The Evolution of the Hispanic Stereotype in Films and Television (1909-sass) November 18, 2012 “Lucy, I’m Home! ” With these words first uttered on October 15, 1951 , Americans were introduced to arguably the first Hispanic[l] actor who became both embraced and beloved by the public in what was to become the most watched series in all of television history. Cuban born Dies Arena portrayed the character of Risky Richard, the bongo-playing husband from the I Love Lucy show, watched by millions of American viewers in the new medium, television.
Arena was a TV first in many ways, tot the least of which that he was the first Hispanic who was welcomed into the living rooms of millions of American viewers on a weekly basis. Several other Latino actors had preceded Arena in the pre-television era and many others would follow, but Arena was a first for several other reasons. In the character of Risky Richard, Arena presented a new type of Latino to the audience, one who was not only handsome but also smart, funny, stylish, responsible, creative, employed, and most importantly happily married to an American woman, something that, until then, had rarely been seen on the screen. ] Risky Richard was a departure from the abandons and gigolos that had been the prevalent portrayal of Hispanics in cinema. This paper examines the evolution of the Latino stereotype as portrayed in both films and television from the silent film era in the sass through modern film. It utilizes a selection of motion pictures and television shows as its archival basis. Content, theme, and language analysis was applied to the media evidence. The research demonstrates that the image of Hispanic actors was degrading and prejudicial.
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It did evolve during the sass partly because of World War II, but the gains made in the sass were lost by the sass. It would not be until the late sass and sass that a positive image of Hispanic actors would evolve. Historically, Hispanics as a group have not only been underrepresented in motion pictures and on television in comparison with the size of their population in the United States, but, as a review of some of the films reveals, Hispanics, individually and as a group, have been characterized by a succession of gross generalizations, denigrating stereotypes and disturbing distortions.
The stereotypic characters created in Hollywood for the Latino actors in the early years of film created a stigma that was permanently attached to them in every movie, not unlike how the blackjack character popularized by AY Solon in the sass became stereotypical of African Americans. If the original intention of films was to be a reflection of reality, movies also influence the manner in which we perceive that reality, enabling early filmmakers to create an image of a stereotypical Latino that was to endure throughout the years.
Only by looking at these early stereotypes and examining their evolution through the years, especially their impact n the viewing public and the importance that has been attached to these characterizations, can we fully understand the challenges ultimately faced by Hispanics as a group. Movies and television have a tremendous impact on popular culture. As modern culture’s primary storytellers, both film and television provide stories and images that help shape the worldview of millions. They influence the way we see ourselves as well as others, and the way others see us.
To a large degree, they reflect the views of the dominant group in society and to a lesser degree, define the social reality for society as a whole. While this can have both positive and negative repercussions, it can nonetheless also have a deep and lasting impact on how these groups are perceived within the social context. Beginning with the silent film era of the sass, viewers flocked to the theaters to watch movies. By the sass, going to the movies had become America’s favorite pastime and by the sass, with the introduction of the medium of television “watching moving pictures became a daily activity, even an addiction.  In fact, studies have shown that the typical American today spends approximately thirteen hours per year at theaters, and one Alfa of all Americans go to the movies at least once per month.  Thus, for the majority of Americans, Hollywood movies have been a “constant source of images, ideas, providing data about their social world.  In studying the impact of television on society as a whole, the 1977 report by the United States Commission on Civil Rights determined that television in particular does “more than simply entertain..
It confers status on those individuals and groups it selected for placement in the public eye, telling the viewer who and what is important to know about. ”  Many Americans accept what they see on the screen as real and develop a Judgmental value system and world view based on this information. While some tend to dismiss movies and media as “mere entertainment,” movies nonetheless have a powerful effect on the way in which both the viewer and those who are portrayed think and ultimately behave. “Media provides us with the basis out of which we develop the ‘us’ versus them’ mentality.  In fact, psychologists have established that television and movies, in many cases, dictate and predict the way we view, feel and react towards others. Minorities in the United States have been the most negatively affected by the manner in which they have been portrayed in films and on television. This is no less true for Hispanics than it is for Blacks and other minorities. If movies reflect a national collective consciousness, they also provide us with a view into national attitudes within a specific time frame and a given community.
