National Hispanic Heritage Month lasts from September 15 through October 15 and celebrates the contributions of Hispanic and Latinx Americans to the heritage and culture of North America and beyond, whether it be through films, music, books, art, or more.
Originally lasting a week and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, it was later expanded into a full month in 1988 and signed off by President Ronald Reagan. Events related to National Hispanic Heritage Month include the El Barrio Latin Jazz festival in the Bronx and events hosted by the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
One of the most visible contributions of Latinx and Hispanic Americans are the films made for and about Hispanic culture. There are countless films that cover a wide array of genres, themes, and topics. It would be impossible to name all of them or rank even the best of them, but here is a list of just ten Latinx movies that need to be watched:
Amores perros is a 2000 drama thriller featuring an early breakout role for Gael García Bernal and was the first feature film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Iñárritu is now one of cinema’s most unique, talented voices — the first person since 1950 to win back-to-back Oscars for Best Director (for his films Birdman and The Revenant) and only the third director ever to do so.
Pelo malo is a 2013 drama from Venezuela about a boy named Junior who is constantly trying to straighten his curly, unruly hair. Written and directed by Mariana Rondón, the film was critically praised for its exploration of adolescence, mother-child tensions, gender identity, sexuality, and other themes in the context of Venezuelan culture. Its release in 2013, shortly after the death of Hugo Chavez, also pivots the film in an important, transitional moment for the nation.
Sin País is a documentary short that tells the story of Sam and Elida, who are deported from the United States and try to reunite with their son. Released in 2010, it is more relevant than ever in today’s contemporary political climate — although it is more an emotional story about humanity than a political disquisition on immigration.
Directed by Julie Taymor, Frida stars Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina and tells the true story of Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo. Kahlo was a fascinating figure in the art world, all the more notable for being a woman in a time where culture was very much dominated by men. The same could be said to be true for Hollywood, which made the film — also produced by Hayek, who picked up an Oscar nom for her acting in the movie — all the more important for both female and Latinx voices.
El secreto de sus ojos
The 2009 crime drama El secreto de sus ojos is a co-production between Argentina and Spain and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The epic nonlinear story tells of two officials investigating a rape and murder case over the span of 25 years. El secreto de sus ojos has been voted one of the top 100 greatest motion pictures since 2000 by a BBC poll of international film critics.
While nearly every one of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s films could be included on this list, Biutiful is especially notable for the lead performance by star Javier Bardem. Bardem received high praise for his acting in the film, and his Oscar nod for Best Actor was the first nomination ever given to a performance that was entirely in Spanish.
Selena is a 1997 biopic telling the tragic story of the eponymous Tejano music superstar who was murdered in the prime of her career. Eventually becoming the 13th highest-grossing musical biopic of all time, Selena might be most notable for launching the career of Jennifer Lopez, whose acting and musical fame skyrocketed and hasn’t abated since.
Y Tu Mamá También
Y Tu Mamá También is a 2001 Mexican coming-of-age drama about two teenagers who take a road trip with a 20-something woman. Critically hailed at the time of its release, the film is also notable for helping launch the careers of its stars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, as well as writer-director Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón instantly became one of Mexico’s most prominent directors, following the film up with series-highlight Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and later directing Children of Men and sci-fi epic Gravity.
City of God
City of God is a 2002 Brazilian crime drama directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund and adapted from the 1997 novel written by Paulo Lins. The film depicts the growth of suburban crime in a Rio de Janeiro suburb over the course of several decades, and was an instant critical hit, eventually earning four Academy Award nominations. It was later followed by the spiritual sequel City of Men.
El laberinto del Fauno
El laberinto del Fauno may be the purest expression of Mexican writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s dark, whimsical aesthetic. The film, which found huge mainstream success in the United States as Pan’s Labyrinth, combines historical drama with fantasy in telling the story of a young girl living in Spain five years after its Civil War. The film was nominated for and won countless awards after its release, including winning three Oscars, and certified del Toro as one of Hollywood’s strongest, most successful voices.
Interested in making a film of your own one day? Find more information on the programs offered by the New York Film Academy here.