The first in-depth analysis of how Mexican cinema has both supported and subverted the construction of a gendered and sexualized national identity.
After the modern Mexican state came into being following the Revolution of 1910, hyper-masculine machismo came to be a defining characteristic of "mexicanidad," or Mexican national identity. Virile men (pelados and charros), virtuous prostitutes as mother figures, and minstrel-like gay men were held out as desired and/or abject models not only in governmental rhetoric and propaganda, but also in literature and popular culture, particularly in the cinema. Indeed, cinema provided an especially effective staging ground for the construction of a gendered and sexualized national identity.
In this book, Sergio de la Mora offers the first extended analysis of how Mexican cinema has represented masculinities and sexualities and their relationship to national identity from 1950 to 2004. He focuses on three traditional genres (the revolutionary melodrama, the cabaretera [dancehall] prostitution melodrama, and the musical comedy "buddy movie") and one subgenre (the fichera brothel-cabaret comedy) of classic and contemporary cinema. By concentrating on the changing conventions of these genres, de la Mora reveals how Mexican films have both supported and subverted traditional heterosexual norms of Mexican national identity. In particular, his analyses of Mexican cinematic icons Pedro Infante and Gael García Bernal and of Arturo Ripstein's cult film El lugar sin límites illuminate cinema's role in fostering distinct figurations of masculinity, queer spectatorship, and gay male representations. De la Mora completes this exciting interdisciplinary study with an in-depth look at how the Mexican state brought about structural changes in the film industry between 1989 and 1994 through the work of the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE), paving the way for a renaissance in the national cinema.
Finalist, Lambda Literary Award for Arts and Culture
- Preface. How I Too Came to Love Pedro Infante
- Introduction. Macho Nation?
- Chapter One. "Midnight Virgin": Melodramas of Prostitution in Literature and Film
- Chapter Two. Pedro Infante Unveiled: Masculinities in the Mexican "Buddy Movie"
- Chapter Three. The Last Dance: (Homo)Sexuality and Representation in Arturo Ripstein's El lugar sin límites and the Fichera Subgenre
- Chapter Four. Mexico's Third-Wave New Cinema and the Cultural Politics of Film
- Epilogue. Mexican Cinema Is Dead! Long Live Mexican Cinema!
- Works Consulted
Inside el Colón you can watch el mero mero, el merito, nuestro querido, Pedro Infante, the world's most handsome man love the world's most beautiful women. . . . He is the man whose child we want to bear. He is the man we wish we could be. Ay, Pedro, most fortunate and unfortunate of men. Dead at age forty. Papi, we miss you still.
Denise Chávez, Loving Pedro Infante
I still remember the shock and delight I experienced when I innocently came across a book with the nude photograph of Pedro Infante taking a shower. I was floored! My mind was reeling! I could not believe my eyes! There he was en cueros, the Mexican lover of the century, dubbed by his fans and Mexican media as el ídolo nacional, all soaped up and caught by surprise in a candid private moment, displaying his athletic and muscular body and his family jewels. Seeing Infante nude was like seeing Jesus Christ without a loincloth! It broke Mexican culture's rigid taboos that strictly limit the visual representation of male nudity. After regaining my composure, all I could think of was, Where could I see more? If before I discovered this image I had resisted Infante's playfulness and charm, due to how much I linked him with heterosexism and male heterosexual privilege, my interest was now perked. The photo was the initiation to a journey of discovery, a mission to explore the archives of classic Mexican cinema, not only for more special glimpses of Infante, but also for other images of same-sex relations that I was hungry to find. Searching through his extensive filmography I was pleased to find that this photo is not the only example, though certainly the most explicit, of the use of Infante and his body as an object of erotic pleasure; more than a handful of his films depict Infante in queer-friendly contexts. At that moment I realized that Infante's cultural legacy was ripe for queer appropriation and rereading through a different interpretive lens. To further titillate me, years later, word came to me that Infante's family jewels were touched up before the photo was first made public. Apparently he was so well endowed that the curators and/or the owner of the copyrights to the photograph felt they needed to tone it down. Truth or myth? I didn't matter: I had been fully won over by this man who seduced spectators throughout the Spanish-speaking Americas.
The origin of this book is twofold. First, it can be traced to my desire to see how male homosexuality and homoeroticism are represented in Mexican film and popular culture specifically and in the philosophy of Mexican national identity (mexicanidad, literally "Mexicanness") more broadly. Second, this project is intimately linked to my desire to feel connected to my inherited national patrimony, specifically as a first-generation, working class-born Mexican immigrant in the USA. At the heart of this desire is my obsession with Infante, the most beloved and revered figure of the classic period star system, roughly 1933-1957. This obsession was further driven by the discovery of the Infante nude during one of my research trips to Mexico City while leafing through the exhibition catalogue Asamblea de ciudades: Años 20s/50s, Ciudad de México (1992), celebrating popular culture in Mexico City. This discovery changed how I perceived Infante and how I understood the sexual politics of mexicanidad. Infante had appeared shirtless in many of his more than fifty feature films and in publicity photos. Before the exhibition at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's most prestigious museum, spectators had not been privy to full frontal (or backside) nudes of the Mexican superstar par excellence (nor, for that matter, was male nudity permitted on screen during his lifetime). The photo rubbed uneasily against my strict Catholic upbringing. The photograph opened up many questions regarding the differences between and within various paradigms of Mexican masculinities, power, national (homo)erotics, the politics of visibility, and pleasure. The photograph opened for me the Pandora's box of the mythology of Infante and Mexican styles of manliness, adding another layer to his cult following.
The controversy that erupted after the nude photograph of Infante was reprinted in Hijo de tigre . . . pintito. Hablemos de sexualidad (Rodríguez and Aguilar Gil 1994), a sex education textbook for grammar school teachers published by the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP, State Department of Education), further underscored the scandal caused by the unusually revealing photograph. The controversy is clear evidence of how the photographic representation of nude male bodies elicit discomfort and conflict because it unsettles traditional gendered conventions of looking, where man is conferred the active role of seeing and woman is assigned the passive role of being the object of the gaze. Furthermore, male nudes raise the specter of homosexuality, the fear of men looking at men as erotic objects. The controversy underscored the taboo of male nudity and the absence of in-depth critical analysis of the politics of visual representations of the male body, desire, and power, most notably in Mexico.
A headline from the leading Mexico City business paper El Financiero dated September 17, 1996, reads: "Pedro Infante Is Put on Trial. The Moralists Wage a War Against Sexual Education." The article begins,
Pedro Infante not only provokes idolatry. Additionally, there are those whom he also scandalizes and bothers, such as the Unión Iberamericana de Padres de Familia, an organization that includes groups from 12 countries in the continent, because a nude photograph of the legendary artist appears in the book Hijo de tigre . . . pintito, published by the Secretaría de Educación Pública in 1994. (Vizcarra Castillo 1996: 79)
The textbook instructs parents and teachers on how to introduce sexual education to secondary school children. It covers pregnancy, contraceptives, abortion, AIDS prevention, and homosexuality, among other themes. All its illustrations are stills from Mexican films. Infante's photo is reproduced in a chapter on nudity and the primal scene—when children see their parents naked, a moment that condenses much sexuality.
