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Latin American History at the Movies (HIST 328.02)

"Certainly they will never be obliged to read history again."
- D.W. Griffith

Spring 2002, Truman State University
VH 1144, T 6:30-9:30
Office: KB 225A

Marc Becker
Office Hours: T 2:00-4:00
Phone: x6036


How has the popular cinema industry portrayed Latin American History? What can we learn from these depictions? In this class we will watch and analyze films from the United States and Latin America which grapple with various events and issues in Latin America. Through these films, we will both critically analyze historical developments in Latin America as well as the assumptions and biases which go into the making of a film on Latin America. Through this process, we will develop a deeper appreciation for the complexities which embody Latin American and the problems which the region faces.


You are expected and required to attend every class session, and you are responsible for the material covered in the lectures, readings and films, and for any announcements made in class. Unexcused absences will negatively affect your grade. Please drop me an email note if you are sick or otherwise unable to attend class. If you have a disability or any conflicts which may affect your class performance, please bring this to my attention immediately so that we can make arrangements for this to be a positive learning experience for you. Please let me know if you have suggestions for improving the class.

My primary means of communication with you outside of class will be via the CourseInfo ( web page. To logon, enter your email id as the user name, and your social security number as your password (unless you have already changed this password for another class). Once you are logged on, click on "student tools" and then "change your information" to change your password. If you forget your password, email the administrator ( to reset it for you. Be sure the email address under "student tools" is set to an account that you regularly read. Please let me know if you need assistance in using these resources.


There are three texts for the class. The primary text is the films we will watch on Latin American history. Two additional books will help us critically dissect these films:

Chasteen, John Charles. Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America. New York: Norton, 2001.

Stevens, Donald Fithian, ed. Based on a True Story: Latin American History at the Movies. Latin-American silhouettes. Wilmington, Del: SR Books, 1997.

Each day we will read a chapter in Chasteen's book which talks very broadly about the themes that the film discusses, as well as an essay (from Stevens' edited collection or elsewhere) that specifically critiques the film under consideration. We are also watching several films that are not in Stevens' book; there will be supplementary readings for these films assigned later. Read the assignments before class so that you are prepared to carry on a intelligent discussions of the films in class.

Assignments and grades

Course grades will be based on the following assignments:

  • Film introductions and discussions (30% of course grade). Each student will introduce one of the films and lead the discussion of that film. This will involve previewing the film (and perhaps other films by the same director or on the same topic), researching the historical context of the film, and engaging students actively in a discussion of the film. Consider questions such as these in preparing for your presentation:
    • Who is the director? What else has this person made and how does this film fit into that genre?
    • What evidence is there of historical research that the film maker conducted in the process of producing the film?
    • What is the potential and limitations of the medium of film for interpreting history as portrayed through this specific film?
    • What are the cinemagraphic virtues of the film?
    • How have other reviewers critiqued this film?

    To assist in the class discussion of the film, bring to class:

    • A handout for the class that may include items such as a list of discussion questions, a study guide, related web sites, and/or class exercises for discussing the film.
    • An annotated bibliography of sources related to this film and its historical context (either included in the class handout or given directly to the instructor).
    • Copies for the class of a short primary source document related to the historical themes portrayed in the film.
    • For films not included in the Stevens' text, a similar scholarly article of about 20 pages related to the film and its historical context.
    • Overheads or other visual aids such as maps, photographs, drawings, etc., to assist in the introduction and discussion of the film.
    • Anything else that will help in the interpretation and understanding of the film.
  • Discussion board postings (3% each, for a total of 30% of course grade; lowest one drops, but you must post an essay for every film). After each class discussion, post to the discussion board on Cinfo a short essay with your assessment of the historical value of the film, including relating it to the day's assigned readings. How successful was the film in communicating historical facts and interpretations? Did the film have other goals, and did it successfully achieve these? How would you critique the comments of your classmates on this film? I will grade your posting based on your synthesis of the material, ability to analyze its significance, an evaluation of its importance to the broader themes of this class, and the extent to which you engage other students in a virtual discussion. Post your essay to the discussion board by the Monday following the day we have seen the film.
  • Final project (worth 40% of the course grade). Working in small groups, rewrite the script of one of the films we have viewed in order to make it historically more accurate. What were the shortcomings of the historical interpretations and ability to communicate historical concepts, and how would you improve the film's ability to communicate this information? This assignment must be conducted as a scholarly work which includes library research and proper citations. The form and prose of the project, however, should be creative and can take a variety of forms (a script, a story board, re-filming parts of the film, etc.), but must include an annotated bibliography. The last day of class we will present and critique these projects.

