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From Dateline (April 8, 2004)

Exploring the Latino Image in Hollywood Cinema
by Valerie Orleans

Every Thursday evening, more than 180 students crowd into Mackey Auditorium to watch movies – but not just any films. They view select screenings to learn more about the roles Latinos have played in Hollywood.

Leading them through the educational process is Nancy De Los Santos, producer of the documentary, “The Bronze Screen: 100 Years, The Latino Image in Hollywood Cinema.”

“What is interesting about studying the image of Mexicans and Latinos in film is that it demonstrates the attitudes that prevailed in America at different times during the past century,” says the educator.


Q: Why did you decide to produce "The Bronze Screen?"

I have worked in the film and television industry for 15 years and always had a love for the movies. I began working as a producer in Chicago for film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert when they were doing a PBS show called “Sneak Previews.”

Working with them taught me to see movies in a different way. I began to understand how film can change the way you view the world. And being Latino myself, I was interested in what conclusions people might draw about Mexican and Latino people based on images they saw.


Q: What did you discover about images of Hispanics in movies?

Well, in the 110 clips we show in the documentary, viewers will discover that there were stereotypical images of Latinos. They were either portrayed as maids, gang members, crying mothers or prostitutes and criminals. Then I’d look at my own family and friends and see that our lives weren’t being portrayed at all. In some cases, Latinos simply didn’t exist.

I remember my father used to watch the television western, “Have Gun Will Travel,” and he’d always ask, “Why aren’t there any Mexicans in Dodge City?”

Well, at that time and place in history, Mexicans certainly would have been living there. And while I understand that the show is fictional, it is historically inaccurate.

The fact is, Hollywood creates an image of America that is literally broadcast throughout the world. People in all parts of the world have an image of the United States based on what they see on both the large and small screen. This can have a significant impact on attitudes toward Latinos, as well as how they feel about themselves.


Q: So you decided to set the record straight?

Yes, I guess so. Mostly I wanted young Latinos or those who are feeling disenfranchised to realize that they have a role to play...and that Latinos did play important roles.

For instance, one side note is that in the movie “King Kong,” two Mexican brothers created King Kong’s hands. Hispanics have always played roles behind the scenes but weren’t always credited, or we weren’t portrayed in ways we would recognize.

I really want young Latinos to recognize that they have something important to contribute to society. It’s hard when you don’t see anybody that looks like you on the screen or when stereotypes are perpetuated.



Do you think today’s movies and TV shows present a better image?


Yes, it’s getting better. And I do want to point out that not all films portrayed Latinos in an unflattering way. For instance, one of my favorites is a Disney cartoon, “Three Caballeros,” that came out in 1942. With a war underway in Europe and the South Pacific, we needed friends in Mexico and South America. So Disney developed a cartoon where Goofy and Donald Duck paired up with a parrot to tour South America. It was a way of letting American children recognize that the countries south of the border were our friends.

More recently, I think there has been an attempt to portray Latinos more fairly. I look at movies like “Selena” and television shows like “American Family,” and I am encouraged.

The fact is Latino families are similar to most families. They work, they raise their children, they attend church, and they are involved in community activities. In other words, they are pretty typical American families.


Q: How did this class end up at Cal State Fullerton?

“The Bronze Screen” was aired on HBO (and is currently available at Blockbuster Video) but our sponsor, Farmer’s Insurance, wanted to ensure that it was more widely distributed in the educational arena.

They developed a program and curriculum for high school students, which was quite successful, and then a Farmer’s representative offered a college-level course to the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department and College of Communications here. Currently, students can get credit for the class in either Chicana and Chicano Studies or Radio/TV/Film.


Q: What do you hope students will gain with from this class?

I hope they develop an appreciation for the role of Latinos in film and learn how stereotypical images can marginalize people. I want students to recognize the impact of Latinos in film and how it affects our attitudes. I want them to be smarter moviegoers.

And if they decide to become filmmakers, writers, directors, producers or actors, they can be proud to be part of an amazing legacy.