This book is at heart a list of 1,814 motion pictures released between 1898 and 1935 that treat Hispanic themes. Most are Hollywood productions; the majority deal with Mexicans. Each has its descriptive paragraph, often including a brief scenario, the language in which the film is made, the production company and its location, excerpts of reviews, and the author’s comments on the film’s bias or bent. Much of this material may be useful to historians. The book is the first of two or three projected volumes that, with some five thousand entries in all, will carry the project to the present.
Alfred Richard, Jr., contends that the negative images of Hispanics presented in motion pictures have socialized us to think of Hispanics (Mexicans are his example) as “‘greasers,’ cunning, sinister, lustful, lecherous, cowardly, treacherous, faithless, untrustworthy and generally no good . . . ” (p. xv). He characterizes this prejudice as a “technologically advanced” Black Legend. Of course, Richard has his metaphors mixed. A replication of the Black Legend would require the denigration of the conquerors; in this case the producers, not the native peoples, today’s Hispanics. Furthermore, he contends that self-censorship, which the film industry imposed on itself through its Production Code Administration in the 1930s, ameliorated the notorious racism evident in earlier representations of Hispanics (p. xlii). This is a misreading of that agency’s censorship aims and effects. Finally, he tells us that the enlarged moviegoing market of Hispanics in the United States, coupled with the industry’s profit motives, will (or already has, a conclusion he apparently intends to draw in future volumes) remold Hispanics into more personable and palatable neighbors. Maybe so, but scholars who have studied the images of other “minorities,” such as women and blacks, have stressed the persistence of negative stereotyping. Plot situations and character depictions may change, but the biases remain embedded in the broad spectrum of motion pictures, despite some (frequently unprofitable) exceptions.
At the outset Richard declares, “Popular films are an excellent reflection of a nation’s collective mentality, its national consciousness.” A German film analyst, Siegfried Kracauer, propounded that thesis in the 1940s, and film scholars have debated it ever since. If it is true, we (this reviewer included) have yet to prove it. Many now think that films reflect a capitalistic, multinational industry’s concerns more than anything else. Use Richard’s compilation for what it is worth, but beware his assumptions and biases.