Latin American cinema is one of the most vibrant and diverse in the world. Contrary to the stereotypical image – built on postcolonial exoticism – the region has in most Global North countries, the cinema that emerges from this region is a kaleidoscope of social struggles and cultural richness. Perhaps more than any other political and linguistic region in the world, Latin America is defined by post-Cold War and postcolonial politics. Issues such as racial divisions and the interference of hegemonic powers such as the former Soviet Union and the United States in local affairs shape everyday experience in Latin America. This is reflected in the articles included in this dossier.
But what exactly is Latin America?
“America” is a Western word used to describe and to conceptually and materially take hold of a land that held entire worlds before the arrival of the Europeans. The invasion was fragmentary at first. The Vikings named four regions (Grœnland, Helluland, Markland, Vínland) in a more or less limited area. Five centuries later the Spaniards, without realising they had reached a territory that escaped current cartographical accounts, named the territory Las Indias, either for promotional reasons, a mistake (they thought they had reached India) or both.
Las Indias, in their plurality, were in fact a multitude of worlds, like Cemanáhuac for the Nahuas, Petén for some Mayan groups, Pacha for the Incas or Abya Yala for the Guna people. In any case, this plurality was vanished by the conceptual unity of “America”. The new name was publicised in the Duchy of Lorena, in the Sacred Roman German Empire: it was first represented in the world map drawn by Martin Waldseemüller (1507). Waldseemüller named the continent “America” because he wanted to honor the Florentine cartographer Américo Vespucio, who demonstrated that it was, in fact, a “new” continent. The fact that the name was not determined in America or the Iberian Peninsula could evidence the fact the Spanish and the Portuguese didn’t know how to benefit from the global processes that they triggered. The name of “America”, however, helped incorporate the “New World” into the order of Christianity, Europe and what is now known as “The West”.
“Latin” is a relatively more direct term: it signals to a filial relationship with Latin, with the tongues and cultures derived from it. There are three obvious Latin landscapes in America: Spanish, Lusitanian and French. There are also some local clusters: Papiamento and the Creole languages based on French in the major and the minor Antilles. Paraguay and some regions in Northern Argentina, where Guarani-Spanish bilingualism is whole, are a product of the cultural logic imported from Castilla and transformed into a local variant; the remnants of the Italian migratory waves of the nineteenth century are also notable in the everyday life of towns such as Chipilo, Mexico, where the common language is Vèneto, or in Botuverá, Brazil, where the same happens with Lombard.
Latin America is a space that opposes Anglo America, which is why it has kept currency as a term. The concept, which was used since the nineteenth century in Colombia and Chile, was used as a propaganda tool by Napoleon II to justify the second invasion of Mexico (1861-1867), which was sold to the French people as a Latin and Catholic resistance against the increasing influence of the United States, Anglo culture and protestantism. Given this background, its currency as a tool for resistance against the cultural, economic and political influence of the United States is obvious. The irony resides in the fact that the only true success that Napoleon II had in Latin America was to provide a powerful terminology.
Given this historical and cultural context, it is key to understand Latin America not only through studying its politics and economic trends but its cultural manifestations. Cinema, we argue, is key to delving into contemporary Latin American identity as an opposition to past and present imperialist forces. The articles contained in this dossier explore the films coming out from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Colombia, the five biggest industries in the continent and the ones that have captured the spotlight in international festivals. We also offer a conversation among three indigenous cinema curators, who explore what indigeneity means in the Latin American cultural landscape. The coverage is by no means comprehensive, and the films of other countries such as Uruguay, Haiti and Cuba, as well as the diasporic film production of Latinos in the United States, merit future revisions.
Because we want to escape linguistic imperialism and we would be doing a disservice to the Spanish-speaking world otherwise, we have partner with the Mexican online film journal Icónica to produce this dossier. The Spanish versions of the articles can be read in their site, and we have included direct links to these versions. Cinephilia and film writing are not limited to the Anglosphere, and neither should a dossier that explores the audiovisual richness of Latin America.
César Albárran-Torres and Abel Muñoz-Hénonin