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Through the Lens of the Mujer

Created: 19 March, 2010
Updated: 26 July, 2022
4 min read

Latina filmmakers advance minority female voice in the U.S. narrative

By Alice Gomez and Lucia Matthews

An old African proverb posits that ‘until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter’. In other words, historical accounts benefit the storyteller. History has by in large been reported from the male perspective thus illuminating the world from a man’s view. Women have traditionally experienced less access to mainstream representations. Latinas and other minorities are sometimes faced with additional prejudice. In the past their stories were rarely given a voice. 

Through the efforts of countless individuals significant headway has been made towards recognizing the significance of female societal contributions. As women’s voice gains increased status, film provides a forum through which it can be transmitted. Recent strides by female filmmakers may lead the way in redirecting the U.S. storyline to include the women’s viewpoint.

The National Women’s History Project (NWHP) is one of the many organizations taking charge of advancing the women’s movement. It serves as a catalyst for promoting the recognition of women’s achievements in all facets of life- science, community, government, literature, art, sports, medicine, etc.

The NWHP has designated March as Women’s History Month. The focus of this year’s 30th anniversary of Women’s History Month is ‘Writing Women Back into History’. Understanding our past is a vital component to a healthy understanding of who we are. An adequate presence in history facilitates an enhanced sense of self worth. To honor the theme the organization developed a nation-wide program highlighting outstanding women and their achievements.

According to the NWHP, when the effort began in the eighties less than 3% of the content of teacher training textbooks mentioned the contributions of women and when included, women were usually written in as mere footnotes. Women were deprived of female role models. Today the web contains millions of citations professing the accomplishments of women.

What better testament to the improved vocality of the female perspective than the evolution of women filmmakers- the ultimate storytellers. This year’s Oscar winner for Best Director went to Kathryn Bigelow for Hurt Locker. She is the first woman to ever win this award. Only three women have ever even been nominated.

Many women in the industry understand the deep impact of this landmark event. Actress Yareli Arizmendi, of such films as Like Water for Chocolate and A Day Without a Mexican, acknowledges this accomplishment was a long time coming.

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 “Let us not forget that change doesn’t just happen, it needs to be imagined and worked,” Arizmendi said. “The fact that Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director and Best Film was a natural evolution of what had been imagined and worked for the past centuries.”

The progression of the Latina perspective specifically is an important part of the U.S. narrative. The 2010 San Diego Latino Film Festival highlights the contributions of Latina film makers with the 17th annual Cine Mujer. Cine Mujer features six films, eight documentaries and over 30 short films by Latinas and the Latina experience. The event provides an opportunity for women filmmakers and audiences to share perspectives with one another.

The arts, such as film, have always led the way in progressive leaps for the marginalized. The industry itself has yet to create a level playing field for mainstream representations. Women seek alternative routes to ensure their voice is articulated and heard.

“Unfortunately the truth is that there are not that many women directing narrative films in Hollywood. There are, however, many women who work on documentaries, and there is a network of support from these women that is amazing” Laura Varela, San Antonio-based documentary filmmaker and Cine Mujer participant, said. “Therefore, women, being as resilient as they are in general, and as filmmakers find ways to tell their stories without having to depend on a system which is not as open to them.”

Despite the developments made towards advancing the female voice, a gender gap remains. Women, especially minority women, are still a marginalized group with minimal admission to dominant discourse. As film and other creative industries continue to incorporate female viewpoints societal understandings will increasingly reflect multiple understandings.

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