeal. But it was not clear if Latina/os were a lighter version of black or not black at all. The industry gatekeepers were not often willing to take a risk by signing Latina/os. That is, until Latina/os, particularly Boricuas, became a ghetto-tropical fad in the mid-1990s. Then it became trendy for Latina/os and non-Latina/os to include words in Spanish and references to Latina/os in rhymes and have Butta Pecan Rican mamis adorning videos. (355)

Group Discussion 

How does From Mambo to Hip Hop show this joint Afro-Diasporic cultural movement?

Which testimonies better represented the cross-cultural dynamics of hip-hop as described by Raquel Z. Rivera?

Creative Group Workshop

In a group you will develop a written proposal (due on 3/20) outlining your ideas for either a photo essay or a video essay focused on a Latinx neighborhood in NYC. This proposal will serve as a detailed plan for your creative exploration, connecting personal experiences with course sources. 

Some of the themes to explore are: community activism; policing; the criminalization of Latinx youth; music cultures; Afro-Latinidades; migrant lives; queer and trans lives, cultures and organizing; practices of Latinx self-representation

Initial Brainstorm and Listening Session

Part I (10 Minutes)

Jot down your individual ideas:

.Brainstorm specific concepts, storylines, atmospheres, sounds, and images you would like to include in the project.

.Create a quick conceptual map that shows how your ideas connect to course sources.

Part II (20 minutes)

.By engaging in active listening (silently taking in what the other is saying without interruptions), each member will introduce themselves and share their ideas with the group.

.Engage in dynamic feedback. Identify common threads and perspectives

Part III (5 minutes)

.Summarize key points discussed during the session and strategize the next steps.

La operación- Ana María García

First released in 1982, Ana María García’s La Operación is a landmark documentary on population control policies in Puerto Rico. Using both interviews and historical footage that contextualize the heavy-handed promotion of female sterilization as an answer to “overpopulation” on the island, this film offered one of the first comprehensive analyses of population policies [necro-politics] as embedded in the context of U.S. imperialism, racism, and corporate-government cooperation to rationalize a national workforce.

Historical Background

  1. How does “La Operación” shed light on the intersectionality of socioeconomic and racial factors in the context of the widespread sterilization operation in Puerto Rico during the 1950s and 60s?
  2. In what ways does the documentary challenge the notion of agency and autonomy over women’s bodies, particularly in the context of the false promises made to Puerto Rican women regarding the consequences and reversibility of sterilization?
  3. How does Ana María García use a mix of interviews, scenes of sterilization procedures, and historical context to create a comprehensive and impactful narrative about the forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women, and what role do these different elements play in shaping the viewer’s understanding?
  4. Discuss the ethical implications of marketing sterilization as a solution to poverty and the impact it had on the reproductive rights of Puerto Rican women. How does the film highlight the ethical considerations surrounding exploiting vulnerable populations?
  5. What connections do you see between the necro-politics depicted in Decade of Fire and in La operación. How does it challenge the narrative of the U.S. as Puerto Rico’s benefactor?

Decade of Fire + Necropolis

Entry Question

What are some common signs of urban marginalization through time?

.What are the central ideas of this writer, thinker, and/or filmmaker?

In the documentary Decade of Fire, Vivian Vásquez looks at how during the 70s the systemic disenfranchisement of the Bronx as well as the criminalization of black, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latinx people contributed to the literal burning of the borough and further displacement of these historically marginalized communities. Using Vasquez’s account, the filmmakers also pay attention to the ways grassroots organizing led to an ongoing project of revitalization, cultural affirmation, and sustainability.


.Analyze one specific section of the film with an excerpt by your assigned author that best communicates what you identified in the question above. What analogies and critical connections can you establish between the audiovisual work and the essay?

Necropolis- J. Chang (Page 13)


Both Chang and the filmmakers bring evidence of how landlords benefitted from burning their own buildings to collect insurance money. They proposed that this type of corrupt economy went on for many years with no accountability of repercussions against those who destroyed and displaced whole communities in the South Bronx.

.Select one specific element of mise-en-scene (costume, lighting, camera frames or movements, sound, music, actors’ movements, or positions) and examine how this artistic choice enhances or adds nuance to the central concerns of the audiovisual piece.

A mise en scene element that stands out from the documentary is the use of maps with archival footage to demonstrate and see the scale of its arguments (see 12:00-13:40 /  42:00-43:00).

In these two sections, we see on one side how redlining was part of a concerted effort of the state, the city, developers, and insurance companies to neglect black and Latinx communities, and on the other side, the amount of money made from the fires.

.Critical questions 

.What were some of the community initiatives against the “mathematics of destruction” (Chang 14) that stood out for you?

.Discuss specific examples of media representation, that led to the neglect and extreme marginalization of the Bronx during the 1970s.

.How the current wave of gentrification in the Bronx is connected to this story? (01:08:00-01:11:00)

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?