Latin American History at the Movies
Spring 2020

Prof. Chad Black
Phone: 974-9871
Office: 2627 Dunford Hall, 6th Floor
Office Hours: Wednesday 2:30-4:30, or by appointment


Moving pictures have long marveled Latin America. In what was almost certainly the first demonstration of the technology south of the Rio Bravo, the Lumiére brothers showed Mexican President Porfirio Díaz flims in Chapultepec Castle in 1896! As moving picture technology spread throughout the world, including Latin America, it radically altered how individuals and groups in the region perceived themselves, and were represented by others. Film (and later television) has been a source of enjoyment, a powerful propaganda tool, a medium of artistic expression, and a driving force of national identity.

In this class, we will focus on how important themes in the history of Modern Latin America have been portrayed on screen– urbanization, migrations, revolutions, narcotrafficking, nationalism, and more. While films will be a central component of our approach to the region’s history, course readings will serve as the basis for our discussion and written evaluations weekly. How has the popular cinema industry portrayed modern Latin American history? We will watch and analyze films from the United States, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, and elsewhere that grapple with various aspects of the conundrum of the modern period.

Most films will be in Spanish with English subtitles. The majority of the films are rated R for strong language, violence, and/or sexual content. These topics (sex and violence) are not the main topic of the films, but are used to convey the struggles and reality of contemporary struggles in the twentieth century in. In class we will discuss at length the themes that go beyond the uninformed viewer’s interpretation of the film. If, however, you feel uncomfortable with these topics please come speak to me.


This semester, I am not requiring you to purchase any books. All readings will be provided to the student electronically.

Films for Viewing

We will watch eight feature-length films this semester, as well as other selections or shorts:

  1. Que viva México (1931/1979) – Soviet Union/México.
  2. Soy Cuba (1964) – Soviet Union/Cuba.
  3. Cidade de Deus (2002) – Brazil.
  4. Bus 174 (2002) – Brazil.
  5. The Violin (2007) – México.
  6. Roma (2018) – México.
  7. Birds of Passage (2018) – Colombia.
  8. Ixcanul (2015) – Guatemala.

Course Requirements

Students are required to engage in this class. Learning is an interactive process, and requires active participation by all members of the class. Students need to read, write, and attend lecture in order to be successful in this class. The history of Latin America is being written as we speak in the quotidian actions of indigenous people, politicians, artists, and more. Likewise, history reverberates in the events of today, as well as their meanings. As part of this course, students are required to read news from Latin America. In addition to these weekly activities, there are a series of formal assignments.

These assignments are designed to contribute to the overall objectives of the semester, including both content-specific and skill-based goals.

Course Objectives

  1. To read Latin American history, and use the information as a basis for media critique.
  2. To learn to identify how film mediates, represents the history it attempts to visually reconstruct.
  3. To learn to synthesize a variety of sources, evaluate them, and articulate in written and oral form an argument.


Accommodations: Qualified students with disabilities needing appropriate academic adjustments should contact me as soon as possible to ensure that your needs are met in a timely manner with appropriate documentation.

Attendance: Attendance at all class sessions is mandatory. If you will not be able to attend class, please contact me ahead of time.

Deadlines: Assignments must be turned in to the instructor or teaching assistant at the end of class on the day they are due, unless otherwise arranged by the professor. Late papers will not be accepted without prior arrangement, for any reason. This includes technology problems.

Cell Phones and Laptops: Please silence our cell phones prior to class. Please do not text during class. Cell phones are not permitted in class, and need to be put away for the duration of our meetings. Laptops are allowed only for tasks related to this class. Distracting use of technology (social media, surfing, GroupMe chats, etc.) causes problems not only for your own learning, but for those around you. Research shows that analog notetaking improves learning. Consider having paper with you. Based on the prevailing literature, hand note-taking– both while reading and in class– leads to substantially better educational outcomes. You are not required to have a laptop in class, so feel free to leave it at home. If, however, you have reason to use your laptop for notetaking, I won’t stop you from doing so.

Plagiarism and Academic Honesty: Plagiarism occurs when someone knowingly or unknowingly presents another person’s words or ideas as his or her own. Any work turned in for this class must meet University standards for academic honesty. Any students unsure about how to apply these rules are urged to consult with me prior to turning in any written work.

Office Hours: Students are strongly encouraged to speak with me outside of class. The advantages of talking with me include: extra help on an assignment or preparation for an exam; clarification of materials covered in lecture, discussion of my comments on your work; discussion of this or related courses. I am available during office hours on a first-come, first-served basis; if you cannot come by during office hours, please contact me via email or phone and I will be happy to set up an appointment with you.

Changes: I reserve the write to change this syllabus as the semester progresses. This is not a contract, but rather a document to guide expectations and clearly communicate weekly assignments. Please bring the syllabus with you to our class meetings. Or, keep up with it on the course website.