Heroes, Lovers, and Others: Heroes, Lovers, and Others

Clara E. Rodriguez, Author, Ce Rodriguez, Author Smithsonian Books $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-58834-111-2
Rodriguez's cultural and ethnic history traces the work of Latino actors in American film from the silent era to today. Although the Fordham University professor's specialty is sociology and her research is compiled from clip files and an assortment of secondary sources, her smooth writing and passion for the topic make this a worthy introduction to Latino film studies. Rodriguez breaks her study into five periods, showing how political and social conditions shaped the way Latinos were received in Hollywood and depicted onscreen. Interestingly, the past seems to be repeating itself. In the silent film and early talkie days, like in today's""postmodern"" era, Latinos were much in demand and often cast in a variety of roles regardless of their ethnicity. But in between there were many lean years, marked by invisibility and stereotyping. In the""good neighbor"" era of the 1940s, lighthearted and musical Latinos such as Cesar Romero and Carmen Miranda dominated. In the Cold War era of the '50s, despite movies such as West Side Story and Giant, Latinos were largely invisible, and the Hispanic backgrounds of Latin stars like Anthony Quinn and Raquel Welch weren't usually recognized. The '60s and '70s saw an""era of contestation,"" she writes, in which Hollywood movies cast Latinos largely as criminals, prostitutes or welfare cases, although comedians like Cheech Marin and Charo also emerged, and other Latinos began making their own films. Rodriguez also recognizes the impact of gender and class issues and includes plenty of bios of Latino actors, from Dolores Del Rio and Jose Ferrer to Jennifer Lopez and Benecio Del Toro. But a little less factual data and a little more analysis of films featuring Latino characters would have strengthened her otherwise engaging book. 57 b&w photos.
Reviewed on: 05/01/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
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