11 Movies That Celebrate Hispanic Heritage
Hispanic Heritage Month, observed from September 15-October 15 every year, is an opportunity to celebrate Hispanic people and their contributions in the U.S. and throughout the world. While Hispanic filmmaking and telenovelas capture the hearts of millions, Hispanic people are historically underrepresented, both on the screen and behind the camera.
Of the total U.S. population, about 19% is Hispanic, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center report. But a 2021 study from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that across a 13-year time frame of major motion pictures, only 5% of characters depicted were Hispanic or Latino/a. More troubling, the study found that only 2.2% of leads or co-leads were Hispanic or Latino/a.
While there's an urgent need for more representation, the following 11 movies do a great job of showcasing Hispanic and Latino/a characters. Check out these flicks during Hispanic Heritage Month and celebrate Hispanic actors and culture.
Released in theaters on August 18, “Blue Beetle” is a new DC superhero release in which Jaime Reyes, played by Xolo Maridueña, suddenly finds himself in possession of an alien biotechnology called the Scarab. Jaime is bestowed with a suit of armor that's capable of extraordinary and unpredictable powers, forever changing his destiny as he becomes the superhero Blue Beetle.
Featuring both a Hispanic star and a Hispanic director, Angel Manuel Soto, it's the perfect watch for Hispanic Heritage Month.
Stand and Deliver
This 1988 classic featuring award-winning Latino/a actors is based on the true story of Bolivian-American high school mathematics teacher, Jaime Escalante. Edward James Olmos delivers a powerful performance as a teacher who captured students' hearts while teaching them calculus and saving his high school's accreditation — he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for the role.
While the story itself is touching, the film transcends specifics to offer valuable lessons about overcoming obstacles and striving for excellence in difficult situations.
Like Water for Chocolate
In the award-winning 1992 Mexican film, the young and beautiful Tita, portrayed by Lumi Cavazos, is forbidden from marrying her true love, Pedro (Marco Leonardi). As a result, Pedro weds Tita's older sister, Rosaura, though he still loves Tita.
The film explores the unseen consequences of trying to juggle tradition, obligation, and love as Tita's overwhelming emotions begin to surface through her cooking. “Like Water for Chocolate” is a brilliant classic for any Hispanic Heritage Month movie night that explores the limits and endurance of love.
The 2015 film “Viva” is set in Cuba against the spectacular backdrop of modern Havana. The movie follows a young hairdresser named Jesus who moonlights as a drag performer as he grapples with family expectations while trying to be true to himself and his sexuality.
As Jesus, played by Héctor Medina, progresses from fixing drag queens' wigs to discovering his own talent as a performer, the clashes with his estranged father intensify. “Viva” offers viewers a glimpse into life in modern Cuba and explores the universal theme of challenging family expectations.
The 1983 movie “El Norte” begins with calamity when a Mayan Indian community is violently destroyed by the Guatemalan army after organizing a labor union to improve living conditions.
The movie then follows teenage siblings Rosa and Enrique as they travel north to begin a new life in the U.S.
The movie introduces various characters as the siblings trek north through Mexico toward greater opportunity and live as undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles. “El Norte” is a heartbreaking portrayal of what drives immigrants to leave home and the trials they face along the way.
Real Women Have Curves
In this 2002 film, a young America Ferrera makes her debut role as Ana Garcia, a young girl graduating from high school. Ana has dreams of a bright and fulfilling future.
However, her overbearing mother, Carmen, keeps her from trying to attain those goals by pushing her to help keep their family business afloat and get married. The film's themes of feminism, body positivity, and a strong Latino/a family will draw you in from start to finish.
Salma Hayek's realistic portrayal of the legendary surrealist artist Frida Kahlo earned her an Oscar nomination in 2002. The biographical film covers Kahlo's life, starting from her unfortunate accident at 18 that gave her a lifetime of pain to her rise in notoriety for her unorthodox yet distinctive paintings.
Frida's fiery marriage with legendary Mexican artist Diego Rivera is also at the forefront of the film. The movie's themes match Frida's passionate and sorrowful paintings, leaving your eyes glued to the screen.
This adorable animated musical will have you singing at the top of your lungs. “Coco” follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel, who gets trapped in the underworld on Dia de los Muertos and must find his way home.
There, he meets his musician great-great-grandfather, Ernesto, who helps him return to his living family and reinforces his love of guitar. “Coco” took home two Oscars in 2018.
Y Tu Mamá También
In this new-wave coming-of-age film, two teenage best friends, Julio and Tenoch, embark on a spontaneous road trip with a 20-something-year-old woman named Luisa. A take on the typical American roadie movie, the early 2000s film pays homage to the beautiful Mexican landscape.
A then-up-and-coming Latino actor Diego Luna delivers a stunning performance in this film about self and sexual discovery. The movie is available with English subtitles.
Bajo la Misma Luna/Under the Same Moon
In this touching film, a single young mother named Rosario crosses the U.S./Mexico border, leaving behind her young son Carlitos. After his grandmother passes away, Carlitos escapes his greedy aunt and uncle, who want custody of him so they can take the money Rosario sends him every month.
Carlitos starts his own journey to find his mother by dangerously crossing over into the U.S. The movie explores themes of love and determination, highlighting key tenets of Mexican culture.
A Hispanic Heritage Month Movie list isn't complete without “Selena.” The groundbreaking movie from 1997 stars a young Jennifer Lopez in the titular role of the Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla Perez. Beloved Latino veteran actor Edward James Olmos, who was mentioned previously in this list for his role in “Stand and Deliver,” adds his magic touch as Selena's father, Abraham.
Watching this movie, you'll learn about Selena's legendary rise to fame, her impromptu and passionate marriage to Chris Perez, and how a tragic betrayal led to her untimely death.