Seven Latina Films to Watch for Women’s History Month

March 4, 2021

It’s Women’s History Month and we are celebrating Latinas who have broken barriers. Often overlooked, Latinas have always been leaders throughout U.S. and Latin American history. We’ve left our mark on history, everywhere from the grape fields of California to New York’s Broadway stages, from Mexico’s night clubs to the revolutionary streets of Chile.

When our community is invisible our contributions are erased. Latinas are one of the least represented in media when compared to our numbers in the actual population. Meaning, outside of our communities (and sometimes even inside of them), our heroes go unsung with so much of the media leaving their stories untold.

Clearly there are exceptions. Selena Quintanilla and Frida Kahlo are global icons, thanks in part to Hollywood shining their spotlight on them. But no two people, no matter how outstanding, can represent the breadth and depth of the Latinx communities. Selena and Frida’s stories are important to tell, but they are not the only ones. We need Women’s History Month to celebrate all women, not just the ones that fit into existing narratives. 

In recognition of Latinas’ on-going contributions, NHMC and LatinaMedia.Co have partnered to shout out some of the amazing films that center real-life Latinas. The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) is a 35-year-old nonprofit civil rights organization that was founded to eliminate hate, discrimination, and racism towards the Latinx community. LatinaMedia.Co is a start-up, mission-based media company, uplifting Latina and femme Latinx perspective in media. Together, we’re celebrating the stories that lift up Latinas’ contributions.

Join us this Women’s History Month as we celebrate Latinas, past and present, who deserve major motion pictures. Don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered with seven films featuring Latina trailblazers and icons.

Isabel “Chavela” Vargas (1919-2012) – Chavela

Isabel “Chavela” Vargas left her native Costa Rica as a teen, looking for better singing opportunities. She found them in Mexico where she became famous for her haunting rancheras and gender-bending grit. She refused to change the pronouns in songs, wore pants, and carried a gun, shocking and intriguing mid-century Mexico. Rumored to have had an affair with Frida Kahlo, Chavela officially came out as LGBTQ at 81 in her autobiography where she also discussed her battle with alcoholism. The 2017 documentary Chavela tells these stories, interspersed with gripping footage of her live performances. It’s available to rent on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, and more.

Celia Cruz (1925-2003) – Celia the Queen and Celia Cruz: An Extraordinary Woman… Azucar!

Celia Cruz is the queen of salsa. A treasured and beloved Latinx icon, she has been the subject of not one but several media projects including the films Celia the Queen and Celia Cruz: An Extraordinary Woman… Azucar!. Tragically, none of them are available to stream now with Netflix dropping the 80-episode TV series Celia in 2019 after offering it for three years. That leaves those of us who want to reminisce on Cruz’s legacy on screen without many options. DVDs of her past films go for $50+ on Amazon so you might want to just throw on one of her 37 studio albums instead.

Dolores Huerta (1930-present) – Dolores

Co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta should be a household name, among Latinxs and the entire nation. She was one of the principal organizers of the grape boycott, coined the rallying cry, “sí, se puede,” and is still a leader in national and California politics at the ripe age of 90. She is still heavily involved in the organization she began, The Dolores Huerta Foundation. Director Peter Bratt chronicles her journey in his 2017 documentary Dolores, describing how “a working-class wife and mother of eleven children” becomes “one of the greatest heroes of our time.” The film is available to stream via PBS.

Rita Moreno (1931-present) – Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided to Go For It

Have you ever heard of an “EGOT”? It’s when someone has won all of entertainment’s highest regarded awards (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). As of 2020, only 16 people have accomplished this particular feat, and Puerto Rican actress and singer Rita Moreno was one of the first. To this day, Moreno’s still the only Latina to win an Oscar for acting, thanks to her incredible turn as Anita in 1961’s West Side Story. And she’s still at it, starring in the canceled too-soon One Day At a Time and releasing Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided to Go For It at Sundance 2021. The documentary chronicles her rise to stardom and staying power. PBS is set to air the documentary later this year.

Isabel Allende (1942-present) – Isabel

Out March 12, HBO’s new limited series Isabel tells the story of famed author Isabel Allende. Over three one-hour installments, it traces her journey from a girl abandoned by her father to a world-acclaimed writer. Along the way, we see her cutting her writer’s teeth at a feminist magazine, fleeing her home in Chile under threat of violence during the brutal Augusto Pinochet regime, and the loss of her daughter. Allende wasn’t involved in making the film but she told Rosy Codero of EW, “The events are true, and most of the emotions are true. I totally approve of it, and I feel honored they decided to spend the time and energy to tell my story.”

Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002) 

Sylvia Rivera co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with her great friend, Marsha P. Johnson. Together they loudly took up space in the Gay Liberation Movement, advocating for trans rights with in and out of LGBTQ communities. 

Paula Crisostomo (1951-present) – Walkout! 

The 1968 East Los Angeles student walkouts are the stuff of legend. They rocked LA and minted a new generation of leaders, including Paula Crisostomo who led the effort (and former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and filmmaker Moctesuma Esparza). Esparaza eventually told the story in his film Walkout!, available to stream on HBO. It centers Crisostomo and her work to demand better education for Mexican American students, who joined the then-largest student walkout of its kind. Crisostomo and her fellow young activists faced violence and jail time but persevered. They succeeded in drawing attention to the poor education they were getting and forced the district to make real change.

Share your favorite Latina biopic or documentary with us! Tweet us @latinamediaco and @NHMC or send an email to info@nhmc.org. ¡Gracias y disfruta!

A partnership between NHMC and LatinaMedia.Co

LatinaMedia.Co uplifts Latina and femme Latinx perspective in media by publishing original pieces of criticism, amplifing the on-going work of Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx critics, and focusing on Latinx media.

The National Hispanic Media Coalition is a 35 year old nonprofit 501(c)(3) civil rights organization that was founded to eliminate hate, discrimination, and racism towards the Latinx community, by increasing our representation from Hollywood to Washington, DC.

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