For as long as cinema has existed, Latinx and Hispanic artists and filmmakers have been part of it. Often regarded as Hollywood's first Latin and Hispanic movie star, Myrtle Gonzalez made a name for herself during the era of silent film, as did actors like Beatriz Michelena, Ramón Novarro, Dolores del Río, and Lupe Velez. In the decades to follow, in front of and behind the camera, Latinx and Hispanic talent fought to overcome stereotypes, to find opportunity, to have their voices heard, their faces seen, and their cinema reflect their truth.
In 1951, José Ferrer, who hails from Puerto Rico, became the first Latino actor to win an Oscar when he won Best Actor for Cyrano de Bergerac. (He'd previously been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for 1948's Joan of Arc.) "You must know this means more to me than just the honor accorded to an actor," Ferrer said in his acceptance speech.
In 1962, Rita Moreno made history of her own, winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in West Side Story. "I can't believe it!" she said onstage. Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón became the first to win Best Director with 2013's Gravity, with Alejandro G. Iñárritu winning in both 2014 and 2015 for Birdman and The Revenant, respectively. When Birdman won Best Picture, Iñárritu became the first Latino filmmaker to do so. As far as the Oscars go, milestones have also been made by the likes of Benicio del Toro, Guillermo del Toro, Jorge Drexler, Andy Garcia, Salma Hayek, Edward James Olmos, Anthony Quinn, and Yalitza Aparicio. Ariana DeBose made her mark just this year.
Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, spotlights the indelible contributions made by Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Through film, Latinx and Hispanic filmmakers have shone a light on their rich cultures, depicted their distinctive upbringings, taken audiences on unique adventures, and told important stories of love, perseverance and redemption.
Below, A.frame has compiled a list of essential films to watch to commemorate Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month.
Stand and Deliver
Edward James Olmos shines while giving the performance of a lifetime as high school teacher Jaime Escalante. Directed by Ramón Menéndez, this inspiring true story follows the East Los Angeles math teacher who helps his Latinx students excel in academics by teaching them calculus and numerous life lessons. For his powerful performance, Olmos received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. In 2011, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Salma Hayek stars as iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in this romantic biographical drama. Directed by Julie Taymor, the film showcases the artist, the accident that forever changed her life, and her tumultuous relationship with her husband (Alfred Molina). The film also explores how her views on politics and sex inspired her work. Co-starring Antonio Banderas, Ashley Judd, Diego Luna, Geoffrey Rush and Edward Norton, Frida received six Oscar nominations, including Best Actress for Hayek, ultimately winning two Oscars (Best Original Score and Best Makeup).
Real Women Have Curves
Making her feature film debut, America Ferrera stars as Ana García, an 18-year-old growing up in East Los Angeles. While Ana dreams of going off to college, her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), wants Ana to work in the family’s textile factory and to help improve their financial situation. Ana is torn between her personal aspirations and her family obligations. George Lopez, Jorge Cervera Jr. and Ingrid Oliu co-star in this Patricia Cardoso-directed drama. In 2019, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Y Tu Mamá También
This Mexican drama from four-time Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón stars Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal as teenage best friends who go on a road trip with a woman in her late twenties by the name of Luisa (Maribel Verdú). While traveling, the boys become incredibly attracted to Luisa and each attempt to win her over, changing their friendship forever. Cuarón, along with his brother, Carlos Cuarón, received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, this Spanish comedy-drama tells the story of Raimunda (Penélope Cruz), whose priority in life is to love and protect her teenage daughter. Raimunda's mother, meanwhile, returns from the dead to resolve some unfinished business. ("Volver" means "to return" in Spanish.) Cruz was nominated for Best Actress for this performance, which is widely considered to be one of the best performances of her illustrious career.
A Better Life
This drama shows what many immigrants will do to give their families a better life. Demián Bichir stars as an undocumented East Los Angeles gardener who does what he can to keep his son (José Julián) away from gangs and immigration agents. Bichir received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his heart-wrenching performance.