The spokesperson for the Unión Iberoamericana de Padres de Familia (Iboamerican Parents Union) protested the inclusion of Infante's nude photo in the book published by the SEP, and in an interview broadcast by Radio Red he demanded "the right to supervise the education of our children." He said, "We don't want our children to be exposed to unnatural practices, and in many cases aberrant practices, as if these were viable options for their sexual life." According to the Unión's criteria, the photo of Infante was "proof that concepts contrary to morality are being imposed [on our children]" (Vizcarra Castillo 1996: 79). The newspaper article did not specify if the Unión expressed indignation because the members considered the nude male in general to be immoral or if they were offended specifically by the fact that it was a nude photograph of the most revered figure of the Mexican cinema, the emblem of working-class virility. If the latter is the case, then the nude proves to be doubly transgressive and potentially disrespectful to the memory of some of his most conservative fans.
The photo calls attention to itself because it is the only nude, among the dozens of movie stills and photographs, reproduced in the book and can seem out of place and inappropriate. The photo is a low-angle, full-body shot in black and white and covers an entire page. El ídolo del pueblo is displayed in an open space, a humble-looking patio or rooftop with cracked and discolored walls, his entire body all soaped up. He has his arms crossed in a V shape over his chest. His penis is visible although it is somewhat camouflaged with soap foam. Infante's look is fixed at the camera with a facial expression that is serious and guarded but that doesn't convey surprise at being photographed in this private moment.
The book also received praise. María Consuelo Mejía, an anthropologist and director of Catholics for the Right to Decide, argued in Mexico's leading feminist journal, Debate Feminista, that one of the most important contributions made by the SEP textbook is precisely the strategic inclusion of the Infante nude.
Our stars are given sexual attributes, and with that the attitudes with which the camera froze them, reinscribing them with new meaning. It's as if in the core of our national memory, which to a large degree is our cinematic memory, was the sexuality that we had not fully been aware of. In that very private zone, the most hidden place where we store our moral values, we also have the right to ask ourselves about the manifestations of sexuality. (1996: 438-439)
Mejía makes a strong case in support of the public circulation of the photo since it underscores the silence that historically has existed about male sexuality.
The controversy the photograph generated highlights that the representation of the body and of sexuality are highly contested terrains, and it reminds us of the political function of the body, its symbolic power, and emotional investments. Infante's nude photograph opens an important dialogue on how the male body gets inscribed with cultural values that tend to reinforce gendered social institutions, cultural practices, and patriarchal relations. The photo also reminds us that the conventions for the visual representation of the male body are not fixed and stable and that their production, circulation, and reception fluctuate according to historical and cultural contexts. This photograph has multiple functions and interpretations, depending on location and context. Critical reception of the photograph draws attention to what can happen when man occupies the status conventionally reserved for women: that of erotic object of desire and visual spectacle.
This photo pushed me to rethink Mexican masculinities, the concept of mexicanidad, and the State's role in the circulation and promotion of gendered identities via cinema. The photograph enabled me to review Infante's cultural legacy and Mexican cinema with new eyes, new ways of seeing facilitated by my intellectual formation in cultural studies, film studies, literature, feminist theory, gay and lesbian scholarship and activism, queer theory, gender studies about masculinities, and Chicana/o studies.
Infante was an actor who actively participated in displaying his body to the press. His keen interest in physical fitness and the culture surrounding it converted him into an emblem of a healthy, authentic, and natural man. His rugged side is balanced by his portrayal as a romantic bon vivant, which softens his manly image: he is accessible and prone to playful relajo, fooling around. Infante indulged in physical pleasure and excess, from eating to fucking. Critics and mass media enabled the construction of his legendary sexual appetite. Thus, as I discuss in Chapter Two, Infante possesses a duality: he can easily shift, accentuate, (de)activate his virile qualities as well as his vulnerable and almost childlike playfulness.
Infante's sudden death on the morning of April 15, 1957, contributed to his status as a secular saint. Read as national allegory, his death emphasized the end of the popular sector's aspiration for economic success and social justice, which they experienced vicariously through Infante, unveiling the exploitation and impoverishment of the popular classes and the failure of the Mexican Revolution to break with the unequal distribution of wealth that characterized Porfirio Díaz's regime.
This book is also born of more ordinary origins, however—namely a passion for Mexican movies. Like other Mexican immigrant kids growing up in the 1970s, I was seduced by movies and quickly became an addict, a film junkie. Eventually, cinema took over my life, every moment of my existence. My childhood and early adolescence were singularly shaped by Mexican movies, telenovelas, and popular Mexican music from the late 1960s, '70s, and '80s, as well as U.S. popular culture. Every Sunday after mass, I religiously saw with my mother, Victoria, and my two younger sisters, Veronica and Lucila, a double bill of Mexican movies at one of the theaters that once showed Mexican movies in San Francisco's Mission District, where I grew up from age five onward. Most of these theaters (the Tower, Latino, Grand, New Mission) were on Mission Street, dubbed the Mission Miracle Mile because it was the main commercial strip of the once predominantly Latino and working-class area in the heart of San Francisco. In 1991, the Tower was the last of these glorious movie places to close, another casualty of the changing film consumption habits of U.S. Latinos/as, the Mexican film industry's loss of the Spanish-language market in the United States, the rising costs of living in San Francisco, and the gentrification of the Mission. Ironically, the closure of the Tower occurred just as the new Mexican cinema was emerging and on the eve of an explosion of scholarship about Mexican cinema that would profoundly inspire my own research.
Cinema was not all-encompassing, however. Nor did it stand alone and detached in my socialization. Catholicism and patriarchal family values played as important a role as Mexican movies and popular culture in shaping my affective relations with my social surroundings and sentimental education. Mexican movies especially informed my understanding of what and how proper men ought to look, think, feel, express themselves, and behave. I'm still fascinated by representations of Mexican men in the movies and by how Mexican men perform their masculinity in daily life. I'm intrigued by celluloid performances of heterosexual masculinities, since as a gay man and a sissy from childhood, I lived outside it, never having conformed to dominant images of Mexican masculinities, never quite mastering "how to be a man." I was both fascinated and put off by the representations of butch Mexican men, by los machos mexicanos. In Mexican movies, virility is a metonym for Mexicanness, and this manliness is literally larger than life. I'm interested in how Mexican movie stars embody their gender and their sexuality and in how they perform their gender. So I confess that my investments in Mexican film culture are both libidinal and linked to fantasy. My relationship to cinema is bound up with desire and sexuality. Cinema for me is linked to the forbidden, the outlawed. Cinema can show what should not be seen and articulate what social strictures deem should remain unsaid; it enables us to establish affective affiliations within our communities as well as with other communities with whom we seldom or never come face to face; cinema shows us how to imagine other realities; cinema nurtures that most beautiful and precious quality we all possess, fantasy. I see this project as a vindication of the validity of my childhood (and into adulthood) pleasure in looking and in fantasizing.
