The Latina Woman in Popular Media

Throughout history, Latina women have been stereotyped as sexy, spicy, and wild. Influenced by politics, Latinas stereotypes are common and stubborn portrayals, repeatedly shown in popular media. They affect Latina girls watching as much as they influence everyone else’s perception of Latinas and while there are a few exceptions to these stereotypes, the entertainment world mostly offers only stereotypical roles for Latina actresses.

History and Politics:

During the time of the Mexican-American war, anti-Mexican sentiment was alive and thriving. Areas of Mexico had been forcibly taken and made into U.S states like “California, southern Texas, (and) Arizona” (Greenberg). Film reflected this anti-sentiment by portraying Latinos as “dim-witted” and “dangerous” and Latinas as morally corrupt “seductresses” (“Stereotypology: Spicy Latinas”).

From Dolores del Rio to Carmen Miranda, Latina women were pressured to play characters embodying the sexy, wild stereotypes associated with them. Dolores del Rio’s appeal and fame reached international levels, helping not only the inclusion of Latinas in film, but also, no doubt, the stereotyping and commodification of Latina women.

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Dolores del Rio

Modern Stereotypes and their Effects:

In the 21st century, it is not uncommon to see the same Latina stereotypes, even if they are slightly modified from the original and from each other. Specifically the over-sexualization of Latina women, enforced by portrayals of sexually promiscuous Latina characters, is a common occurrence in pop culture and used to commodify Latina bodies.

The film Bandidas, although featuring two Latina leads, contains several scenes in which both women are over-sexualized for the benefit of the male gaze.

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Salma Hayek and Penélope Cruz in Bandidas

First of all, the title Bandidas means “bandits” and enforces a Mexican stereotype seen in films portraying Latinx people as criminals. “The film’s title and the outlaw theme intend to evoke familiar cinematic representations of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Hollywood and in America’s history: bandits, villains, cowboys, and vaqueros…” (Ruiz-Alfaro, 200) Despite the fact that the two women are bandits, the film is careful to keep the violence tame and the girls attractive. “Behind this female characterization is Hollywood’s strategy of presenting them as aggressive and rebellious, but only up to the point that they continue to be sexy and charming, and therefore still highly “enjoyable” and attractive to the audience.” (Ruiz-Alfaro, 204) It is important in the film that the women remain part of the male gaze. They don’t go too far in breaking comfortable stereotypes and although the women seem rebellious and independent, they frequently go to men for advice and the story puts them in compromising situations (as seen in the image above).

Despite Bandidas enforcing stereotypes, it does not go quite as far as the music video for David Guetta’s “Play Hard”. The music video takes place in what seems to be Mexico. It begins with a stereotypical gangster scene, but instead of exchanging drugs (which is commonly seen in pop media), they are paying for boots. This could be considered a twist on the stereotype, a purposeful misdirection to point out your own misconceptions, but the video does not live up to such hopeful interpretations.

Video:

Play Hard Screenshot

A screenshot from “Play Hard”

The video not only exaggerates and makes a mess of several Mexican cultural artifacts, but also sexualizes Mexican women entirely. Because “Play Hard” is a music video, the ability for women to speak is completely taken away. This already puts them in a disadvantageous position. A woman is constantly dancing and the emphasis is clearly on her body, particularly on her bottom (shown above). We don’t see her face until a more than a minute into the video, further concreting the focus on her body. Younger women showcase their body, quite literally (shown below).

Play Hard Screenshot 2

Another screenshot from “Play Hard”

It is also worth noting the different ways the video treats Mexican men in comparison to women. Although many of the men are also highly stereotyped, they are not sexualized at all. This is most obvious when it comes to the dances. The men dance in what seems to be a formal competition and there is no sexual nature to it. The few instances we have of women dancing include the woman in the leopard print pants and pink sweater and beauty pageant contestants standing awkwardly half naked on stage. Latinas suffer from both gendered and racialized stereotypes.

Stereotypes have a very real effect on Latina women’s lives. “Latino immigrant women are mainly affected by different stereotypes that makes them more vulnerable to negative experiences (e.g., sexual harassment, discrimination, etc.).” (Lopez, 102) The constant sexualization and assumptions (e.g “Latinas are wild”) make it so Latinas are less likely to be taken seriously and seen as more inherently sexual. Because Latina women are seen as more sexually available, overemotional, and “willing to work in positions that offer low salaries” (Lopez, 102) they are more likely to be paid less, given more work, and mistreated by employers. According to AAUW website, Latinas made 54 percent of what white men made in 2013 when white women made 90 percent.