There is little doubt that the way in which Latino were depicted for American mass consumption had a negative impact on how these members of this group viewed themselves. Millions accepted what they saw in film as reality. Either out of iconoclastic pride or a sense of moral superiority, Americans perceived Latino as inferior. After all, was not the United States the “watchdog” of the Americas? Did the United States not acquire Puerco Rich and become a protectorate of Cuba? Did Americans not build the Panama Canal?
Whether the manner in which Hispanics have been portrayed was a result of the prejudice inherent in American society or whether Hollywood directly influenced how society perceived these groups will also be examined in this discussion. Within the setting of the political and economic climates of Mexico, Puerco Rich, and to a lesser degree Cuba, which prompted the arioso waves of immigration into the United States, the impact and ramification of politics and American immigration policies on the portrayal of Latino for American mass consumption and their influence on the perception of Latino by the American public will be explored.
While minorities have their own rich history, their portrayal in films and subsequently, in television, also changed according to factors such as patterns of immigration, economic prosperity, internal as well as external politics and “the vicissitudes of power in Hollywood. “ Latino in Early Cinema (1910- 1920) The depiction of Latino in film and on television began in the early years of the genre. From silent movies to today’s urban gang films, images of the “greaser,” (a derogatory term that originated in the mid sass and was applied to the Mexicans in the Southwest. 12]) the “lazy’ Mexican, and the “Latin Lover,” have long endured in the minds of many. In the earliest days of film, most positive Hispanic roles were given to well-known Caucasian actors as “imitation” Hispanics, while actual Hispanic men were relegated to the parts of poor villains (abandons) and male buffoons, most often Mexican men who were depicted as weak and cowardly. 13] The abandons and the buffoons reflected a social dynamic that typified a “them” versus “us” mentality.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, the United States’ attention shifted to Mexico, and no other Latin American country has been given more screen time than Mexico. Mexicans became the first ethnic villains of the screen. As the film industry established itself as an important part of American culture, events in Mexico helped solidify long standing Latino stereotypes. Films provided audiences with pictures off lawless land, as well as images of dirty and treacherous abandons.
In 1907, Mexicans ere described as “greasers,” for the first time in the movie The Lost Mine. Depicted as dark complexioned and armed with knives, Mexicans plotted to take over a mine. Eventually, the sheriff, the good guy, triumphs over the “greasers” and the movie comes to a happy and law-abiding ending. Mexicans began arriving in the US in larger numbers in the early twentieth century as a result of the railroad and agricultural expansion to the Southwest, but it was the Mexican revolution, which took place from 1910-1920, that caused many Mexicans to look northward.
Contemporary population records indicate that during the period from 1910 through 930, over one million Mexicans crossed the border escaping the violence the Mexican Revolution and seeking Jobs in the growing American economy.  These early Mexican immigrants were able to find Jobs, particularly in agriculture, but lived in segregated and impoverished areas. In fact, Mexicans constituted one of the lowest socio-economic groups in the country. 17] Mexican immigrants found that theaters, restaurants, and even schools were closed to them. “White trade only’ signs were very common in the Los Angles area where many of these immigrants settled. The result was that Mexican immigrants were, in effect, totally separated from other Americans and thus were not able to assimilate into the dominant culture, in essence, “marginalia” by the dominant white culture. The earliest silent films consisted of simplistic plots often pitting the “good” guys against the “bad” guys.
Latino, primarily Mexicans for the most part, were cast in the roles of scoundrels and reprobates and continued to be referred to as “greasers,” In the early sass, Hollywood slapped the label of “greaser” onto its depiction of Mexicans who were the Lillian in such movies as Greaser’s Gauntlet The Girl and the Greaser and Bronco Billy and the Greaser (1914).  The plot of these movies was standard fare. The Mexican bandied was thwarted in his attempt to steal, rape, or murder by the heroic American, all in under thirty minutes.