This project was thus conceived as an engagement with my scholarly interests in the role cinema plays in the formation of national culture as well as a way for me to understand myself and my sense of belonging. Cinema enabled me to imagine the many possibilities that life has to offer if we allow ourselves to live our fantasies.
Cinema is the richest medium of expression ever made available to humanity. . . . All the arts, every skill, history, the world, the cosmos, all bow before it with devotion.
Emilio Fernández, quoted in Feder 1997
Cinema teaches us everything. God teaches us through the cinema.
Paz Alicia Garciadiego, El evangelio de las maravillas
Since the end of the nineteenth century, film has furnished a vehicle for the circulation of narratives of Mexican national identity. My interest lies with the various strategies used by cultural producers and consumers to negotiate and contest cinematic representations of national identity that depict highly gendered and sexualized roles for men and women. I am especially interested in revisiting the highly abused and misused terms "macho" and "machismo" in order to offer critical and alternative interpretations of these concepts. I am attracted to the question of how gendered and sexualized narratives of national identity are represented in three traditional genres and a subgenre: the revolutionary melodrama, the cabaretera (dance hall) prostitution melodrama, the musical-comedy "buddy movie," and the picaresque fichera brothel-cabaret comedy (a variant of the cabaretera melodrama). By commenting on the central conventions embedded in these genres I underscore larger ideological questions surrounding the reproduction and resistance of gendered and sexualized national subjectivities. In particular I discuss how Mexican films have circulated a refashioned notion of Mexican identity in the years leading up to and following the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Given the privileged place that the visual media occupy in the formation of social identities and the inordinately important role the Mexican State has historically played in the development of Mexico's film industry in particular and the visual arts in general to educate and foster a national consciousness, I hope to show how Mexican cinema continues to be a dynamic and contested area of cultural production. The assumption underpinning this study is that cinema, like other expressions of popular culture, is a crucial site where social and political discussions about the nation's past, present, and future take place.
I was originally going to title this book Macho Nation? but decided that Cinemachismo was more appropriate. This is why. "Macho nation?" refers to the contested male-centered modern national project ushered in by the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The concept is a reference to the cult of a particular form of masculinity—and therefore also femininity and womanliness—that was aggressively promoted by the cultural nationalist post-revolutionary establishment. To be sure, the specificity of Mexican machismo resides in its self-consciousness and its officially decreed status as the distinctive component of Mexican national identity (O'Malley 1986: 7), rivaled only by the nation's deep religiosity manifest in the cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint. The push to claim Mexico as a virile nation gained momentum in the 1920s as a strategy to counteract the alleged effeminacy of the Contemporáneos group, avant-garde poets, artists, and intellectuals, many of whom held jobs in the civil service and some of whom were homosexual. These full-scale gay-bashings raged from the mid-1920s forward in widely publicized polemics intended to establish a new national literature and to promote the work of "virile" writers such as Mariano Azuela's Los de abajo (The Underdogs, 1916), his now-canonical novel of the Revolution and disillusionment. Macho is also the quintessential virile image of the post-revolutionary Mexican nation, embodied by the charro (cattle rancher), an image widely circulated through film, popular music (rancheras, mariachi), performance, sports (rodeo, equestrian), the graphic arts (Jesús de la Helguera's famously illustrated calendars, for example), and literature.
What I mean by the term cinemachismo is to identify the particular self-conscious form of national masculinity and patriarchal ideology articulated via the cinema and also vigorously promoted by the post-revolutionary State as official ideology. Whereas "macho nation?" refers to the contested modalities of gender in Mexican cinema and Mexican society, cinemachismo explains the institutional deployment of a masculinized mexicanidad through the camera lens. Cinema is the modern technology that enables the invention, reinvention, and circulation of national models of manhood and womanhood.
Cinemachismo points to the indispensable role Mexican cinema plays in reshaping social identities and modern definitions of the nation. Underscoring the links between machismo and nationalism, this study explores key moments in which the cinema contributed to struggles surrounding the redefinition of mexicanidad. Underlying this project is this question: How do cultural representations mediate the contradictions of the modern male-centered, post-revolutionary, and post-national State project in Mexico? Reflecting on my approach to this broad concern and the numerous issues it conceals, I analyze the social anxieties and tensions over changing representations of masculinity and manhood as well as femininity and womanhood in terms of how films shape our understanding of gender and sexuality and how films attempt to solve social problems. The films I examine here are particularly emblematic of the national and transnational circulation of images and symbols of mexicanidad.
The genres and subgenre I have chosen to focus on have not only proven to be of lasting sociocultural importance but have also been the most popular, both in terms of historical continuity and in their pervasive presence across Mexican popular culture. The revolutionary melodrama, the musical comedy "buddy movie," the prostitution melodrama—notably the sometimes classy, more often pot-boiler cabaretera films—and the fichera movie all express a desire for national, regional, and/or local community through specific representations of individual and collective trajectories, which in turn are played out in the context of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual couplings. Here I trace the circulation and reception of these genres and the representations of their specific but fluctuating conventions. I argue that these genres reproduce and contest gendered and sexual forms of national identification across nearly six decades, from the 1950s until 2004. Close textual interpretations of genre tropes, narrative structure, and visual design ground my analysis of tensions between individuals and society when they confront questions of sexual and gender identities and sexual practices as these issues impinge upon the power relations between the State and its national subjects. I contend that gendered and sexualized national ideologies both accommodate and marginalize "normative" as well as "non-normative" subjectivities. I do this by underscoring the distinct ways in which cinema mediates sociopolitical conflicts and shapes social discourses and consciousness. I illustrate how spatial locations such as brothels, cabarets, dance halls, cantinas, and musical performances (including dance and singing) are crucial sites for understanding the power dynamics involved in the construction of cultural identities. I sustain that theatrical and musical performances and their specific social settings are marked as the sites/sights for the reinscription and contestation of gender and sexual norms.
Considerable research has been conducted on the history and traditions of Mexican cinema, especially in relation to gender, genre, and nationhood. Cinemachismo expands upon existing scholarship in a number of ways. Most book-length studies of gender and Mexican film have focused on representations of women and women filmmakers in Mexico. "Gender" is not equivalent to "woman," however, and I believe masculinity merits critical scrutiny, for it can help us denaturalize and defamiliarize the institutions and practices that make gender. In studies on gender and cinematic representation in Mexico, masculinity is, with few notable exceptions, often rendered invisible. Analysis of the complexity of the representations of Mexican masculinities in film has only just begun.
This book builds on arguments put forth in an earlier essay that provides a critical overview of the scholarship about masculinity and the representation of the male body in Mexican film in light of the dearth of analysis on this subject matter. My book provides case studies on renderings of gender, sexuality, and the body—in film, literature, and popular culture. Through my interdisciplinary and multimedia focus I strive to link issues related to the social construction of masculinity with questions of representation, self-representation, and power. I examine masculinity in its plural manifestations, encompassing heterosexual, homosexual, and "queer" (an in-between, deliberately indeterminate, umbrella designation for non-heteronormative sexuality) desires and practices.
