March is a month when we frequently look back and reflect on our advances in the fight for our rights. That struggle doesn’t limit to the right of abortion (Chapeau, Colombia!) or equal salary opportunities; it isn’t just a legal matter, but a cultural one.
Witnessing this cultural change is crucial for us to understand society’s change tendencies, feeling we are not alone or isolated in our struggles, and seeing their fruits.
So, here is a selection of 10 Latine films that show women’s strength in different realms of life. There is a bit of everything: fiction and documentaries, full-length and short-films, stories of women of all skin tones; cis and trans; heterosexual and lesbians; young and old; singers, boxers, peasants, and activists in the U.S., Colombia, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. You name it.
These are not happy-ending stories. These are stories about women who find the strength to stand for themselves.
“Señorita María, La Falda de la Montaña” – 2017
María Luisa is a transwoman, born and raised in Boavita, a rural area in the heart of the Colombian Andes, a profoundly conservative and catholic peasant town; this documentary tells her story. María Luisa is faced with a hostile environment that doesn’t understand her and abuses her.
In this context, María Luisa finds a way to grow a solid spiritual life, fed on her love for the Virgin Mary and nature. María Luisa stands with her head up high in the face of the pain she has endured because she is as solid as a rock on the knowledge of who she is and that God loves her.
“Girlfight” – 2000
This Latine film, written and directed by Karyn Kusama, tells the story of Diana Guzmán (Michelle Rodriguez), a defiant teenager who gets into fights at school and has a painful family context –her mother committed suicide, and her father is abusive.
Nonetheless, she finds in boxing a way to channel her pain and anger, a path for knowing herself, and earn the respect of those around her.
“Girlfight” won the Director’s Great Jury Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival and the 2000 Youth Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
“Dolores” – 2017
This documentary, directed by Peter Bratt and produced by Carlos Santana, portrays the life of Dolores Huerta, the relentless activist. Huertas was the co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association, alongside César Chávez. Still, despite her leading and essential role in the fight for farm workers’ rights in America, she has not received all the credit she deserves.
“Dolores” recovers archive material to chronicle her struggles –against racism and sexism– and triumphs and gathers interviews with some of her eleven children to help us understand the pride and pain both sides feel. It is a complex and comprehensive portrait of a brave woman.
“Una Mujer Fantástica” (A Fantastic Woman) – 2017
This Chilean movie stars Daniela Vega as Marina, a young transwoman who works as a singer and waitress and has the joy of loving and being loved. Her boyfriend, Orlando, is old enough to be her father, but that’s not a problem. The plot starts when Orlando dies suddenly, and Daniela is left alone with her grief, facing a transphobic society that tries to blame her for Orlando’s death and wants to deny her one of the most basic human rights: the right to grief.
“A Fantastic Woman” won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2018.
“Southwest of Salem” – 2016
“Southwest of Salem” is a documentary that tells the story of four Texan women –Elizabeth Ramirez, Anna Vasquez, Cassandra Rivera, and Kristie Mayhugh– who were judged and sentenced on the charges of having attacked two girls, supposedly as part of a satanic ritual.
The documentary makes the point that the real reason these women were wrongfully judged was homophobia, as the charges brought on them were entirely implausible and portrayed their struggle to prove their innocence.
Ramirez, Vasquez, Rivera, and Mayhugh spent fifteen years in prison before being exonerated in 2016, shortly after the movie’s release. Their records expunged in 2018, thanks to the support of the Innocence Project of Texas.
“Mosquita y Mari” – 2012
This Latine film doesn’t show women fully succeeding in their endeavors. Still, the reason we feature it is fair and square: it is the story of two teenagers who are just getting to know themselves.
“Mosquita y Mari” shows the friendship between Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda) and Mari (Venecia Troncoso).
The world of these two young women expands when they meet and face them with other kinds of beauty, questions, and love. For Mari, Yolanda’s friendship is a true refuge, and for Yolanda, Mari’s friendship gives her new experiences and makes her question her sexuality for the first time.
“Gun Hill Road” – 2011
“Gun Hill Road” is similar to “Mosquita y Mari” in its depiction of a teenager struggling to explore who she is. In this case, it is the story of Vanessa –also referred to as Michael during the movie–a trans teenager starting her transitioning process in a profoundly adverse context.
Harmony Santana’s interpretation of Vanessa was widely celebrated by critics when it was first screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and definitely deserves to be watched.
“Real Women Have Curves” – 2002
A breath of fresh air, “Real Women Have Curves” is a comedy. It is the story of Ana García (America Ferrera), an 18-year-old American, the daughter of immigrant parents, who has a very clear idea of who she is. This idea clashes with whom her parents wished she was.
While her parents want her to help the family work at the family-owned dress factory, Ana wants to go to college. While her mother has low self-esteem, dislikes her body, and wants her daughter to share her feelings, Ana understands she is beautiful as she is. Nonetheless, as conflictive as Ana’s relationships with her family members are, they are filled with love.
“Real Women Have Curves” won the Audience Award and the Special Jury Prize for America Ferrera’s and Lupe Ontiveros acting at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.
“Aquarius” – 2016
“Aquarius” is the David-versus-Goliath battle of Clara, a 65-year-old retired music critic who fights a greedy building company in Recife, Brazil. As the building company pushes to buy Clara’s apartment to build a luxurious complex, she resists despite facing pressure from people in business, neighbors, and her sons. Clara refuses to let go of the places where she built her life and memories.
“Que sea ley” (Let It Be Law)– 2019
“Que sea ley” is an Argentinean documentary about the Green Wave, the feminist movement for the right to a legal, safe, and free abortion. In that sense, this movie doesn’t show women’s strength through the lens of an individual but of a whole movement.
The documentary is structured around feminism, religion, beliefs, and militancy. Using archive footage of the feminist movement during the 15 years before its release and testimonies from activists and women who have suffered the consequences of clandestine abortions, the documentary calls to keep fighting for our rights because the work is far from over.