Eventually, the “greasers” were either put in Jail or retreated to Mexico, which was also depicted as the “land of the lawless. ” As the decade of the sass came to a close, no other country occupied more screen time than Mexico. In the silent film era around five hundred films were made around the “Mexican theme. ” A survey of films ranging room 1910 – 1918 showed that over fifty percent of all movies made dealt with Mexico and Mexicans. Overall, they were portrayed as untrustworthy, sinister, and cowardly. In fact, out of two hundred and fifty films focusing on Mexico produced through 1914, only five showed Mexicans in a sympathetic light. 22] In 1918, the term “greaser” was retired from movie titles, but “greasers’ still slithered through sinister scenes. “ The “Latin Lover” Emerges By the sass, the image of Latino in movies had evolved into that of the “Latin Lover. ” It was this character that was to become the most prevalent depiction of the Latino man, as the film industry began to reshape his image from robber, murderer and rapist into the dark, handsome Hispanic man who wooed young women and ultimately became the first of Hollywood sex symbols.
The depiction of Latino in the sass and sass set the stage for the way they would be viewed throughout the rest of the twentieth century. The evolution of the image of Latino from murderous “greasers” to suave, passionate lovers came as a direct result of the loss of the most important commodity sought by the film industry revenue– as the “greaser” movies were categorically rejected. In fact, Hollywood suffered a severe low when in 1922 these movies were banned south of the border, prompting President Woodrow Wilson to implore producers to “please be a little kinder to Mexicans.  Mexico protested the negative characterization of its people, and by 1930, was threatening to boycott all American movies. More importantly, the creation of the Office of Production Code (known as the Hays Code) in 1930 which refused to grant its “seal of approval” to those producers who engaged in offensive distortions of foreign nationals or those who misrepresented a nation’s history, resulted in the term “greaser” finally being dropped from film. However, the negative characterizations continued to affect all of Latin America, and no other country was portrayed in a more offensive manner than Mexico.
Despite the continued stereotyping of Hispanics in film, this was perhaps the “best of times” for Latino in Hollywood, as being a Latino (the pre-requisite was dark, intense and handsome) was very much in vogue.  During this time, several Latino actors became matinee idols in American cinema. This acceptance of Latino actors was a direct result of the allure of the “Latin Lover” and the subsequent craze for all things “Latino. Most importantly, thousands of tickets to movie theaters were sold as many of these actors appealed too large American audience. 26] Between the years 1920- 1925 all things “Latino” were the craze. Social historians speculate that the fascination had much to do with the shift away from Victorian values to a more liberal attitude with the coming of the “Roaring Twenties. ” The appeal of the “Latin Lover” had everything to do with the American fascination with primitivism.  “The ‘Latin Lover’ was created for a non-Latino audience; Latin men were a passport into the forbidden.  The characterization of these heroes reflected the curiosity and spirit of adventure so prominent in the U. S. Ring the time of the carefree twenties. The “Latin Lover” was not viewed quite as negatively as the other Hispanic characterizations of early films, as he was usually depicted as a wealthy member of the upper class. However, this “Don Juan” perpetuated the stereotype that Hispanics were of loose morality with a certain style in matters of romance, and that female conquests were the primary focus of his existence. The “greaser” and the “Latin Lover” images, which many of he early film directors created, were believable and eventually were interpreted as truthful depictions.
Social historian Charles Ramirez-Berg wrote that this sociological stereotype is based on the observation that when groups hold unequal power, the dominant group will create “subordination” stereotypes which are invested with two particular sets of characteristics: the “out group” is rendered harmless and portrayed as “child-like, irrational and emotional,” in other words non-threatening; or when they are viewed as being dangerous they are portrayed as “treacherous, deceitful [and] cunning.  This particular type of stereotyping illustrates the reasons for the creation of the “Latin Lover” and other images such as the “greaser” and the “lazy’ Mexican. Prior to the sass, American film producers were hesitant to create an image of a desirable Hispanic male: one who is educated, fearless and pursued by women. Rather, they embroiled their power to maintain and enhance the stereotypes of the Latino male.
The Latino characterizations in early movies rarely displayed the qualities that would make them men who could be admired or respected as they were always deficient in one respect or another, most notably Ewing shown as lacking in both strength and courage, a desirable trait because it completed the image of a “macho” male so important in Hispanic culture of the time.  To a degree, the evolution of the Latin Lover was also a form of correction that came about as a need to appease the growing opposition to the denigrating portrayal prevalent until then.
The “Latin Lover” was first introduced to American movie goers in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse starring Rudolph Valentine, who actually was born in Italy. It was Valentine who solidified this character as an unchanging image in American films. His good looks, dark eyes, and aura of mystery made him the first great idol and sex symbol. The Four Horsemen tells the story of the impact of World War I on young Argentinean men. In the movie’s most famous scene, Valentine dances seductively with a cantina girl and as he moves to take her in a passionate kiss, he instead throws her to the floor.