By foregrounding non-normative forms of social identity and subjectivity, examining often forbidden desires and pleasures, I hope that this book will encourage others to take up avenues of research that I initiate here and thus continue to expand the fields of Mexican film studies, national cinema, gender and masculinity studies, queer studies, Chicana/o studies, and cultural studies.
By focusing on the multiple expressions of national and post-national identities, including new interpretations of the cultural tropes of macho and machismo, Cinemachismo expands Charles Ramírez Berg's groundbreaking Cinema of Solitude: A Critical Study of Mexican Film, 1967-1983 (1992). Through my interpretations of Pedro Infante's buddy movies, I identify and celebrate the rich queer legacy in Mexican film and popular culture, focusing on the multiple and often conflicting readings made possible by adopting queer reading practices. I also address how cinematic representations of Mexican masculinities depart from how "white" masculinities in Hollywood and European films have been theorized in Euro-American film theory. My analysis of Ripstein's El lugar sin límites and the popular fichera movies of the 1970s and '80s moves beyond the positive-negative analysis of stereotypes, arguing that gay characters, imaged as queeny jotos (Mexican colloquialism for male homosexual) function as minstrel figures and are a site of pleasure and celebration of sexual difference while at the same time registering homophobic and misogynist anxieties about heterosexual masculinity. Although joto is a derogatory term, I appropriate it here as a form of what Michel Foucault calls "reverse" discourse that challenges the oppressive effects of homophobic discourse, emphasizing instead how the category joto also enables the production of knowledge about male homosexuality in Mexico. For Foucault, the pathologizing construction of homosexuality in nineteenth-century medical discourse signals the moment when "homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or 'naturality' be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified" (1980: 101). My appropriation of joto is ironic and playful while at the same time affirming the cultures of "deviant" subjects that first appear in national discourse in 1901, a result of the famous police raid of a private party in Mexico City when forty-one men, half in female drag, were arrested.
I contend that machismo needs the joto to define and affirm itself as much as it needs a clingy woman, a fact that is continuously acted out not only in cinema and popular culture but also in everyday life. Unlike Ramírez Berg's important study of the macho-maricón dyad, I argue that there is a space for homosexuality in Mexican culture but that that space is fraught with tensions and contradictions. Like Rosa Linda Fregoso's pioneer analysis of cinematic renditions of Chicano masculinities in The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicano Film Culture (1993), I also underscore the complex history and meanings of Mexican machismo and its imbrication with colonialist practices as well as the central role it played in the Mexican Revolution's national decolonization project. Discourse about the Revolution foregrounds that for men the Revolution involved recovering their manhood, which in turn reflects back on the hypermasculinized nation-state.
Close textual analysis and interdisciplinary research makes it possible to identify the shifting social practices and institutional discourses shaping representations of Mexican manhood as they specifically relate to the nation's macho national image. I place masculinities as the central subject of this study because historically the concept of machismo (whose meanings encompass a broad range of interpretations, some of which will be discussed in Chapters Two, Three, and Four) is an integral component of Mexican nationalism. Machismo is intimately linked to State power and to the highly contested gendered social contract extended to Mexican citizens in the post-revolutionary period. Indeed, the machismo attributed to Mexican men (the charro, popularized through mariachi music and the comedia ranchera film genre, or combatants who fought in the Revolution) is among Mexico's most internationally recognized symbols. Mexican film historians and cultural critics have argued that the Mexican cinema's first international superstar was Francisco "Pancho" Villa, the popular revolutionary leader from northern Mexico. To date, he is still the epitome of the Mexican macho, as I will discuss later in this introduction.
Mexican cinema actively partook in the construction of post-revolutionary Mexican national culture. The discourse of mexicanidad that circulated through popular culture was instrumental in consolidating the post-revolutionary Mexican State, its institutions, and the ruling classes. Since the late 1930s, cinema helped to forge a hegemonic political system. As a pedagogical and socializing technology, cinema assists in engendering subjectivities and various forms of identification. Interpreted thus, gender is not a transparent, self-evident biological fact of nature; gender is not anatomy. Gender achieves its material and social reality through ideological means. For film theorist Teresa de Lauretis, gender is "the product and the process of both representation and self-representation" (1987: 9). Cinema is a meaning-making technology and as such plays a crucial role in constructing gender. However, in order to not ascribe a totalizing function to cinema and in order to not assume that spectators are passive and uncritical, it is important to emphasize that cinema can also enable us to re-imagine ourselves differently, to conceive of other possible worlds, other possible realities. As conceptualized by de Lauretis,
the construction of gender goes on today through the various technologies of gender (e.g., cinema) and institutional discourses (e.g., theory) with power to control the field of social meaning and thus produce, promote, and "implant" representations of gender. But the terms of a different construction of gender also exist, in the margins of hegemonic discourses, posed from outside the heterosexual social contract, and inscribed in micro-political practices, these terms can also have a part in the construction of gender, and their effects are rather at the "local" level of resistance, in subjectivity and self-representation. (1987: 18)
I consider aspects of film production and consumption as social practices that enable particular forms of subjectivity and national identification. I introduce new analytical lenses by discussing the queer and homoerotic grounding of spectatorship in order to re-view sacred icons of Mexican cultural nationalism. Through my queer appropriation of Pedro Infante, for example, I hope to add nuance and complexity to the largely unexplored areas of audience reception and spectatorship in the available scholarship on Mexican cinema.
My project proposes a transformation in Mexican film studies by recasting masculinity as a visible and highly contested system of power—the "macho nation?" of which I spoke earlier—that is operative in all social institutions and practices, focusing in particular on the pervasive presence of machismo in cinema, what I call cinemachismo. My understanding of machismo is that it is an ideology of heterosexual male supremacy that in Mexico gets wedded to the institutionalized post-revolutionary State apparatus, of which cinema is a crucial component. Unlike previous studies of gender in Mexican cinema, I argue that sexuality is an indispensable category of analysis that helps to unlock the politics of sexuality.
Cinema was instrumental in the invention of the Mexican macho: virile, brave, proud, sexually potent, and physically aggressive. Masculinity is rendered into a visual spectacle on the battlegrounds of the Mexican Revolution, becoming the focus of the camera lens and receiving unprecedented international cinematic and photographic coverage, by far surpassing the Greek-Turkish War of 1897, the Spanish-American War of 1898, and the South African War of 1899-1902. Documentary filmmaking flourished during the Mexican Revolution to a great extent to satisfy the demands of audiences in Mexico and in the United States of America. Film spectators in these neighboring nations avidly followed the latest news of the war. Politicians as well as revolutionary leaders understood the value of film to promote their roles in the war and to circulate the goals of the Revolution.