Communication Mode of Inquiry

This course meets the LSP Communication Mode of Inquiry. Upon completion of this Mode, students will demonstrate the competence:

  1. to understand and participate in the process of communication and to examine both the potential and the limitations of any particular medium of communication, symbol system, or language. Specifically, we will look at the advantages and shortcomings of the medium of film in communicating historical concepts, especially as compared to standard written histories.
  2. to use the communication process to investigate, discover, identify, or create knowledge. The class will involve discussion of the process by which film makers research historical material and create their version of events.
  3. to analyze, critique, and evaluate the communication process among people and groups. We will accomplish this through short essays assessing the films, as well as a larger final project in which students will attempt to improve on the popular cinema's ability to communicate historical information.

The Communication Mode consists of a symbolic act, a symbolic response, and an adjustment. Our "act" will be the viewing of these films. The "response" is a critical evaluation of the historical basis of the films based on assigned readings, class discussions, and additional research as appropriate. The "adjustment" will be the opportunity to rewrite a script so that it more accurately communicates historical information.

Class Schedule

Jan 15 Introduction
Read: Donald F. Stevens, "Never Read History Again? The Possibilities and Perils of Cinema as Historical Depiction"
Chasteen, ch. 1 ("First Stop, the Present")
Films: Birth of a Nation, 1:34-1:47 (Video PN1995.75 .B57 1984)
Americas, pt. 7, Builders of Images: Latin American Cultural Identity, last 10 min. (F1408 .A617 1993 pt.7)
Gringo in Mañanaland
(Video PN1995.9.L37 G75 1995)
bell hooks: Cultural Criticism & Transformation, 30-40  (HM101 .B44 1997)

Jan 22 Columbus
Read: Sonya Lipsett-Rivera and Sergio Rivera Ayala, "Columbus Takes On the Forces of Darkness, or Film and Historical Myth in 1492: The Conquest of Paradise"
Chasteen, ch. 2 ("Encounter")
Film: 1492: The Conquest of Paradise (Video PN1995.9 H5 F68 1993)

Jan 29 Conquest
Read: Thomas H. Holloway, "Whose Conquest Is This, Anyway? Aguirre, the Wrath of God"
Chasteen, ch. 3 ("Colonial Crucible")
Film: Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Video PN1995.9 .F6715 A354 1991)

Feb 5 Religion
Read: James Schofield Saeger, "The Mission and Historical Missions: Film and the Writing of History"
Chasteen, ch. 4 ("Independence")
Film: The Mission ( Video PN1995.9 A3 M57 1991)

Feb 12 Patriarchy
Read: Donald F. Stevens, "Passion and Patriarchy in Nineteenth-Century Argentina: Maria Luisa Bemberg's Camila"
Chasteen, ch. 5 ("Postcolonial Blues")
Film: Camila (Video PN1995.9.F6718 C25 1995)

Feb 19 Slavery
Read: John Mraz, "Recasting Cuban Slavery: The Other Francisco and The Last Supper"
Chasteen, ch. 6 ("Progress")
Film: The Last Supper (PN1995.9.F6718 L3 1988)

Feb 26 Neocolonialism
Read: Chasteen, ch. 7 ("Neocolonialism")
Film: Viva Zapata

March 5 Nationalism
Read: Chasteen, ch. 8 ("Nationalism")
Film: The House of the Spirits (Video PQ8098.1 L54 C323 1993)

March 26 Revolution
Read: Chasteen, ch. 9 ("Revolution")
Film: Salvador (PN1995.9.J6 S35 2000)

April 2 Historical Memory
Read: Chasteen, ch. 10 ("Reaction")
Film: Missing (PN1995.9.P6 M57 1987)

April 9 Neoliberalism
Read: Chasteen, ch. 11 ("Neoliberalism")
TBA or Robert M. Levine, "Pixote: Fiction and Reality in Brazilian Life"
Film: Los Olvidados (PN1995.9 F6718 O49 1993) or Pixote (Video PN1995.9.F67169 P58 1997)

April 16 Guerrillas
Read: TBA
Film: Men with Guns (PN1995.9.F6718 M45 1998)

May 14 Final Presentations


This is a basic bibliography of sources on Latin American Cinema which are available in the library. Many more items are also available in Siegmund's bibliography ( The Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture (Ref F1406 .E53 1996) and the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Latin American and Caribbean Cultures (Ref F1406 .E515 2000) include good background information on the topics discussed in the films we will watch in class. Use Latin American-specific databases such as the following to search for more information on your film and the historical events depicted in it. Links to additional related websites are on the Cinfo web page.

