Latin American History at the Movies
Spring 2022

Prof. Chad Black
Phone: 974-9871
Office: 2627 Dunford Hall, 6th Floor
Office Hours: Wednesday 2:00-4:00, 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 portrayals of Indigenous peoples in films from and about Latin America. In particular, we will use the films to analyze Indigenous responses to and participation in the historical processes of modernity. What does it mean to be modern? Who defines the cultures of modernity and to what end? How have Indigenous people sought autonomy over their own experiences of modernity?

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, Peru, Bolivia, 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.

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.


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.

Masks: The University is currently encouraging students, faculty, and staff to mask indoors. We will comply with this. The Omicron variant of this virus is extremely contagious. This turns the classroom into a potentially high-risk situation. Wearing a mask for 75 minutes indoors is a small price to pay to be back in University community.

Attendance: Attendance is mandatory. If you cannot attend, please email Dr. Black or your TA ahead of time. We’re not making an Inquisition into your absences, so the reasons you can’t attend are not as important as giving us the heads up. If you have any symptoms or have been exposed to COVID, please do not come to class! Just send us a quick email, and get tested.

Deadlines: Assignments must uploaded to Canvas by the end of the day on which they are due. Late papers will not be accepted with out prior arrangement. If you will not be able to complete an assignment on time, you must contact me and your TA ahead of time. If you contract COVID or some other illness, please let us know so that we can work with you.

Cell Phones, Laptops, Zoom: Cellphones should be put away during class. Please do not text or post to the Group Me during class. It is very distracting to people around you, and to the professor. Laptops may be used to take notes, but I would ask you to seriously consider using paper instead. If you want or need to use a laptop, please consider sitting towards the back of the room so as to minimize distractions behind you. If we have to utilize Zoom at some point, please practice the kind of respectful manners that I’m sure you have become used to over the last 15 months. In class and on Zoom, I would invite you to interrupt me with questions during lecture.

Research shows that analog note-taking 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. Consider taking notes by hand even though you’ll be watching on your computer.

Drop-in Hours: Students are strongly encouraged to speak with me and the TAs outside of class. The advantages include: extra help on an assignment or preparation for exams; clarification of materials covered in lecture, discussion of comments on your work; discussion of this or related courses. I have an open door policy during my drop-in hours. I will be there, and you are welcome to come by for any reason. Your TAs have the same. I’m also available via zoom by appointment.

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. We’ll have to remain flexible as the outlook for our fourth pandemic semester is still uncertain.