Film historian Margarita de Orellana argues that revolutionary leaders took great measures to ensure that only positive images be circulated about their social and political agendas. She interprets their deep investment in the power of film to shape historical narratives and social consciousness as a "desire for self-representation" (1991: 17). A case in point is the cinematic trajectory of the complex revolutionary leader Pancho Villa. A master of public relations, Villa famously signed a contract for $25,000 with Frank M. Thayer, the representative for the New York City-based Mutual Film, giving the U.S. firm exclusive rights to film battles Villa and his followers fought. According to Aurelio de los Reyes, the leading historian of silent Mexican film, Mutual "agreed to only exhibit the filmed footage if Villa's troops won; in turn, Villa agreed to simulate battles in case the camera operators weren't able to shoot scenes of violence" (Reyes, 1996: 43).
The charismatic Villa became the emblem of the Mexican macho through the wide circulation of his image in cinema, photography, and print media. Speaking to this issue, Carlos Monsiváis, Mexico's leading cultural critic, notes, "During the armed phase of the Revolution, the limits of behavior were set by Pancho Villa: excess, vindicatory eagerness, and primitivism—attributes which authorize his folkloric metamorphosis by the bourgeoisie in both film and literature" (1997b: 12). But the attributes given to Villa outside of Mexico were as important as those generated within the geographic boundaries of the nation. Indeed, Villa's hypermasculine image was forged in a transnational context, given that he was filmed, photographed, and written about by international narrative and documentary filmmakers, photojournalists, newspaper reporters, novelists, and political figures; these include Mexican documentary filmmakers such as Salvador Toscano (Memorias de un mexicano [Memories of a Mexican], Carmen Toscano, 1950) and photographers such as Agustín Víctor Casasola. Future Hollywood director Raoul Walsh met General Villa and played Villa in The Life of General Villa (1914), a film directed by D. W. Griffith's protégé William Christy Chabanne. U.S. journalist John Reed, founder of the U.S. Communist Party, wrote Insurgent Mexico (1914) based on his experiences in Mexico following Villa's troops. German camera operator Fritz Arno Wagner covered the war in Mexico for the U.S. branch of Pathé Films. And Mexican novelist Rafael F. Muñoz wrote ¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa! (Let's Go with Pancho Villa!, 1931), a landmark novel of the Mexican Revolution that was adapted to the screen in 1935 under the direction of Fernando de Fuentes. Indeed, in his discussion of Villa's cinematic career, historian Enrique Krauze refers to him, not without a hint of sarcasm, as "Pancho Villa superstar" (1997: 27).
The meanings attached to Villa as political and cultural figure have fluctuated dramatically across Mexican and U.S. film history, ranging from populist champion of the poor (The Life of General Villa, 1914, and Viva Villa!, Jack Conway, 1934) to the critical and demythologized representation of Villa as a cold and authoritarian military strategist (¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa!, 1935) to the irreverent and parodic depiction of Villa as a buffoonish, primitive-like, and virile sex symbol (Entre Pancho Villa y una mujer desnuda [Between Pancho Villa and a Naked Woman], Sabina Berman and Isabelle Tardán, 1995) to savvy media and public relations specialist (And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, Bruce Beresford, 2004). The title of Krauze's biography of Villa synthesizes the polarized associations attached to this legendary bandit-hero: Francisco Villa, entre el ángel y el fierro (Francisco Villa, Between an Angel and the Gun). Filmmaker Gregorio Rocha deftly shows in his self-reflexive documentary Los rollos perdidos de Pancho Villa (The Lost Reels of Pancho Villa, 2003) how U.S. filmmakers were central in transforming the image of Villa from ally to blood-thirsty and impetuous Number One enemy and hence manipulate public opinion to suit the economic and political interests of the United States.
The lasting impact of associating notions of machismo with Mexico that are felt to this day is a sign of how efficiently cinema operated as a vehicle for propaganda and social control. The hold that the stereotype of the Mexican macho exerts does not mean that notions of manhood and manliness are ahistorical, unchanging, monolithic, and uncontested. On the contrary, this study focuses on the changing notions of what it means to be a man in Mexico.
Expanding upon the specific forms of machismo deployed cinematically, it is important to also note that the Mexican State today continues the earlier post-revolutionary tradition of investing in film production and promotion. By examining the cultural politics and institutional practices the State carried out during the presidential administration of Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) in the areas of film production, distribution, exhibition, and promotion, I highlight how changes in film policy make this period pivotal in restructuring Mexico's film industry and repositioning the future of its national cinema. I argue that during this regime, Mexican national identity was significantly refashioned in light of NAFTA in order to shift the nation's public alliances closer to U.S. and global economic interests. Cinemachismo thus connects specific qualitative shifts to the increasing "Chicanoization" of Mexico through the rethinking of U.S.-Mexico relations in light of the Mexican State's promotion of globalization through the cinema.
My study raises questions for future research, particularly the relationship between Mexican cinematic developments and the modalities of the "Latinization" of the United States in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Why the Mexican government has historically played an inordinately important role in the development of Mexico's film industry is a fascinating question. This book highlights the transnational economic and social interests impacting State policies and politics that, in turn, inform the representation of sexuality and gender in classic and contemporary films.
The major thread woven throughout the book's chapters is the role cinema plays in maintaining and contesting the Mexican State's hegemony. This interdisciplinary project combines auto-ethnography with historical analysis of State social and cultural policies, literature, and film history using various theoretical frameworks and approaches, notably feminism, queer theory, close textual readings, auteurism, genre and star studies, national cinema, theories of spectatorship, and image analysis.
Before I outline the content of each book chapter, I first want to survey how masculinity and representations of the male body are theorized in Anglo-U.S. film studies in order to contextualize how Infante cannot be understood through a wholesale adoption of these theories. I find many similarities in the cinematic representations of Mexican masculinities in classic Mexican cinema with the Greek masculinities that film theorist Dimitris Eleftheriotis discusses in his essay "Questioning Totalities: Constructions of Masculinity in the Popular Greek Cinema of the 1960s" (1995). I draw from his essay to outline some of the blind spots in film theory about masculinity as they relate to Infante's star persona.
In the early 1980s, Anglo-U.S. film studies articulated the representation of masculinity and the male body using psychoanalytic terms (spectatorship and identification) and film semiotics (textual analysis). With some notable exceptions (Dyer 1992, 1993a; Mercer and Julien 1988), masculinity in "mainstream cinema" was theorized as monolithic, ahistorical, heterosexual, and racially unmarked, although for the most part the images of men analyzed were those of "white" men.
The terms for the analysis of masculinity in cinema were established by British academics associated with the film journal Screen. Steve Neale's "Masculinity as Spectacle: Reflections on Men and Mainstream Cinema" (1993, first published in 1983) is usually the starting point for discussing this subject; Neale's essay, in turn, draws from Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (first published in 1975), which theorizes from a feminist and psychoanalytic perspective the cinematic constructions of femininity, masculinity, and the gendered structures of looking in Hollywood films.