Barnard, Tim and Peter Rist, eds. South American Cinema: A Critical Filmography, 1915-1994. New York: Garland Pub, 1996. (PN1993.5.S63 S68 1996)

Burns, E. Bradford. Latin American Cinema Film and History. UCLA Latin American Studies ; V. 26: Latin American Studies (University of California, Los Angeles. Latin American Center), v. 26. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center, University of California, 1975. (PN1993.5 L3 B8)

Carnes, Mark C. Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies. New York: H. Holt, 1996. (PN1995.9.H5 P37 1996)

Film Review Annual. Englewood, NJ: J.S. Ozer, 1982-. (Ref PN1995 F55)

Foster, David William. Contemporary Argentine Cinema. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992. (PN1993.5 A7 F6 1992)

Hanson, Patricia King, Stephen L Hanson, and Julia Johnson. Film Review Index. Phoenix, Ariz: Oryx Press, 1986-1987. (Ref PN1995 .F5 1986)

Hershfield, Joanne and David Maciel, eds. Mexico's Cinema: A Century of Film and Filmmakers. Wilmington, Del: Scholarly Resources, 1999. (PN1993.5.M4 M465 1999)

Johnson, Randal and Robert Stam. Brazilian Cinema. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. (PN1993.5 B6 B7 1995)

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994. (Ref PN1993.45 .K34 1994)

King, John. "Latin American Cinema." In The Cambridge History of Latin America, V. 10. Latin America Since 1930, Ideas, Culture, and Society. Leslie Bethell, ed., 455-518. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. (F 1410 .C183 1984)

Lyon, Christopher, Susan Doll, and James Vinson. The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. Chicago: St. James Press, 1984-1987. (Ref PN1997.8 I58)

Magill, Frank Northen. Magill's Survey of Cinema, Foreign Language Films. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Salem Press, 1985. (Ref PN1995.9.F67 M34 1985)

Magill, Frank Northen, Patricia King Hanson, and Stephen L Hanson. Magill's Survey of Cinema--English Language Films, First Series. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Salem Press, 1980. (Ref PN1993.45 .M30

Magill, Frank Northen, Patricia King Hanson, and Stephen L Hanson. Magill's Survey of Cinema--English Language Films, Second Series. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Salem Press, 1981. (Ref PN1993.45 .M32)

Manvell, Roger. The International Encyclopedia of Film. New York: Crown Publishers, 1972. (PN1993.45 .I5 1972)

The New York Times Film Reviews, 1969-1970-- . New York: The New York Times, 1971-. (Ref PN1995 .N4)

Noriega, Chon A. Visible Nations: Latin American Cinema and Video. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. (Mobius)

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. The Oxford History of World Cinema. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. (PN1993.5.A1 O96 1995)

Paranaguá, Paulo Antonio and others. Mexican Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1995. (PN1993.5.M4 C4913 1995)

Rosenstone, Robert A. Revisioning History: Film and the Construction of a New Past. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1995. (PN1995.2 .R48 1995)

Ryan, Jack. John Sayles, Filmmaker. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1998. (Mobius)

Siegmund Marianne. "Film in Latin America: A Selective Bibliography, 1999." SALALM, Latin American Information series, no. 7. 1999.

Toplin, Robert Brent, ed. Oliver Stone's USA: Film, History, and Controversy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000. (PN1998.3.S76 O45 2000)

Tenenbaum, Barbara A and Georgette M Dorn, eds. Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. 5 vol. New York, London: C. Scribner's Sons. Simon & Schuster. Prentice Hall International, 1996. (Ref F1406 .E53 1996)

Variety Film Reviews, 1907-1980. New York: Garland Pub, 1983-1985. (Ref PN1995 .V34 1983)

Wu, Harmony H. "Consuming Tacos and Enchiladas: Gender and the Nation in Como Agua Para Chocolate." In Visible Nations: Latin American Cinema and Video, ed. Chon A. Noriega, 174-92. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. (Mobius)


This is a select list of feature length films on Latin America. Films included in the syllabus are starred (*), and films critiqued in Stevens' edited book have a hatch mark (#). Films in the Truman media library include call numbers.

* # 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992). The film chronicles the first two landmark voyages of Columbus and takes us to the brink of his third and last. (Video PN1995.9 H5 F68 1993)

* # Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972). A band of Spanish conquistadors, led by Aguirre, self -styled "Wrath of God," travel up the Amazon in search of gold, but Aguirre's megalomania turns the expedition into a death trip. (Video PN1995.9 .F6715 A354 1991)

The Alamo (1960). Battle at the Alamo. (PN1995.9.T47 A43 1995)

At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1992). Missionaries try to contact and convert a group of Indians in the Brazilian rainforest.