Valentine’s smoldering presence and electrifying performance in this film set the standard for future “Latin Lovers”. The character portrayed by Valentine in the Four Horsemen was warmly embraced by the audience and the film grossed over three million dollars, which was considered a daggering amount for the time. Thus began a generation of Latin Lover “look-allies” from the handsome Antonio Moreno, the dashing Gilbert Roland to the gay superstar Ramona Innovator.
While most consider Rudolph Valentine as the founder of the persona of the “Latin Lover,” film historians agree that the true architect of the role was Antonio Moreno. Born in Spain, Antonio Carried Montague y Moreno began his film career in 1912 in the format known as one-rollers. Because of his dark features and expressive eyes which translated well on camera, he was considered a “natural” in those early days of film. By 1923, with Valentine on a two year hiatus, he became Paramount leading man. Later that year, two of his most successful films were released.
The Spanish Dancer (1923), and My American Wife (1923), elevated the demand for motion pictures with dark, dangerous men.  In My American Wife, Moreno was cast with Gloria Swanson, who was at the height of her stardom. Swanson played a seductress who casts her net on the unsuspecting Moreno, a brooding “Latin Lover. ” Gloria, not content with her lover, strayed, and Moreno spent a large part of the film fighting off Glorious admirers. In the end, love triumphed and Gloria saved the wounded Moreno and they re-committed to each other.
In the movie The Spanish Dancer, Moreno was cast as a dashing Spanish count who had the misfortune of falling in love with a gypsy girl. The gypsy, more than anything else, wanted to be a countess and seduced Moreno, which only led to more misfortune. Both films did well in the box office and cemented Antonio Moreno as a Following closely on the heels of Moreno was Ramona Innovator, aptly “Latin Lover. ” nicknamed “Ravishing Ramona. ” Born Jose Ramona Gill Companies in Durango, Mexico, Innovator began his film career in 1921.
By 1926, with the untimely death of Rudolph Valentine, the title of Hollywood premier “Latin Lover” was bestowed upon him. Innovator would cause a furor throughout his career but it was not his acting that caused the distraction. In Ben-Hurt (1926), movie fans were treated too bare- cheated Innovator, and in 1929, in the film The Pagan, he once again caused a scandal when he appeared bare-cheated and clad in a sarong. In The Pagan, Innovator played a love stricken native who fell prey to a zealous missionary who tried to take him away from his native girl.
Innovator’s steamy sex scenes and exotic roles made him one of the most popular actors in the early American cinematic history.  Gilbert Roland was born in 1905 as Luis Antonio Admass De Alonso in Cicada Curare, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, the son off toreador. While in his teens, he went to Hollywood to try his luck and changed his name to Gilbert Roland. In 1925, he was spotted by Clara Bow who chose him to star with her in the film, The Plastic Age (1925). Yet not until 1927, when he played the role of the long suffering Armada in the film Camille (1927), did he became a certified star.
In arguably his finest performance, Rose of the Golden West (1927), he was cast as Juan, who while working for the secret service, discovered a plot by the Russians to take over Southern California with the help of the Spanish governor, who was also the father of Roasts, Reload’s love interest in the film. Roasts betrayed him but in the end she realized her mistake and led Roland and the U. S. Marshals who save California from the “Red Menace. ” In all, Roland made a total of fifteen movies from 1925 – 1935.
In 1946, he made a comeback as the Cisco Kid, a dashing Robin Hood type and found a new audience. Roland was one of the few Latino actors who fought Hollywood stereotyping by insisting on script changes. In one scene, in The Cisco Kid, Roland insisted that Cisco be filmed reading Shakespeare saying “l wanted to be sure the Mexicans was not portrayed as an unwashed, uneducated savage clown. “ Roland was one of the first actors to take on the treatment of Hispanics in Hollywood. He went on to have a long career, making occasional movies.
