Latina characters in movies and television are often depicted with certain characteristics and are given specific lines from writers to emphasize their Latin accent or cultural heritage. To display examples of these commonalities in Latina characters I chose to focus on three artifacts: Modern Family, Spanglish, and Pitch Perfect 2. All these mediums show the common traits of having a thick accent, excessively beautiful and demonstrate a negative light to their cultural heritage. I want to demonstrate how these roles are prominent in film and television and how they relate to the real world, by arguing how unrealistic these roles are portrayed in media.
I wanted to begin with the hit television show Modern Family, currently on their 8th season. The show itself is set up as a mockumentary of three families in Los Angeles and funny predicaments characters get into. I think the show is for audience of all ages, and is a family comedy. I chose to focus on one episode in particular, Season 8 Episode 1 “Tale of Three Cities”, because I have never watched Modern Family before. After searching for a controversial episode by Modern Family, I came across an article written by the AVClub talking about the recurring “Uninventive remarks towards Latin culture”. After doing some research, I read from fans on the website AV CLub that quoted “Season 7 was the worst season ever from Modern Family and Season 8 was their comeback”. The episode is about three different families on summer vacation in three different locations. The first family is in New York, where the couple and their three kids decide to split up, the parents have a romantic get away for a few days while the children secretly explore New York. The second family is gay couple Mitchell and Cameron, who go to Missouri to visit Cameron’s family yet arrive to his grandma being on her deathbed. The final family is in Juarez, Mexico is based around Gloria, Sofia Vergara’s character. Gloria’s family attends her cousin Marisol’s third wedding at the age of 19. The character Gloria opens up the scene with the line “Thank god they finished that tunnel in time, for her father to make it.”
As the episode progresses, Gloria’s lines escalade and when it came to revealing Gloria’s family, there were a lot of jokes and remarks about Mexican people. Gloria and her family are Columbian. At the wedding when Gloria’s sister Sonia was introduced said she was going to drop off her present at the gift table. Sonia holds up a machete, the camera zooms in on someone putting a machete at the gift table and Sonia gives a big sigh with the remark “of course.” I made the observation how it’s strange the event in Juarez, Mexico was the “third wedding” for a 19 year old girl; maybe stabbing a joke at how young mexican women get married and how often. Another strange remark, joking about latin culture was how Gloria stated “Kidnapping is very common in my family. *phone rings* Oh I bet this is the ransom call.” connoting kidnapping and asking for ransoms are common in Latin America. Her son was stolen and she remained calm, and being the comedic relief character, Gloria laughed at how Sonia kidnapped her son and acted like it was an everyday occurrence.
In all these instances, Gloria’s character depicts Latin America as a place riddled with drugs, gang violence, and kidnappings without acknowledging the beauty or history of the culture. Gloria says lines that constantly degraded herself and latina women in general. This type of media influences culture and stereotypes when it comes to peoples of this population in the real world. Leading to assumptions all latina women were born outside the US, have thick accents, crazy cultures and are as voluptuous as Sofia Vergara is.
It was revealing how Gloria stated in the episode “Kidnapping is very common in my family. *phone rings* Oh, I bet this is the ransom call”, connoting kidnapping and asking for ransoms are common in Latin America. Gloria laughed at how Sonia kidnapped her son and acted like it was an everyday occurrence. In reality, Columbia was once known as the “ kidnap capital of the world, with eight reported abductions a day…” not something to take lightly. The script writers of Modern Family most likely did not write that line as a reference or empathetic remark. The writers have said they hired Sofia Vergara for her “ethnic” qualities.
For my second spotlight topic I wanted to pick the movie “Spanglish” directed by James L Brooks, a romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler, Paz Vega, and Tea Leoni. This movie was released in theatres throughout the United States. The story is narrated by Cristina, the daughter of Flor (Paz Vega’s character) who tells how her mother smuggled into the U.S with Cristina to start a new life with her daughter.. Flor becomes a housekeeper and eventually full time nanny for the Clasky family and it is the comedic story of how the Clasky family intervenes in Flor’s life for what they think is for the better. Flor falls in love with the father of the Clasky household, Adam Sandler. This movie’s audience is most likely intended for teens and adults who enjoy romantic comedies.
