TCM’s Viva Hollywood chronicles rich legacy of a century of Latin and Hispanic creators in cinema

Review by C.J. Bunce

Stagecoach, Lost Horizon, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, High Noon, The Seven Year Itch, Giant, Rio Bravo, Batman, Chinatown, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  What do these films have in common?  They each featured significant contributions by Latinx and Hispanic creators.  Next week Turner Classic Movies/TCM and Running Press continue their long-running master class in cinema with the latest volume of the TCM Film Library.  For it they tapped the biggest expert in Latinx and Hispanic cinema, Luis I. Reyes, author of the authoritative 550-page treatise on the subject, Hispanics in Hollywood. 

In TCM’s Viva Hollywood, Reyes updates and highlights pieces from his earlier work, pulling back the veil into a world of actors in front of the camera as well as filmmakers behind the scenes.  Since the heyday of silent film, Latin and Hispanic performers have provided audiences some of their most memorable movies.  From Antonio Moreno’s first film appearance in 1912 to modern entertainers Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriquez, Ana de Armas and Oscar Isaac, they all come together in TCM’s Viva Hollywood, available for pre-order now here at Amazon and arriving in bookstores next week.

Reyes’ summary of the key events in history for Latinx and Hispanics in the New World is succinct and yet also compelling.  These performers shined in the early days of cinema despite being subject to stereotypes like the bandito, the Latin lover, the demure señorita, the saucy spitfire, the caballero, the “greaser,” the mamacita, and worse, the lazy Mexican peasant.  Moving past these roles would take time.

Reyes breaks down his book by time period.  Following silent film performers from the first decade of the 19th century into the 1930s, Reyes’ pivots to featured creators are tied to World War II and the U.S. embrace of Latin culture as part of its “Good Neighbor Policy” with Mexico.  As with the shifting culture of the nation, the social struggles of Latinx and Hispanic populations of the 1950s and 1960s were also reflected in the movies at the local theater, including West Side Story and Giant.

Activists like Ricardo Montalban and Edward James Olmos would later galvanize the community within Hollywood, so that the racism and stereotypes of the past hopefully stay in the past.  The beneficiaries of their work are performers thriving today in diverse roles, including the multi-faceted Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek, and the modern-day incarnation of the male screen idol seen in Antonio Banderas, Andy Garcia, Martin Sheen, Raul Julia, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and in positions of power like director Robert Rodriguez.

A spotlight is given to those behind the scenes, like King Kong visual effects artists Marcel Delgado and Mario Larrinaga, cinematographer John Alonzo, Citizen Kane scenic artist Mario Larrinaga, and Oscar-winning makeup artist Beatrice de Alba.

Many of the featured performers wore their ethnicity on their sleeves (Reyes explains “exotic” appearing actresses had more of an opportunity to play roles beyond their own ethnicity), while others rose up into the celebrity spotlight leaving their heritage in the shadows of stage names.  Reyes spends more time delving into some of these entertainers, like Rita Hayworth, Rita Moreno, Raquel Welch, and Anthony Quinn.  A wealth of contributors and films can be found here, with a foreword provided by Jimmy Smits.

Unlike many entries in the TCM Film Library, Viva Hollywood won’t be all that controversial for the reader–it’s not a list of great films to argue over, but a chronicle of a finite group of creators and their work–an interesting slice of cinema.

For movie aficionados this will be a new look at classic and modern film.  Illustrated with more than 200 full-color and black-and-white images, Viva Hollywood will be a great addition to your film library.  Pre-order it today here at Amazon.

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