Gilbert Roland died in 1994 at eighty eight years of age. One last example of a “Latin Lover” who was able to evolve into other roles was Cesar Roomer, who was born in New York in 1907 o a Cuban mother and an Italian father. (Roomer later claimed that he was the grandson of the Cuban patriot, Jose Marti. ) Roomer was active in movies during the sass through the sass, playing to the stereotype of “Latin Lover,” usually in supporting roles. In the sass, he became widely known to US television audiences as “The Joker” of the Batman series that ran from 1966- 1968.
Valentine, Moreno, Innovator and, to a lesser degree, Roomer, unwittingly set the precedent for the future of Latino in movie roles. While this may have opened doors for other Hispanic reformers, the image of the “Latin Lover” became one that has proven difficult to shake. This image was the deliberate stereotyping of the Hispanic man in early motion pictures that consequently accounted for the persistence of such images in American popular culture. Latinist in Early Cinema 1920-1930 The consensus among film historians is that Latin women have fared less well than their Anglo or even their Black counterparts in their acting roles. 44] Hispanic actresses have been confined to limiting and often negative roles whose most important function was as the object of sexual conquest for the male actor. These women were portrayed as “exotics, seductresses, spit-fires, etc. [and they] came off the [Hollywood] assembly line in industrial quantities during the early years of The portrayal of Hispanic women in early motion pictures can be summed up in three categories: the “cantina” girl, the faithful self-sacrificing senorita and the “seductress. The Cantina Girl The “cantina” girl can be defined as a “naughty lady of easy virtue, who is also outgoing and exhibitionist’s. “ This character exists as a love interest for the Anglo hero and in most instances the “cantina” girl falls madly in love with the hero, often spurning her Latin suitor. In fact, this character was so formulaic that a large number of the women playing this role shared the common name of “Acquit. ” The sole purpose of this character was to dance and sing, often atop a table, and always in a seductive and alluring manner. 47] The formula proved to be so profitable that from 1909 – 1933 at least 34 movies were made in Hollywood featuring the “cantina The “cantina girl” made her first appearance in 1909 in the movie Romance in Old Mexico. In this film a young girl was told by a gypsy that she would soon quarrel with her lover, a bullfighter. They soon did, and he retreated to the cantina where a “Acquit” danced on his table. He kissed her, and his angry lover then retaliated, making him Jealous by taking up with another man. This drove the bullfighter to act recklessly, and he was gored by a bull.
In the end, the senorita nursed him back to health and they pledged their undying love for each other, leaving the Acquit to continue to dance across the tables of the cantina. In Inner-Do-Well, which came out in 1923, a young playboy found himself shanghaied to Panama. Penniless, he took a Job at a railroad and fell in love with the dutiful “Acquit. ” Eventually he came to terms with his sordid past and regained the love of his father as well as the love of his “Acquit. ” In 1930, the cantina girl was still very much in demand and Rogue of the ROI Grandee continued the theme.
In this movie, the “bad guy,” aided in his adventures by his Mexican sidekick, Pedro, robbed a bank and headed to a cantina where the beautiful cantina girl (played by the American actress, Myra LOL) who loves to sing and dance and to be admired by men, helped him make his escape. They crossed the border back to the United States and lived happily ever after. The era of the cantina girl had passed by 1934, as filmmakers left Mexican cantina behind. At the same time, a number of actresses who possessed a wider range of skills were eager to take on new roles and break out of the stereotype.
The Latin actresses were still very much stereotyped, however, as the cantina girl gave way to the “senorita” and the “seductress. ” The Senorita The second category, that of the faithful, self-sacrificing senorita, was always, as the term implies, faithful to her “love interest” who was invariably an Anglo. In order to demonstrate her devotion to “Anglo’ morality and American culture, the senorita as often called upon to betray her own culture and her family, which she willingly did in the name of love. Even after making these sacrifices, the senorita rarely got her man.
What she did get, however, was to die in his arms or to see him go off with his American “love interest”.  The self-sacrificing senorita made her debut in The Eavesdropper, which was released in 1909. The senorita in this film, Manuel, willingly sacrificed herself to a wealthy man she did not love in order to save her family farm and to please her father. In this early version of the senorita, prenatal desires were to be satisfied first. The formula remained set in Bonito of El CaJon, (191 1), which tells the story of Bonito, daughter of a Mexican bandied, who fell in love with a Texas Ranger.