Cristina is narrating the tale of her mother’s sacrifices for her Princeton University Admissions Letter. Telling the struggles of how her mother crossed Cristina and herself over the Mexican border and started a new life in the U.S.. Cristina’s depiction of passing the border is her walking across a field and getting on a bus. Cristina describes her mother as single, strong, thick-accented, only Spanish speaking, taboo to American culture, uneducated, beautiful, confused and defensive person.
In the story Flor becomes a full-time nanny for the summer in the Clasky home, having her and her daughter Cristina live with the Clasky’s. Eventually Deborah, the mother of the Clasky family, tries to control Cristina’s education, transferring her to a private school, when she discovers Cristina is very intelligent; as well as take over Cristina’s social life, no longer being with Flor’s family but rather attending the Clasky families events. This is shift causes Flor to become resentful of the Clasky family, so Flor learns English and stands up for herself. There is a love interest for Flor, John Clasky (Adam Sandler) who she starts to learn more about and eventually says they cannot be together. After saying their love could not exist, Flor quits and leaves the Clasky family, upsetting Cristina. Cristina’s closing lines are “ I’ve been overwhelmed by your encouragement to apply to your university and your list of scholarships available to me. Though, as I hope this essay shows, your acceptance, while it would thrill me, will not define me. My identity rests firmly and happily on one fact: I am my mother’s daughter. Thank you, Cristina Moreno”
I picked Spanglish as a movie of observation for my thesis of negative or unrealistic assumptions and stereotypes towards Latina women. It was interesting how simplified crossing the Mexican border was displayed in the beginning of the film. The scene is the mother Flor and child Cristina walking across a field, and up a hill rolling their suitcases. In the next scene they are on a bus and passing Texas. In reality, these two female characters could have easily been kidnapped, raped or murdered by gangsters or cartel men at the border.
In comparison to another popular Mexican film “Under the Same Moon” by Patricia Riggen released in 2008, crossing the border is scary and dangerous. The movie also deals with the struggles of single mother living in California after crossing the border, in contrast to Spanglish’s portrayal, leaving Mexico is dangerous and deadly. As shown in some scenes of “Under the Same Moon”, the mother breaks her forearm and the child must hide under a seat in a minivan. Similarly, the mother in “Under the Same Moon” is a housekeeper, nanny, and poor. My mother and father’s family have crossed Central American borders into the United States and both parties say this was a very scary and life changing experience.
According to Smithsonianmag.com “In the past 14 years, more than 6,000 people have died trying to migrate through the U.S.’s southern border”. The simplicity of crossing the border is disrespectful and an Americanized simplified version of what really occurs. According to PBSorg in their article, “Women Crossing the U.S Border Face Sexual Assault with Little Protection” they explain how people who venture into the United States “will continue in spite of having been assaulted, having been robbed, having been shot at, and having been raped, because it has been a real long journey, a very dangerous expensive one.”. Unlike the fairy tale way “Spanglish” presented immigration.
My final source is the film “Pitch Perfect 2” directed by Elizabeth Banks premiered nation-wide in 2015. This is a sequel to the first hit comedy Pitch Perfect, about an all-girl acapella college group competing for the gold with a cast of funny characters.
In this sequel to Pitch Perfect, this movie is three years after the first competition in the first movie. The plot is that the protagonist all-girl college acapella group, the “Barden Bellas” have lost their title as the best singing group and have to fight to be on top again. This all-girl cast is more diverse when it comes to LGBTQ and race compared to the first film. Introducing new characters like Cynthia, a lesbian black woman and Flo, a Latina with a strong accent. Both of these new characters had very strong characteristics that made them stand out.
