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La India María

La India María
Mexploitation and the Films of María Elena Velasco

Drawing on extensive interviews with the late actress and other film industry professionals, this book surveys the work of performer, director, and producer María Elena Velasco and her central place in Mexploitation cinema.

January 2018
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232 pages | 6 x 9 | 87 b&w photos |

La India María—a humble and stubborn indigenous Mexican woman—is one of the most popular characters of the Mexican stage, television, and film. Created and portrayed by María Elena Velasco, La India María has delighted audiences since the late 1960s with slapstick humor that slyly critiques discrimination and the powerful. At the same time, however, many critics have derided the iconic figure as a racist depiction of a negative stereotype and dismissed the India María films as exploitation cinema unworthy of serious attention. By contrast, La India María builds a convincing case for María Elena Velasco as an artist whose work as a director and producer—rare for women in Mexican cinema—has been widely and unjustly overlooked.

Drawing on extensive interviews with Velasco, her family, and film industry professionals, as well as on archival research, Seraina Rohrer offers the first full account of Velasco’s life; her portrayal of La India María in vaudeville, television, and sixteen feature film comedies, including Ni de aquí, ni de allá [Neither here, nor there]; and her controversial reception in Mexico and the United States. Rohrer traces the films’ financing, production, and distribution, as well as censorship practices of the period, and compares them to other Mexploitation films produced at the same time. Adding a new chapter to the history of a much-understudied period of Mexican cinema commonly referred to as “la crisis,” this pioneering research enriches our appreciation of Mexploitation films.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. La India María: From Vaudeville to the Big Screen
  • 2. Mexploitation
  • 3. Box-Office Moneymakers and Small-Screen Hits
  • 4. Hated by Critics, Loved by the People
  • 5. Crossing Borders: India María’s Diaspora
  • Epilogue: India María and Mexploitation Today
  • Overview of India María Films
  • Filmography
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Zürich, Switzerland

Rohrer heads the Solothurn Film Festival, one of Switzerland’s leading cultural events. She holds a PhD in film studies from the University of Zurich and has been a visiting scholar at the Chicano Studies Research Center of UCLA, where she conducted her research for this book.


“Rohrer has produced a genuinely ground-breaking account of popular Mexican cinema through the prism of this specific director-producer-star.”
The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“Rohrer charts the rise of [María Elena] Velasco from vaudeville performer to comedic icon...The film historical interventions of the project are the book’s strength, but Rohrer’s project of recovery also discusses the narratives of Velasco’s films in relation to Mexploitation tropes and genres in order to identify the different symbolic functions of her India María character.”
Revista de Esudios Hispánicos

“An excellent contribution that fills a gap in studies of Mexican cinema, border cinema, B-movies, and the analysis of women in the Mexican film industry. This book is a fascinating history of the era of Velasco’s films and their impact in Mexico, the United States, and in digital distribution.”
Camilla Fojas, University of Virginia, author of Border Bandits: Hollywood on the Southern Frontier and Islands of Empire: Pop Culture and U.S. Power

“An immensely readable account of María Elena Velasco, the creator of the much-loved La India María character and films. Based on historical and archival research, it represents an insightful and important contribution to Mexican cinema, exploitation cinema, and cultural studies and is a must-read for scholars and students of these fields.”
Dolores Tierney, Senior Lecturer in Film, University of Sussex, United Kingdom


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