In her influential essay Mulvey notes,
According to the principles of ruling ideology and the physical structures that back it up, the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist like. Hence the split between spectacle and narrative supports the man's role as the active one of forwarding the story, making things happen. The man controls the film fantasy and emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator, transferring it behind the screen to neutralize the extra-diegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle. This is made possible through processes set in motion by structuring the film around a main controlling figure with whom the spectator can identify. As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence. A male movie star's glamorous characteristics are thus not those of the erotic object of the gaze, but those of the more perfect, more complete, more powerful ideal ego conceived in the original moment of recognition in front of the mirror. (1989b: 20)
Neale's essay addresses the conflicts that arise when another man is the erotic object of the gaze. Among the limitations Eleftheriotis finds in Neale's psychoanalytic approach is that it privileges a presumed universal heterosexual masculinity that is "characterized by the central position occupied by notions of control, power, aggression, domination, emotional poverty, the preoccupation with order and mastery and a resistance to looks that objectify and eroticize the male body" (235). He expands the discussion of masculinity in the cinema as theorized by Mulvey and Neale and subsequent research by noting that there is no universal masculinity. He questions the relevance of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis to cinemas that are not Hollywood, Canada, Australia, and some European countries (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy) that have been the subject of most English-language film theory and criticism about men in cinema. Eleftheriotis argues that masculinities must be studied in their local contexts, attending to specific cultural, historical, and political processes. "Passing masculinity [sic] off as universal and eternal not only naturalizes and essentializes gender difference but also conceals important relations of domination and power" (Eleftheriotis 1995: 237).
There are a number of important parallels between my readings of Infante and Eleftheriotis's analysis of two Greek actors. For example, actor-singer Nicos Xanthopoulos, like Infante, was also known as "the son of the people." For both Greek and Mexican film spectators, a great part of the appeal of these actors resides in their rich emotional expressivity. Unlike Mulvey's and Neale's analysis of masculinity in Hollywood films where men are characterized as silent, stoic, and hell-bent on always being in control, Xanthopoulos and Infante talk, sing, and cry excessively about their joy and sadness (Eleftheriotis: 239-240). Eleftheriotis argues that the enormous empathy and pleasure Greek audiences derived from seeing close-ups of their idol externalizing his emotions requires being sensitive to "the different ways in which emotions are expressed in different cultures" (240). While the well-known adage "Men don't cry" holds in Mexico, the fact is that in classic Mexican melodramas, as in ranchera music and in real life, some men do cry, especially when under the influence of alcohol. Indeed, Infante distinguishes himself from his contemporaries by his cathartic sequences where he bursts into authentic, impassioned tears, as I will discuss later in this introduction.
Eleftheriotis's analysis of the comedies of actor Kostas Voutsas focus on how the films reject "the omnipotent masculinity described by Neale as dominant" (Eleftheriotis: 241). Similarly, Infante's films frequently center on struggling working-class men with flawed personalities, compulsive behavioral patterns, and addictive tendencies—such as gambling, alcoholism, and sexual promiscuity—who must come to grips with their weaknesses and tragic fates by adapting to their restricted horizon of possibilities. Infante and Voutsas are revered not because they are omnipotent, perfect, and capable of controlling all; these actors and the characters they played are loved because they are imperfect and resemble real-life men with whom audiences can identify.
Infante is frequently eroticized and can "bear the burden of sexual objectification" (Mulvey 1989b: 20). Unlike the masculinity theorized by Neale and Mulvey, Infante's sexual objectification does not generally create anxieties. This being said, I do not want to discard some of Mulvey's and Neale's insights that are applicable to my project. For example, Infante also portrayed men who functioned as powerful ego ideals for (male) spectators. The association of masculinity with spectacle is also a productive way to examine the performance of Mexican machismo.
In the 1990s, publications about men in film increased considerably, adding greater nuance and complexity to the issues raised by Mulvey and Neale. The contributors to the anthology edited by Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark (1993) propose to interrogate the terms that link the "masculinity of the male subject with activity, voyeurism, sadism, fetishism, and story" and the female and femininity with "exhibitionism, masochism, narcissism, and spectacle" (2). The essays as a whole address concerns commonly associated with femininity: "spectacle, masochism, passivity, masquerade, and most of all, the body as it signifies gendered, racial, class, and generational differences" (Cohan and Hark 1993: 3). Cohan and Hark's anthology, along with two additional anthologies also published in 1993—by Constance Penley and Sharon Willis and by Pat Kirkham and Janet Thurman—and more recently two edited volumes—by Peter Lehman (2001) and Phil Powrie, Ann Davies, and Bruce Babington (2004)—have successfully expanded the scope of discussion of masculinities in the cinema. However, these anthologies continue to primarily focus on U.S. and European cinemas. The emergence of the new queer cinema in the early 1990s, accompanied by a complex critical apparatus, as well as research by scholars of color on the interface of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, have greatly enriched the study of men in film. My project, informed by the scholarship of my elders and my contemporaries, aspires to introduce the analysis of masculinities in Latin American cinema and therein expand the conversations begun in Anglo-U.S. film studies.
Chapter One contrasts the literary origins of the didactic prostitution melodrama Santa (Saintly Woman, 1903) written by Federico Gamboa with the epistolary erotic travel narrative Demasiado amor (Too Much Love, 1990) by Sara Sefchovich, reading the latter novel as a feminist revision of Gamboa's master narrative of the victimized and degraded but also eroticized and idealized Santa, the mother of all subsequent fallen and transgressive prostitutes. The chapter analyzes the figure of the prostitute, along with the nightlife milieu of cabarets and brothels, as allegories for Mexico's modernization project in two films—Víctimas del pecado (Victims of Sin, 1950) directed by Emilio "el Indio" Fernández, the leading auteur of the classic period and co-creator of the classic Mexican film aesthetic, and María Novaro's internationally successful second feature film, Danzón (1991), which rewrites the cabaretera (dance hall) variant of the prostitution melodrama from a woman-centered perspective. Novaro was the first and, to date, still the most internationally successful Mexican woman filmmaker, both commercially and critically.
Prostitution and the spaces of urban nightlife allow a discussion of the representation of socially sanctioned, transgressive, and "outlawed" sexualities. Through discursive analysis I show how female sexuality, and by extension male sexuality, is a fraught political arena. Sexuality is a critical category of analysis because it shapes gendered forms of national identification. I discuss the social control of sexuality via public health policy, the law, urban planning, and the mass media.
The enduring popularity of the prostitution melodrama and the ubiquity of the brothel-cabaret in Mexican culture have as much to do with Mexico's violent history of colonialism as they do with the nation's deep sense of religiosity and spirituality. Patriarchal control of women's sexuality in Mexico has a complex and contradictory history. The anthropologist Roger Bartra (1987) coined the term "Chingadalupe" to address the dual models of womanhood forged by the key female figures in narratives of national origins: La Malinche—also known as La Chingada, the violated mother of the mixed-race mestizo—and the pure, virginal, and suffering Our Lady of Guadalupe, the brown Virgin Mary, protector of the Mexican nation and Empress of the Americas. The Chingadalupe model of womanhood condenses the attributes promoted by sexist gender ideologies that deny "good women" sexual agency and the right to erotic pleasure and deny "bad women," those who embrace sexual pleasure and/or engage in work linked to sexual commerce, the right to be considered fit as mothers.