Bananas (1971). Woody Allen as a fictitious castro-esque revolutionary. (DVD in process).

Blood In, Blood Out (1993). Gang wars in California prisons in the 1980s pits Chicanos against African-Americans and whites.

Blood of the Condor = Yawar Mallku (1969). A dramatization of an actual incident which involved charges of sterilization of Quechuan Indian women without their consent as part of a birth control program administered by the United States Peace Corps.

Blow (2001). Story of George Jung who becomes the leading cocaine smuggler in the 1970s.

La Boca Del Lobo = The Lion's Den (1988). A study of a bloody encounter between the Peruvian Army and the Maoist Shining Path in Chuspi, a small isolated village in the Andes. (Video PN1995.9 F6718 B63 1990)

Born in East L.A (1987). Cheech Marin is accidentally deported to Mexico without I.D. or knowledge of Spanish, and can't convince U.S. officials to let him back in. (PN1995.9.C55 B67 1988)

The Burning Season: the Chico Mendes Story (1994). About environmental and labor struggles to save the Amazonian rainforest. (Video SD411.52.M46 B87 1995)

Cabeza De Vaca (1990). Account of the Spanish explorer's capture, escape, and journey from Texas to Mexico City (1527-1537). (Video E125.N9 C3 1993)

* # Camila (1984). Recounts the true story of a young Catholic socialite from Buenos Aires who falls in love and runs away with a young Jesuit priest. (Video PN1995.9.F6718 C25 1995)

Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992). Depicts Columbus' first trans-Atlantic voyage as an epic and heroic adventure.

La Ciudad y Los Perros = The City and the Dogs (1985). A rather vicious portrayal of life in the Colegio Militar de Lima. (Video PQ8498.32 A65 C5 1987)

Clear and Present Danger (1994). CIA deputy intelligence director Jack Ryan discovers an illegal US government plot which lands soldiers in Colombia. (Video PN1995.9.A3 C52 1994)

# Como Agua Para Chocolate = Like Water for Chocolate (1992). Food and sexual passion during the Mexican Revolution. (Video PN1995.9 .F6718 C65 1994)

Como Era Gostoso o Meu Frances = How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman (1971). In the coastal wilds of 16th-century Brazil, a French soldier is captured by a tribe of people-eating Indians. (Video F2230.2.T84 C6 1995)

Coraje del Pueblo, El ( Courage of the People, The ) (1971). Re-enactment of a miner's strike in Bolivia. (F2230.1.S68 C68 1990)

Courage = Coraje (1998). A true story based on the last months in the life of Maria Elena Moyano, a leader of a women's organization in a slum outside of Lima who was killed by the Shining Path for her resistance. (Video HQ1236.P47 C68 1998)

Desperado (1995). A remake of El Mariachi.

The Emerald Forest (1985). Bill Markham, an engineer, returns to the Amazon year after year searching for his son who had disappeared into the jungle. After ten years of searching, Markham finds the man that had once been his boy, but now is a warrior from a different world.

Entre Marx y Una Mujer Desnuda (1995). A young writer in Ecuador is torn between an impossible love and the love for his country, in the midst of a dictatorship and the rebellion of the insignificant Communist party. (Video PN56.W3 E57 1996)

Evita (1997). Madonna stars as Eva Peron, who rose above childhood poverty and a scandalous past to achieve fortune and fame. (Video F2849.P37 E9 1997)

Fitzcarraldo (1982). Story of a man obsessed with the ambition to make his fortune and build his own personal opera house in the jungle. (PN1995.9 F6715 F57 1983)

Four Days in September (1998). Guerrillas kidnap the U.S. ambassador in Brazil

in September 1969 to obtain the freeing of political prisoners. (PN1995.9.F67169 F68 1998)

Fresa y Chocolate = Strawberry & Chocolate. Gutiérrez Alea (1993). A naive young Cuban college student meets both a writer and a woman who teach him about the passion of life and the passion of love. (PN1995.9.F6718 F74 1995)

# Gabriela (1983). Set in Brazil, story of a middle-aged bar owner whose passionate romance with young Gabriela sends sparks flying in a town where sex and politics are the main diversions.

