Dating from 1929 to 2000, the collection explores the history of Latinos in American film. This includes Latino characters played by a variety of ethnicities. The practice of Anglo stars and actors of various ethnic backgrounds portraying Latino characters was common in early film and was still in vogue throughout the 1960s. It is possible, using this archive, to study the changing image and perception of the Latino culture throughout much of the 20th century.
What is evident in early talking films and films made well into World War II is that Hollywood cultivated its audiences in South American countries. Before dubbing of films into foreign languages became state-of-the-art, movie studios often made separate Spanish-speaking versions their films, thus making careers for several Latino artists. During this period many Latino performers also became popular stars in English-speaking Hollywood films. Some established long-running careers. These included Leo Carrillo, Lupe Velez, Gilbert Roland (who had started in silent film), Cesar Romero and Anthony Quinn. Romero and Quinn would remain prominent stars of American film for some 50 years.
This period also reflected stereotypical views of Latinos, casting character actors in the roles of sidekicks and villains, characters offering comic relief, domestics and musicians. Roland would be cast in romantic roles as the fantasy of the swarthy lover, and Dolores Del Rio would become a decorative star. But even star Lupe Velez would be relegated to comedies in which her fiery temper was the focal point. Carrillo would be seen as a man with a heart, but a buffoon for the most part. Romero and Quinn would play secondary roles, often portraying various ethnicities. Any major film with a Latino character would employ a major Anglo studio star to portray the role. Seldom would there be Latino writers or directors, but many Latinos would work behind the scenes in the costume and set departments. All this would be the norm well into the 1960s.
The 1940s saw the start of a change when Latino actors were occasionally presented as dramatic characters. Rita Hayworth became one of Hollywood's immortal stars, though she was actually "anglicized" as much as possible. During the war years, films reflected a great respect for Latino culture and music (though still presented often as comic relief). Carmen Miranda became a great musical star.
Post-war films saw the Hollywood traveling to some South American countries to film, but the stories often exposed the seamy sides of the places depicted. Amidst the fantasies and westerns of this time, the real side of Latino culture, which had become integrated into everyday America, started to emerge, particularly with stories of Latinos participating in World War II. Anthony Quinn had become a romantic lead and a respected dramatic actor by this time. Ricardo Montalban, Jose Ferrer and Fernando Lamas were leading men.
The 1960s began a slow integration of the Latino writer and director into Hollywood films, and the westerns of the time portrayed a more realistic view of the Latino character. Latino actors were now actually employed often to play Latino characters, particularly in films shot on location. One actress of Latino heritage, Raquel Welch, became a sex symbol.
Though the 1970s and 80s did not bring us major Hollywood stars of Latino backgrounds (with the exception of Cheech and Chong, perhaps), movies incorporated many Latino characters, themes, situations and artists. So much so that Latino culture (though quite often the crime related part of it) became a mainstay in movies and even television shows. This lead to the integration of Latino characters, performers and writers into our modern films. Artists prominent to this day are featured in this collection, including Sonia Braga, Jimmy Smits, Benjamin Bratt, Edward James Olmos, Benicio Del Toro, Rose Perez, Andy Garcia, Cameron Diaz, Salma Hayek and Jennifer Lopez.