Post-colonial feminist theorist Deniz Kandiyoti (1994) discusses the highly politicized nature of the State's investment in gender by examining State-led and religiously based nation-building projects that posit women as "mothers of the nation." Feminist writings on sexual commerce in Mexico—such as the work of historian Katherine Elaine Bliss (2001) and cultural critic Carlos Monsiváis (1980, 1990, 1991, 1997b)—clearly demonstrate that prostitution is a key site for examining the State's investments in creating and maintaining gender differences and relations of power. Extrapolating from Kandiyoti's work on women's roles in national projects, I suggest that sex work can both tell us much about the obvious male fantasies of women's sexuality and illuminate the gender and sexual politics underpinning the State's intervention in regulating prostitution through laws and public health care policy. Listening to the oral testimony of Mexican activist and ex-sex worker Claudia Colimoro (Colimoro and Cabezas, 1998) sheds light on the international sex workers' movement for human rights and workers' rights and their struggle to change the exploitation and oppression associated with sexual commerce. More specifically, Colimoro's testimony shows that Mexican sex workers in the 1990s—like their counterparts in the late 1920s and 1930s (Bliss 2001)—demand respect, in the form of specific legislation to ensure their rights as citizens, from a government that only sees their labor as a "necessary evil" and as a negative aspect of society.
The prostitute and the spaces of the brothel-cabaret have historically functioned as vehicles that safeguard patriarchal privileges, laws, and institutions. They index changing gender roles: women's struggles against patriarchal double standards; shifts in ideas about proper Mexican womanhood and motherhood, as well as proper manhood and womanhood; and shifts in the gendered public-private division of labor. It is also an ambiguous staging ground for male fantasies of domination, subordination, and the victimization of women and other men. It can be a powerful site for representing desire and women's sexual agency. Prostitution and the brothel-cabaret are also sites that contest heteronormativity, standards of female propriety, rigid codes of masculinity, and racialized, gendered, and class-based codes of honor. The prostitute and the brothel-cabaret condense men's fears of and desires for female difference.
Chapter Two shifts the critical lens from figures that represent difference and "otherness" to the singer-performer Pedro Infante, who is still considered the maximum embodiment of Mexican masculinity and the archetype of the working-class heterosexual male. I look at Infante from another angle. This chapter examines the ambiguities and tensions surrounding male relations in erotic triangles where women function as mediators between the men. I focus on four of this superstar's classic buddy movies: Rogelio A. González's El gavilán pollero (The Womanizer, 1950) and three of director Ismael Rodríguez's most successful star vehicles, ATM (A toda máquina) (Right On, 1951), ¿Qué te ha dado esa mujer? (What Has That Woman Done to You?, 1951), and Dos tipos de cuidado (Two Serious Guys, 1952). I situate Infante's work in the post-World War II crises ensnaring the Mexican film industry, signaling the beginning of the end of the classic period, and inaugurating the state of crisis as the national cinema's permanent condition. I read the representations of gender relations in Infante's buddy movies, in particular the homoerotic inflections in the bonds between men and the sexist attitudes toward the female rivals that disrupt the primacy of the male couple, as symptomatic of the increasing masculine anxieties over the shifting role of women. I discuss how Dos tipos de cuidado is especially riddled with palpable tensions embedded in how the film self-consciously stages the coexistence of the traditional with the modern. My reading of ATM discusses how the film thematizes U.S.-Mexico relations.
How one reads any given text is indeed determined by the specific historical and sociocultural location of the spectator. In regard to sexual representation in the cinema, this issue is addressed in the documentary film The Celluloid Closet (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 1996) based on Vito Russo's pioneer book-length survey on the history of gay and lesbian images in (mostly) Hollywood films. In the film, media critic Richard Dyer makes a cogent argument about sexual representation and cinematic reading practices. He notes that before the emergence of a gay cinema in the United States, film censorship and social restrictions created the conditions for homosexuality to be read between the lines since it was most often represented indirectly. I use insights from queer theory to bear upon my discussion of the homosocial and homoerotic ground of cinematic spectatorship.
Alexander Doty's work (1993, 2000) provides a framework for thinking through the emerging field of queer spectatorship. He argues that queer eroticism is not marginal to mainstream culture but occupies the center, that it both inscribes and resists mainstream heteronormative practices. His insistence on the centrality of queerness in mainstream culture is a productive approach for reading the homoerotic wordplay involved in the culture of the albur. The albur is a Mexican form of picaresque wordplay linked to the popular classes and is gendered male, especially since it often involves sexual puns, "indecent" jokes, and activities coded as male. Indeed the albur is among the most emblematic oral traditions of popular culture. The albur is also the quintessential linguistic domain of the Mexican macho. It is remarkable how saturated the culture of the albur is with references to homosexuality and phallic chauvinism. In their foundational studies of mexicanidad, both Samuel Ramos (1934) and Octavio Paz (1950) devote considerable space to discussing how albur contests function to symbolically homosexualize the man who fails to match the albur of a rival. The albur is relevant to my analysis of spectatorship and identification and to the star image of Pedro Infante because male homoeroticism, homosexuality, and homosociality are central components of Mexican national culture.
"Outing" the queer elements in Infante's classic buddy movies offers a model for constructing a history of queer visibility, most notably in the tensions, ambiguities, and contradictions embedded in filmic representations of male camaraderie and bonding. Infante is so intimately associated with mexicanidad that to proffer alternative readings of his films risks being misconstrued as a virtual attack on Mexico's biggest screen idol, the lover of the twentieth century. However, in using a queer lens to reveal the contradictions in Infante's performance of lively and mischievous working-class masculinities, I seek to enrich his cultural legacy by multiplying the range of interpretive possibilities available. In this light, Infante's buddy movies provide the occasion for examining how male homosocial and homoerotic relations fit into the specific constructions of masculinities in Mexican popular culture. They provide ways to understand how masculinist and misogynist agendas underpin the celebratory, and often homoerotically infused, relations between cuates (buddies). Infante's buddy movies provide a prime example of the textual and narrative strategies used to stage differing national virilities. I aspire to show that mexicanidad is not by any stretch of the imagination a monolithic and uncontested terrain.
These films also open a space for examining the visual and narrative design used in classic Mexican cinema to accommodate homoerotic expressions. Finally, I propose that the representation of male homosociality in Infante's buddy movies, along with other films from the classic period like Matilde Landeta's La negra Angustias (Black Angustias, 1949) and some of Cantinflas's early films, provide a foundation for mapping the emergence of queer representations in Mexico's rich and varied film history.
