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A new Latino stereotype?

by Daniel Cubias

We Latinos love our horror movies. If there are shrieking demons, knife-wielding maniacs, or bloodthirsty poltergeists up on the screen, there are probably lots of Hispanics watching it.

Ulises Silva pointed this out a few months ago, and I also devoted a post to the topic.

Hollywood has noticed this as well. Horror movies are aggressively marketed to Hispanic audiences, and “Latinos have the highest audience share in the horror/thriller” genre.

It stands to reason, then, that horror movies now feature more Hispanic characters. However, this new-found appreciation for diversity is mixed news.

While there are more Latino characters onscreen, they are primarily of one type. Namely, they are superstitious weirdos who exist only to illuminate the white character’s understanding and help him or her through the crisis.

I noticed this while watching Paranormal Activity 2, in which a demon terrorizes a white family. The nanny/maid (a Latina, of course) mumbles all kinds of mumbo jumbo and burns incense to keep evil at bay. But this only pisses off her employers, who fire her. Eventually, the family calls her back in to help them. You might think she would be slightly bitter about getting canned when all she was trying to do was save their souls. But she’s a good servant, so she returns. After that… well, you’ll just have to see the movie.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07XbSk7Rjt4]

In Drag Me to Hell, the white girl at the center of the story is counseled by a Middle Eastern psychic. But eventually, they have to call in the big guns, so they visit a Latina mystic, who very dramatically shouts “Afuera!” in an attempt to banish the demon.

Movie: Drag Me to Hell

In Devil, the only person who knows what’s going on is the Hispanic security guard. He tries to tell every white person around him. But they scoff at his jittery ramblings and dismiss him.

Each movie relies on superstitious Hispanics proving themselves to skeptical whites. In each case, the Latino character is a minor player. And yes, a lot of the time they are cowardly and/or get killed in the effort of helping the main characters.

Now, one can argue that there are worse characterizations than being the spiritually sensitive person who knows all the answers. However, the trend of superstitious Hispanics is really just a new form of the played-out “magical black man” imagery in Hollywood movies.

In our post-racial era, it is now Hispanics, as well as black people, “who exist primarily to help troubled white folks, and who generally have few meaningful characteristics of their own.”

As much as I love horror movies, it’s a bit tiring to see Hispanics get all freaky while pleading with white heroes, who only come around to their way of thinking in time for the movie’s climax. We could save a lot of time if the white person just said, “You’re right, you crazy Latino, there is a demon after us.”

But I guess that would be a pretty short movie.

To learn more about Daniel, visit Hispanic Fanatic.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of
the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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About Daniel Cubias

Daniel Cubias is a writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Being Latino, his work can be found in such publications as the Huffington Post, Change.org, Aqui magazine, and his website, the Hispanic Fanatic. In addition, he has been published in many literary journals and won the occasional writing contest.

He is a Wisconsin native who still roots for his hometown Milwaukee Brewers. He is way too much into horror movies, and he is inexplicably still unable to tune his guitar properly.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

Comments

  1. Yes well said. There is a Latin group, latinhorror@groups.facebook.com, that is all about Latino (up and coming) film directors. Check it out.

  2. Or how about Latinos as the main characters that would prove more interesting!

  3. Venus Garcia says:

    I have to admit, you’ve done a good job verbalizing the fact that hispanics are being cast as supporting actors to the main characters in a lot of films but you have also just given a great advertisement to Paranormal Activity 2.

    Having not seen it myself, I’m now wanting to watch it just to see the plot unfold.

    Can’t we all just get along-Really!!!

    The white man keeping us down, Isn’t that the oldest story in history!!!

    There are plenty of hispanic actors and actresses that I can name that all have main character roles in most of the movies they have starred in. Jennifer Lopez, Antonio Banderas, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriquez….etc

    All of these actors and plenty more of hispanic heritage began their careers as extras or as supporting actors in movies. Just like most actors of any other nationality.

    Every one has a right to their own opinion but please, let’s not be racist!!!

    I am hispanic myself but I think this article could have been written with a little more depth. I find it very shallow.

  4. Maria says:

    “Every one has a right to their own opinion but please, let’s not be racist!!!”

    I’m sorry what part of this post do you find remotely racist? This is the type of bullshit that we have to put up when we talk about problematic representations of Latinos in the media to Anglos- please don’t parrot it in our space.

    Does it not seem like a problem to you that the peripheral characters in these movies are at the receiving end of a serious power differential (just like real life!) and are seen as disposable until they play their ~*~magical Latino~*~ role in saving the Anglo family? It is not racist to talk about this. It is analysis of media against the background of a society steeped in institutional racism, the goal of which is to eradicate racism itself. This problematic portrayal of Latinos is not going to change until there are enough Latinos in positions of power in Hollywood. That means producers, directors writers, etc. not just actors.
    Maybe we can all get along when anti-Latino policies and laws are not an issue anymore and we don’t have to worry about stereotypes in the media instigating anti-Latino sentiments with real consequences.

  5. Elena says:

    Latinos can be white too. You are confusing ethnicity with race.

  6. I’m for the first person to decry Hollywood’s stereotypes, but in this case, I think that part of the problem is all of that Santeria bullshit that “we” engage in. Hollywood that is forever looking for the bad aspects of our culture instantly gravitates towards anything negative and the image of these nut-jobs going around cutting off chicken heads and killing goats is just what they are looking for.

  7. Maria says:

    It is obvious that Latinidad is an ethnicity but I will repeat what I’ve said in the comments before . . .

    “Just to be clear, I use the term “racism” because Latinidad has been racialized in American popular imagination and it is the most accurate word to describe the institutional power + prejudice that Latinos have to face to varying degrees.”

    and Ray, it is true that we as Latinos aren’t perfect but some Anglos do crazy shit too but they aren’t used as a representation for their ethnicity. That’s where the stereotyping part comes in.

  8. In terms of the commentary on Latino stereotypes in current films regarding “mysticism”? I agree. The problem is that they make a parody of that “mysticism” with no knowledge/research done by the filmmakers about the depth of that “mysticism” which when represented in films is portrayed as a mish mosh of elements of Santeria/Vodun/Palo and Espiritismo. A look at the current HBO series,True Blood, proves this with the Hispanic character that is featured on the show. Except here, besides the elements I mentioned, there is a mish mosh of Native American mysticism thrown in. They can do better. Hire a cultural anthropologist, or a folklorist, or better yet, hire acknowledged respected practitioners/scholars of these belief systems as consultants. Not only will it make the story’s more authentic, but at the same time more powerful. Otherwise it is what it is, a disrespectful parody of a very powerful majestic part of our Afro-Latino culture that not only further perpetuates stereotypes about us in mainstream America, but amongst ourselves as Latinos.

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