Sadly for Bonito, the Ranger was committed to an Anglo woman. This self-sacrificing senorita, despite her love for the Ranger, helped him escape the grips of her outlaw father so he could go back to his Anglo love. Ironically, during the escape, Bonito was accidentally shot by her father and died while the Texas Ranger escaped and returns to his true love. By 1913, these movies were so formulaic, yet so popular with viewers, that they were being produced with great frequency. The names were changed, the locale was different, but the senorita was always self-sacrificing and in the end she always lost her Anglo lover.
In The Greater Love (1913), once again the senorita, aptly named Contain, fell in love with an Anglo cowboy. Her Mexican lover discovered her feelings and set out to kill the cowboy. Contain sacrificed her life for the love of her Anglo man by throwing herself in front of him as the scorned Mexican lover threw a knife at him. The knife plunged into her back, immediately killing her. The would-be Anglo lover went back to the United States leaving the dead senorita behind. There were hundreds of films featuring the ill-fated senorita that were made from 1909 through 1930.
Films included the senorita who betrayed her country for her Anglo love, the senorita who loved the Anglo but let him go for his own good, and the senorita who risked her life for the Anglo. In all these movies, the self-sacrificing senorita loves and loses, suggesting that the senorita was never meant to have the Anglo lover or could be worthy of him, even when willing to sacrifice her life for him. Curiously, there were only two films made during this period in which the senorita chose her Mexican love over the American.
In An Adventure of the Mexican Border (1913), the senorita actually chose her dark-skinned lover over the blonde American and in Big Stakes (1922), where although the senorita questions her love for her Mexican Captain, in the end she chose him over the American. The Seductress The final category, and the most common role for Hispanic women during the early days of American film, was that of the “seductress. ” This character first appeared in the sass with the advent of “talkies” and was often portrayed as crafty and clever, using her feminine wiles and sexual manipulations in an effort to control ere man. 58] The characters were permitted to play up their ethnicity, which was considered desirable, but their overall image was, in the words of a Latino actress of the time, that of a “foreign bimbo because she didn’t know much English. “ Chief among these women were Elliot Dolores Martinez Counselor and Maria Guadalupe Villainous Bevel, better known to American moviegoers as Dolores del ROI and Lope Bevel. In the 1933 movie, Flying Down to ROI, Dolores Del ROI played the role of a seductress intent on causing problems for the unsuspecting Anglo, prompting the Fred Astaire character to comment “. . The Latin type. Here we go again… ” Later in the movie an Anglo woman was overheard to ask, “What have these South Americans got below the Equator that we haven’t? ” alluding, of course, to something other than the Equator. Del ROI created problems by asking the leading man to dance, another stereotypical Latin activity, after getting his attention with sultry looks from across the room. Dolores Del ROI was the most famous of these Latin temptresses, and although also viewed as a seductive and exotic type, she was more easily assimilated cause she was less ethnic looking than her counterparts.
In addition, Del ROI differed from the other Hispanic actresses of the era because she was born into an aristocratic Mexican family and possessed an air of elegance and dignity about her that can be seen in the movie Flying Down to ROI. She took movie audiences by storm and was the first female Mexican movie star who possessed international appeal.  Lope Bevel, known for her recurring role in the “Mexican Spitfire” movies of the sass, often played parts in which she was not at all promiscuous, yet it was simply assumed to be so because she was Hispanic.
Possessing a thick Spanish accent, she played out the prevailing stereotype of the seductress to its fullest extent. Born in Mexico, the daughter of a prostitute, she grew up in a convent but left in her teens with the intention of becoming an actress. Her exotic looks and spirited personality won her many roles as a seductress in these films. In her most famous role, in the movie The Mexican Spitfire (1940), Bevel played the part of the wife of an American man. Placed in the context of an Anglo setting, her ethnicity appears to be even more pronounced.
This movie exuded a pervasive tone of mockery and denigration as many derogatory comments are made about of her ethnicity, as well as her accent, throughout the film. Ultimately, Bevel lost her man and, in what is perhaps the most disturbing part of the movie, the character played by Bevel asked the divorce lawyer if he thinks she is “loose,” to which he replied, “Definitely! ” The difficulties encountered by these women in being forced to play degrading and one- dimensional roles throughout their careers, when they obviously possessed the Allen to play many different parts, no doubt affected them in their personal lives as well. 63] There is a co