Chapter Three presents a reading of the macho's sexual Other, the joto, a key figure in a subgenre of the prostitution melodrama. Through a comparative analysis of the queen gay male stereotype in director Arturo Ripstein's "art" film El lugar sin límites (Hell Has No Limits/The Place Without Limits, 1977) and the commercial fichera picaresque comedies popular in the 1970s, I argue that homosexuality is a constitutive element in the construction of Mexican heterosexual masculinity. An important critical and commercial success, Ripstein's representation of the dilemmas of homoerotic desire stands as a cult classic, especially because of its sympathetic portrayal of the male transvestite brothel owner, La Manuela. The deadly kiss between La Manuela, decked out in her seductive red flamenco dress, and Pancho, her hypermasculine, muscle-bound suitor, stands as a provocative and ironic comment on Mexico's macho image.
Following the lead of visual media theorist Chon A. Noriega (1992), this chapter emphasizes the importance of recuperating image analysis because of the political stakes stereotypes carry for marginalized groups, notably racial and ethnic groups and women as well as gays and lesbians, all of whom share a history of discrimination. Image analysis underscores how stereotypes affect the perception of underprivileged groups (and/or those that occupy the position of the other) and reproduce narrowly defined and politically conservative ideologies about sociocultural differences. Unlike conventional image analysis, my interest is in moving beyond positive and negative stereotypes and addressing instead the broader discursive spaces opened by stereotypes when read outside a Manichean binary scheme that privileges the "uplifting" of marginalized groups through positive images over sustained critical interpretation.
An analysis of the celluloid gay male stereotype in the politically innocuous yet socioculturally rich fichera subgenre offers promising research directions for determining the place that homosexuality occupies in Mexico's cinematic imaginary. Because they provide a yardstick for measuring "real" (read: heterosexual) men, I argue that gay male figures and homosexual tropes are an indispensable component of the ficheras since they prove to be the medicine that cures the phallic impotency of the heterosexual male lead. The homosexual flirtations in which the impotent star partakes help restore authentic, virile, heterosexual masculinity while at the same time unveiling the same-sex sexual practices and desires that mark Mexico's sexual subcultures as uniquely queer. A double-edged weapon, the queen gay male stereotype is thus held in nervous tension and ambiguous esteem. The queen is simultaneously both an abject spectacle of homophobic, derisive laughter and subject of collective pleasure displayed to remind male audiences of the transgressive privileges that male heterosexuals enjoy in Mexico. The consistent inclusion of gay stereotypes also acknowledges and celebrates sexual and gender differences. Homosexuality is thus the other side of the coin shaping and complementing the social construction of Mexican male heterosexuality, the other side without which, I argue, Mexican masculinities would lose their cultural distinctiveness.
The fichera film frolics in gender and sexual transgressions within the "safe space" of comedic discourse in order to resolve the crisis of masculinity this subgenre plays out. Ripstein's film was made in the era when these brothel-cabaret comedies attained widespread popularity. This landmark film, however, shares none of the frivolity of the ficheras. Ripstein's cinematic adaptation of José Donoso's novella El lugar sin límites (1965) continues his obsession with marginalized loners and social outcasts. Through La Manuela, the borders between heterosexuality and homosexuality are crossed in giddy sadomasochistic cycles while also being strictly policed with deadly effect. Ripstein's arresting indictment of homophobia is directly linked to authoritarian patriarchal control of an entire range of psychic, sociocultural, political, and geographic spaces.
In both Chapter One and Chapter Three, I foreground ways that female prostitutes and gay males in Mexico share a history of subjection to human rights violations and sexual violence. Carlos Monsiváis incisively notes,
Dozens of prostitutes—just like homosexuals, the other minority group that is persecuted—are murdered throughout the country in cheap hotels; they are found strangled or stabbed often after being sadistically tortured by having cigarette stubs put out on their flesh, and showing signs of genital mutilation. Few pay attention or give much importance to these murders because in the last instance we find ourselves before the disappearance of non-entities, non-citizens since society views people who choose "vice" and the road to "perdition" as having relinquished all rights. (1980: 104)
Chapter Four examines changes in the revolutionary melodrama genre, most notably its demasculinization in favor of a feminization, and the broader implications for the symbolic meanings of mexicanidad in the 1990s. I study these changes in relation to transformations in State involvement in cinema during the early NAFTA era, taking the international box office success Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate, Alfonso Arau, 1991) as a principal case study. I argue that the reduced emphasis on the 1910 Revolution during the 1988-1994 presidential period signals a revised nationalism in accord with the State's neoliberal agenda. Close textual analysis of the movie's re-elaboration of the rhetoric of the Revolution in the context of free trade signals how the gutting of the social justice tenets central to post-1910 Mexico are symbolically represented in the only one of the few State-funded feature films set during the Revolution that was produced during Salinas de Gortari's presidency. The chapter takes film policy as its focus because during this period the Mexican film industry was radically restructured, inexorably affecting the future of Mexican cinema.
This case study on changes in film policy carried out by the State-funded Mexican Film Institute (Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía, IMCINE) outlines how the orchestrated "renaissance" in Mexican cinema during the early part of the 1990s was a central component of Salinas de Gortari's cultural diplomacy and political legitimation. Mexican films of the 1990s experienced an unprecedented surge in popularity at an international level in great part due to the Como agua para chocolate phenomenon both in the form of Laura Esquivel's novel, published in Mexico in 1989, and later in director Alfonso Arau's screen adaptation. While the leadership role taken by IMCINE during the Salinas de Gortari administration facilitated a greater exposure of Mexican cinema in Mexico and abroad, radical changes in State protectionist measures toward the film industry, such as the sale of the State-owned theater chain and the elimination of limits to movie ticket prices at the box office, also made Mexico's film market and film exhibition in particular more vulnerable to Hollywood films. Were it not for new generations of Mexican spectators who want to watch Mexican films that reflect their culture and social realties, Hollywood films would completely dominate all the multiplex cinemas.
In the Epilogue I survey the career of actor Gael García Bernal, symbol of a transnational, post-national, and diasporic new Mexican cinema, in light of the international impact of films in which he played leading roles: Amores perros (Love's a Bitch, Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000), Y tu mamá también (And Your Mama Too, Alfonso Cuarón, 2001), El crimen del padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro, Carlos Carrera, 2002), La mala educación (Bad Education, Pedro Almodóvar, 2004), and Los diarios de motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries, Walter Salles, 2004). In these and other films, García Bernal circulates both as a poster boy for the new Mexican cinema and as a symbolic cultural ambassador of an emerging transnational latinidad. García Bernal's on-screen performances of both hard and "sensitive" young men, coupled with his off-screen persona as "genuine," "down to earth," "natural," politically progressive, and cosmopolitan, parallel but also depart from the "new" models of post-revolutionary masculinities proffered by Pedro Infante in the 1940s.
“This book will be of interest to both scholars and general readers. It addresses the issue of masculinity by offering new insights into historical, cultural, and political issues related to gender and sexuality through the meticulous and enlightening commentary on the various films that are analyzed. The book is eminently readable.”
Zuzana Pick, Carleton University