Exceptions:

The film Frida’s portrayal of Latinas and Mexico sparked controversy and both positive and negative responses from online forums and news mediums.

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Maybe because the film is based on the life of a real person who was a disabled, feminist, bisexual Latina woman, the film complicates common Latina stereotypes. “Over the past 10 years, Latina bodies have become a key visual symbol for panethnic identity formations among U.S. Latina/o communities and for an exotic racial difference that is socially acceptable and consumable by domestic and global audiences.” (Guzmán, 247) As Guzmán points out, Latina bodies have been commodified to make them easily, shallowly understood, but Frida does not allow for the same easy going interpretations. Shown through the way media reacted to the movie, “The identity narratives in Frida, the Latina/o news coverage, and on-line chat streams demonstrate the complex act of crossing through borders…” (Guzmán, 248), Frida forced audiences to examine and rethink Latina identity as shown the film. It made Latina identity as seen through the film incapable of the same commodification pushed onto stereotyped Latina women in other pop culture.

Frida Screenshot

Screenshot from Frida

Frida does not hold back punches. It is unapologetic in its portrayal of Frida Kahlo and her life and pain. The image above is from a clip in which she mourns the death of her relationship and much like the scene showing the bus accident that left her permanently disabled, this scene does not try to make her pain attractive or easier to bear. The music encourages us to feel pain, her clothes are typically masculine and do not at all encourage her sexualization (in fact, it seems to do the opposite), and the way she cuts her hair is rough and angry (not what is typically seen in scenes in which women cut their hair).

Frida cuts her hair clip:

Bus accident clip (cuts out what she looks like after receiving the injury, which is shown in the movie, but is still violent/difficult to watch):

Historically and presently, Latina women have been stereotyped and their bodies commodified in popular culture so thoroughly the effects bleed into the lives of real Latina women. The “sexy spicy” Latina is the one of the few and most common portrayals of Latina women in popular culture. Films like Frida disrupt the pattern and portray more realistic and complex characters than the U.S public is used to. Films like Frida break stereotypes and make commodifying Latina women more difficult.

Learning Moments:

Throughout my time taking this Popular Culture class, I have learned quite a bit to do with advertising and interpreting media.

Specifically, early in the term, we learned how to discuss whether or not an ad is effective, who it is marketed towards, and how this is shown through an ad for electronic cigarettes. It was my first time looking at an ad that way and it certainly gave me a new perspective.

Another example is learning how to go into detailed responses about popular media without making anything too personal. I have always had trouble not including my personal experiences with things I see in the media, but reading other people’s responses really helped in giving me an example of how to go about things without being too emotionally invested. It also helped me improve my online communication skills, especially with my responses to other people.

Works Cited

Greenberg, Amy S. “The Origins of the Latino “Immigration Problem”” History News Network.N.p., 26 Nov. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

“Stereotypology: Spicy Latinas.” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Oct. 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Lopez, Johana P. “Speaking With Them Or Speaking For Them: A Conversation About The Effect Of Stereotypes In The Latina/Hispanic Women’s Experiences In The United States.” New Horizons In Adult Education & Human Resource Development 25.2 (2013): 99-106. ERIC. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Molina Guzmán, Isabel. “Mediating Frida : Negotiating Discourses Of Latina/O Authenticity In Global Media Representations Of Ethnic Identity.” Critical Studies In Media Communication 23.3 (2006): 232-251. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

Ruiz-Alfaro, Sofía. “Between Women: Bandidas And The Construction Of Latinidad In The U.S.-Mexico Borderlands.” Quarterly Review Of Film & Video 31.3 (2014): 199-210.Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

“David Guetta – Play Hard Ft. Ne-Yo, Akon (Official Video).” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

Bandidas. Dir. Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 2006.

Frida. Dir. Julie Taymor. Perf. Salma Hayek. Miramax Films, 2002.

“By the Numbers: A Look at the Gender Pay Gap.” AAUW Empowering Women Since 1881 By the Numbers A Look at the Gender Pay Gap Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

“Frida (8/12) Movie CLIP – Frida Cuts Her Hair (2002) HD.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

“Frida (1/12) Movie CLIP – Bus Crash (2002) HD.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

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2 thoughts on “The Latina Woman in Popular Media

  1. I enjoyed reading your analysis very much. I especially thought the introduction was catchy and well crafted. I like how you uncover and present all the different stereotypes Latino people face in the media. It’s so easy to not pay attention to certain stereotypes and one can begin to accept what they see as reality, and that can be bad. I like how you incorporate videos and screen shots that create a richer experience for the reader and helps reinforce your points.

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