As shown through the academy award nominations and wins of international films such as “Parasite (2019)” and “Roma (2018),” international media is not to be underestimated. The minds of these directors and the incredible performances of actors worldwide are recurrently understated and overshadowed by underlying false globalist perceptions that place an emphasis on American media and film. While some international movies have grown to larger stages and have increased in popularity within American media platforms, many are still vastly underrepresented despite being readily available to viewers through streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. Spanish language media from an array of countries present different perspectives and stories ranging from horror films inspired by true stories, historical dramas of love and loss to films speaking on the realities of Hispanics and Latinos both in and out of the United States. In order to highlight stories such as these, Netflix has various easily accessible Spanish language films for all viewers to enjoy.
“Ya No Estoy Aquí (2019)”
Released on Netflix in May of 2020, the Mexican film follows 17-year-old Ulises Sampiero (Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño) as he is forced to leave his home in Monterrey, Mexico due to a misunderstanding involving the murder of local gang members from Los Pelones by their rival gang, Los F. The film alternates back and forth between his new life in Queens and the one he left behind in Monterrey and is presented out of order with his arrival in Queens beginning the film. Prior to being forced to leave, Ulises would spend his days with the other members of his local street gang Los Terkos, a group of kids that were more into the Cholombiano subculture popular in Monterrey during the time rather than causing actual trouble. This is starkly contrasted with the violence and near-constant rejection he faces living on his own in Queens, excluding the treatment by his new budding friendship with 16-year-old Lin (Xueming Angelina Chen). Although the murder plotline is central to the film as a whole, it is the Cholombia subculture and its dancing and cumbias rebajadas that bring such color, warmth and life to the film. The Cholombiano subculture is far less popular today, as shown in the film when Ulises leaves and eventually returns to Monterrey to find several of the members of Los Terkos in other interests and even more violent gangs. However, during its height, the culture and community presented kids an option outside of violent street gangs which would lead to the loss of Ulises’ friends and family. It is an overall beautiful film and highlights the realities of many children living in high-crime neighborhoods despite having such passion and heart as Ulises.
Like many other international films, some of the most popular pieces are often from the horror genre. Spain’s own spin on “Conjuring (2013)” is brought to life in the film “Verónica,” loosely based on the true death of Estefanía Gutiérrez Lázaro. This film gained quite a bit of popularity when it was released onto Netflix, being considered to be one of the scariest films released by the streaming service to date. This new-age horror film follows 15-year-old Verónica (Sandra Escacena) over the span of three days after an attempt to contact her father using a Ouija board during a solar eclipse. During this encounter as her friends Diana (Carla Campra) and Rosa (Ángela Fabián) joke around, Verónica seems to go into a trance as the glass cup they had used as a planchette violently moves across the board, burning hot and eventually exploding as the other girls scream as Verónica’s blood falls onto the board. Verónica lays paralyzed on the floor and whispers something unknown to the viewer in Rosa’s ear, that she will die on June 15, just two days away. Throughout those two days, Verónica is haunted by a black tall figure who terrorizes her and her siblings, Lucía (Bruna González), Irene (Claudia Placer) and Antoñito (Iván Chaverro). She desperately tries to protect her home from a demon pretending to be her dead father, yet no one seems to believe the horror she is facing. The film is well executed as none of the moments of horror are overdone or exaggerated. One scene in particular that encapsulates the great execution of the film is the morning of Verónica’s death in which Lucía and Irene come into her room screaming that they are hungry and begin to rip Verónica’s flesh right off her body. There is something so terrifying about these innocent children turning to such evil actions and laughing as they do so, which demonstrates the well-made horror that is “Verónica.”
“El Baile De Los 41 (2020)”
Just recently released onto the platform, this Mexican film is a dramatization of the event of the same name that has left a drastic effect on Mexican culture to this day. Set in the early 1900s under the Porfirio Díaz administration, the film highlights the role of Ignacio De la Torre (Alfonso Herrera), a Mexican congressman who has married Presidente Porfirio Díaz’s (Fernando Becerril) daughter Amada Díaz (Mitzi Mabel Cadena). Although being recently married, it is revealed early on in the film that Ignacio is gay, and he is simply using Amada as a beard and a political pawn to aid in the advancement of his political career in becoming the governor of Mexico City. While working, Ignacio encounters Evaristo Rivas (Emiliano Zurita), the man who he will fall in love with. Filled with various romantic and emotional scenes portraying the pair as they involve themselves with El Club de los 42, a secret organization of 42 gay men who take refuge from their normal lives within the comfort of the other men and the relationships they form with them. The film offers a beautiful portrayal of a passionate and loving relationship between two men, something seldom done in Spanish-language media. The climax of the film occurs upon their capture in which Ignacio is pardoned and removed from the list of arrestees by President Porfirio Díaz in order to avoid a scandal while the remaining 41 men are publicly shamed, beaten and sent away to labor camps. There are moments in the film that are difficult to watch; however, it is a well-done recounting of the events that led to the negative connotations to the number 41 in Mexican culture. Those who grew up in the country know that to even say the number 41 is seen as an insult. Police officers refuse to take a badge with said number and army battalions are never under number 41. This film sheds light on the continuous and rampant homophobia in Mexico. “El Baile de los 41” is a great story for viewers to see and absorb as its real-life consequences continue to wage on.
“La Dictadura Perfecta (2014)”
Although the longest of the mentioned films, “La Dictadura Perfecta” is a film that many will enjoy. It is a controversial political satire directed by Luis Estrada that is loosely based on the 2012 Televisa controversy in which the media megacorporation was accused of highly favoring the candidate from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), former Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto. There are several comedic elements to the film as characters that are meant to represent Mexican political figures are rather exaggerated; however, the core of the film stands in the ongoing and clear corruption in Mexican media and politics. In the film, the president makes a racist comment while speaking to the ambassador of the U.S., a media failure that is covered under a presidential mandated release of footage of Gov. Carmelo Vargas (Damián Alcázar) receiving funds from narcotraficantes. Due to this release, Vargas goes to the media company Television Mexicana — meant to be Televisa — and strikes a political image clean up deal in which the media company’s new anchor Carlos Rojo (Alfonso Herrera) agrees to return to his state to clear up his image. Vargas is not one to keep his enemies walking around freely or even alive, a fact that makes Rojo’s job nearly impossible. This is remedied as Vargas stages a kidnapping of two twin girls, Ana and Elena Garza (Kiara and Karol Coussirat) in order to remove attention away from his narco scandal. The film follows Rojas and Ricardo Díaz (Osvaldo Benavides), partners in reporting, as they attempt to follow the story of the Garza family while keeping Vargas’ political career and image in line. It is a film full of satire, murder and corruption, yet it manages to be comedic as one cannot avoid the uncanny nature between Vargas and Peña Nieto, who he is alleged to be. The best comedy often comes from reality, a reality that is only highlighted in “La Dictadura Perfecta.”
This is not a complete nor exhaustive list of the Spanish-language movies that Netflix has in its rolodex. As aforementioned, they are each telling their own stories — some having to do with everyday struggles for marginalized communities such as the case of Ulises and Ignacio to the SNL-like satire of the corruption of Vargas. Netflix carries many more Spanish-language films and shows, such as the popular “La Casa de Papel (2017),” “Durante la Tormenta (2018)” and “Selena: The Series (2020-2021).” For those looking for more, a quick search of “Spanish-language movies and TV” will bring viewers to a new world of media.
Carisa DeSantos is an Entertainment Intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.