Wednesday, August 17, 2005


"Projections" is concerned with the ways in which Latin America has figured in Hollywood and European cinema. Rather than lamenting the distance between stereotype and reality, it is interested in the functions served by the innumerable projections of fantasized Latin Americas onto the silver screen.

For Spring 2009, this project has been aided by a grant from the University of British Columbia's Arts Undergraduate Research Awards, to hire three undergraduate student researchers to expand this online database of Latin America on screen.


It's notable how many classic (and not so classic) Hollywood movies are set in Latin America, from Hitchcock's Notorious or Orson Welles's Touch of Evil to, say, Blake Edwards's "10" or Robert Zemeckis's Romancing the Stone.

One might ask the reasons for what is almost an obsession, especially given the widely-held belief that US Americans are somehow uninterested in things foreign. Hollywood particularly has often been implicated in cultural imperialism, understood as a homogenization of global difference. Why then its concern with the Latin American other?

Some of the reasons are surely historical, demographic, and geographical. Hollywood itself was once part of the Spanish Empire (as the Zorro franchise reminds us) and then, until the mid nineteenth-century US-Mexican war, part of the Republic of Mexico. And with twentieth and twenty-first century South-North migration, Los Angeles is rapidly becoming Latin again.

Yet though there are indeed films that show Latin America as either historical residue or border threat, what's more interesting is in fact the multiplicity and multifacetedness of Hollywood's Latin imaginings.

Many different genres are played out in Latin America: from Musical to Western, Film Noir (Gilda) to Comedy (¡Three Amigos!), Action Adventure to Romance. As the camera moves South of the Border, it can be searching for gritty realism (The Border) as much as for escapist diversion (Saludos Amigos).

So what, if anything, unites these movies that portray Latin America? Is there some shared element beyond the contingent commonality of location or theme? My wager is that there is, and that it's something worth writing about. Indeed, my suspicion is that when Hollywood goes Latin, it reveals something essential about cinema tout court.

My intention is to write a short book on this topic. In the meantime, I am gathering material, watching as many movies as I can, and posting my notes here on this blog.


Listed below are some of the movies I plan to write up in the near future. If you have suggestions of other films in which Latin America plays a part, however small, do mention them in the comments or email me. Ideally they should be available on video or (better still) DVD.

  • Anaconda
  • Apocalypto
  • Cannibal Holocaust
  • Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death
  • Clinton and Nadine
  • Fitzcarraldo
  • The In-Laws
  • Medicine Man
  • The Mexican
  • Predator
  • Proof of Life
  • Red Dawn
  • Revenge
  • Salt of the Earth
  • Toy Soldiers
  • The Wages of Fear


The blog's visual design is indebted to the marvellous Christine Mackenzie at the University of Aberdeen's Directorate of Information Technology.