Instructions Not Included
Eugenio Derbez co-wrote, produced, starred in, and directed this comedy-drama that made history by becoming the highest-grossing Mexican film of all time. The movie follows Derbez as bachelor Valentín Bravo, who finds out that he is a father when a former fling leaves their daughter, Maggie, on his doorstep. Six years later, he is working as a Hollywood stuntman and writing letters to Maggie, pretending to be her mom. Their lives are turned upside down when Maggie’s mom resurfaces and seeks custody.
The life of the iconic civil rights activist and labor organizer is portrayed in this biographical drama. Directed by Diego Luna, the film stars Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez as he organizes farm workers in California in the fight for better working conditions, and forms the United Farm Workers union. America Ferrera co-stars as Chavez’s wife, Helen, along with Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the union with Chavez, and John Malkovich as Bogdanovich Senior, an industrial grape farm owner who opposes Chavez’s efforts.
Set in Havana, Cuba, this Spanish-language drama follows hairdresser Jesus (Héctor Medina) as he transforms into drag performer Viva. When he and his estranged father reunite, they each struggle with the expectations that they have of one another, and Jesus is forced to come to terms with his sexuality.
This Pixar animated film centers on Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), who, despite his family’s ban on music, dreams of one day becoming a great musician and guitarist like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). One night, during the Day of the Dead celebrations, he ends up in the Land of the Dead. To return to the Land of the Living, Miguel must team up with trickster Héctor (Gael García Bernal) and reconnect with his great-great-grandfather. Coco won two Oscars, one for Best Animated Feature Film and another for Best Original Song for "Remember Me."
The black-and-white Roma is a semi-autobiographical look at Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood in the early '70s in Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City. Starring Yalitza Aparicio – in her feature film debut – as Cleo, an indigenous live-in maid for an upper-middle class family who finds out that she is pregnant. Marina de Tavira co-stars as Sofía, the mother of the family and Cleo’s boss.
Roma received 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress for Aparicio, and Best Supporting Actress for de Tavira, ultimately winning three Oscars (Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director, and Best Cinematography). Roma made history by becoming the first Mexican entry to win Best Foreign Language Film, the first time a director won Best Director for a foreign language film, and the first time that a director won Best Cinematography for shooting their own film.
This Walt Disney Animation Studios film tells the story of the magical Madrigal family, who all have special and unique powers except for one family member, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). While feeling like she doesn’t fit in with her supernatural family, Mirabel discovers that their magical casita, their home, is starting to crack and that her family members are starting to lose their powers.
Encanto features original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, like “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and the Oscar-nominated “Dos Oruguitas.” Encanto received two other Oscar nominations, one for Best Original Score and another for Best Animated Feature, ultimately winning the Oscar for the latter.
West Side Story
Steven Spielberg’s reimagining of the 1957 stage musical of the same name was praised for its diverse cast, choreography, costumes, and direction, among other elements. The musical once again brought the story of the Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks to the big screen. Newcomer Rachel Zegler makes her feature film debut as Maria, while Ansel Elgort portrays Tony. Rita Moreno, who starred in the 1961 version and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as Anita, co-stars as Valentina, a new character.
The film received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, ultimately winning for Best Supporting Actress for Ariana DeBose for her interpretation of Anita.
Father of the Bride
Andy Garcia takes on the role of the father of the bride in this third iteration of this story. (Spencer Tracy played the father of the bride in the original from 1950, and Steve Martin played the role in 1991.) Garcia, along with Gloria Estefan, lead the latest version, which features a predominately Latinx cast and centers on Cuban-born Billy Herrera (Garcia) coming to terms with his eldest daughter, Sofia (Adria Arjona), marrying the Mexican-born lawyer Adan (Diego Boneta). Though it follows the original storyline, the 2022 version differs in that Sofia is the one who proposes and the couple insists on paying for their wedding themselves, which is to be non-religious. The romantic comedy co-stars Isabela Merced, Ruben Rabasa, Chloe Fineman, Laura Harring and Pedro Damián.