The Barden Bellas do singing competitions with a variety of music genres from country to Top 40 pop to 90’s hip hop, against numerous groups throughout the movie. In the performances there are complex dance numbers and use of technicality since there are no instruments involved, only vocals. This film is filled with crude humor, from jokes about vaginas to misogyny to racial remarks and even diarrhea. Barden Bellas have an enemy in the movie who are a German acapella group called Das Sound Machine. In the final scene, the two groups perform in Copenhagen, Denmark and the Barden Bellas win with an original song they wrote!
They made Cynthia and Flo’s characters stand out so much. Cynthia made a lot of comments and insinuations about how she was a lesbian and at one point said “I am a black and lesbian woman..”. The film’s attention to those details were pertinent. For the character Flo, she had a hand full of lines throughout the entire film all in reference to her culture. The lines put her past and the image of South America in a very dark light. Some of her lines that stood out to me included “When I was 9 years old my brother tried to sell me for a chicken ”, and her closing line “So after I graduate there is a chance I will be deported. I will try to reenter this country but I will probably die at sea (smiles). So let’s live for tonight!”. The character Flo and I are both latina, college students and her representation of what larina college students are like is out of control. When I first started college, I got asked the questions “Does your mom know English?”, “Were you born here?” and “So, Spanish was your first language right?”. I believe characters like Flo entice stereotypes and for latinas like me, I should be treated without predetermined standards.
I found it interesting how Flo’s origin is never said but online she is described as Guatemalan. In an interview with Chrissie Fit, the actress that plays Flo states the origin is never revealed but the character is hinted to be from around that South America region. It was revealing how Chrissie Fit does not have the thick accent her character has in the film. I do believe the directors pushed for the strong accent to make Flo seem very foreign and almost clueless. For the closing line stated above, I was surprised how the film put a comedic effect on deportation and the realness of people dying in order to cross the border into America. In another one of Flo’s lines, she gives a comparison of the rest of the acapella group’s stresses over getting kidnapped and sold in her country. It was shocking how very real and scary circumstances was used as comedy in this film.
In all these artifacts we can see common themes and an outsider to this community of Latina women could assume all latinas have thick accents, are excessively beautiful and voluptuous, and have what seems like a struggling, dark heritage. A “Latina” according to Merriam Webster is “a woman or girl who is a native or inhabitant of Latin America”, so these constant connotations toward Latinas in media are creating a stereotype for this large group of women. Enticing negative remarks towards these women in real life. Being a latina, we are all not these aspiring maids as seen in Spanglish or have a struggling history associated with kidnapping as depicted in Modern Family. I believe it should be respected to be of Latin heritage and I am eager to see what changes in the representation of latinas in film and television are in store for the future.
Works Cited: References and In-Text Citations
- B., Brian. “Director James L. Brooks talks Spanglish.” MovieWeb. MovieWeb, 26 Feb. 2016. Web. 31 May 2017.
- Ballvé, Marcelo (2004) The Battle For Latino Media, NACLA Report on the Americas, 37:4, 20-25, DOI: 10.1080/10714839.2004.11722433
- Fowle@kylefowle, Kyle. “New season, same old Modern Family.” The A.V. Club. N.p., 22 Sept. 2016. Web. 31 May 2017.
- Gurney, Written By Kyra. “Behind Colombia’s Dramatic Fall in Kidnappings.” InSight Crime | Organized Crime In The Americas. N.p., 13 Jan. 2015. Web. 31 May 2017.
- Joffe-Block, Fronteras Jude. “Women crossing the U.S. border face sexual assault with little protection.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, n.d. Web. 31 May 2017.
- Latimer, Brian. “Latinos in Hollywood: Few Roles, Frequent Stereotypes, New Study Finds.” NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 31 May 2017.
- “Modern Family (TV Series 2009– ).” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 31 May 2017.
- “Pitch Perfect 2: Chrissie Fit “Flo” Behind the Scenes Movie Interview.” YouTube. N.p., 02 May 2015. Web. 31 May 2017.
- “Pitch Perfect 2.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 May 2017. Web. 31 May 2017.
- “Quotes.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 31 May 2017.
- “Spanglish (film).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 May 2017. Web. 31 May 2017.