Guantanamera (1995). In a satirical look at the Cuban economic crisis, an undertaker proposes a plan to save gas coupons by pooling the resources of the funeral parlors across the island. (Video PN1995.9.F6718 G8 1998)

* The House of the Spirits (1993). Based on Isabel Allende's novel, examines political, social, and economic changes in Chile. (Video PQ8098.1 L54 C323 1993)

# I, the Worst of All = Yo, la peor de todas (1990). This historical drama tells the story of Juana Ines de la Cruz, one of the greatest poets of the Spanish Siglo de Oro who enters a convent in order to pursue her passion for writing. (Video PQ7296.J6 Z982 1990)

IA-- Kuba = I Am Cuba (1964). Four main stories show the rise of the Communist revolution in Cuba, including Batista's Havana and the grinding poverty and oppression of the Cuban people. In Russian, Spanish, and English. (Video PN1995.9 F6718 I22 1995)

Juarez (1939). Benito Juarez's fight against the French occupation of Mexico. (Video PN1997 .J783 1987)

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985). A political prisoner and a gay man share a prison cell in an unnamed Latin American dictatorship. (PQ7798.26.U4 B41323 1995)

* # The Last Supper = La Ultima Cena (1977). A Cuban slaveowner decides to instruct his slaves in the tenets of Christianity by inviting twelve of them to a reenactment of the Last Supper. (Video PN1995.9.F6718 L3 1988)

Latino (1985). A Chicano Green Beret begins to question the morality of the secret war he is fighting in the jungles of Nicaragua.

# Lucía (1968). Follows the lives of three different women named Lucía during three different revolutionary periods of Cuba's history, the Cuban War of Independence in 1895, the Machado era in the 1930's, and post-revolutionary Cuba of the 1960's. (Video PN1995.9.F6718 L83 1990Z)

El Mariachi (1993). A mariachi player in Mexico is mistaken for a gangster. (Video PN1995.9 F6718 M373 1993)

Memorias del Subdesarrollo = Inconsolable Memories. Memories of Underdevelopment (1968). A study of Cuban society before and after the revolution as seen through the eyes of a man who is a landlord and self-styled writer. (Video PN1995.9 F6718 M44 1980Z)

* Men With Guns (1997). John Sayles on villagers caught between guerrilla and military violence in a struggle for survival. (Video PN1995.9.F6718 M45 1998)

# Miss Mary (1986). Set in 1930s Bueno Aires, this is the story of a cultured English governess whose display of compassion disrupts the tradition-bound existence of the wealthy household in which she works.

* Missing (1982). True story of the execution of Charles Horman after the 1973 military coup in Chile. (Video PN1995.9.P6 M57 1987)

* # The Mission (1986). Jesuit stuggle to protect Guaraní Indians in Paraguay in the 1750s. (Video PN1995.9 A3 M57 1991)

The Mosquito Coast (1986). Angered by the decline of American society, a brilliant inventor leads his family into the remote Central American jungles to carve out a new society. (PS3570.H4 M6 1999)

El Norte = The North (1983). A drama about a Guatemalan brother and sister seeking better lives in the United States.

# The Official Story (1985). In the mid-70's, Argentina's military dictatorship carried out a brutal campaign of torture and murder against thousands of its own citizens. This is the story of the sheltered wife of a wealthy businessman who comes to face the legacy of that terror. (Video PN1995.9 F6718 H57 1995)

* Los Olvidados (1950). Luis Bunuel's study of street gangs set in the outskirts of Mexico City; a good boy is contaminated by young thugs in the slums, and both he and his tormentor die violently. (Video PN1995.9 F6718 O49 1993)

# The Other Francisco/Otro Francisco, El (1975). About slavery in Cuba; Truman's copy lacks English subtitles. (Video PQ7296.J6 Z982 1990)

# Pixote (1981). Depicts brutality of street childen in Brazil. (Video PN1995.9.F67169 P58 1997)

Romero (1989). True story of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador in 1980. (Video BX4705.R669 R64 1990)

* Salvador (1986). Oliver Stone critiques the violence of a civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s through the eyes of a journalist. (PN1995.9.J6 S35 2000)

Scarface (1983). A Cuban exile of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift emerges as the leader of a Miami mob that traffics in cocaine.

El Silencio De Neto = The Silence of Neto (1994). Discusses the 1954 coup in Guatemala from the point of view of a young boy. (Video PN1995.9.F6718 S545 1998)

State of Siege (1973). Costa Gavras' controversial film about an American technical expert in police procedures who the Tupamaro guerrillas abduct and assassinate in Uruguay in 1970.

Thirteen Days (2001). About the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Traffic (2000). About corruption and drug trafficking in Mexico. (PN1995.9.D78 T73 2001)

Under Fire (1983). A photo-journalist helps the Sandinistas overthrow Somoza in Nicaragua. (PN1995.9.W3 U53 1993)

Viva Villa! (1934). Story of Poncho Villa in the Mexican Revolution. (Video F1234.V75 V58 1993)

* Viva Zapata! (1952). Marlon Brando stars as Emiliano Zapata in the Mexican Revolution.

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