Film

From Boycotts to Banda: 20 Latino PBS Movies You Can Stream for Free During Hispanic Heritage Month

Well folks, it’s September again, which means a whole year has passed since we last celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month. A year that brought us cultural milestones like Jane the Virgin, Chile campeón, and Donald Trump – demonstrative evidence that in life you win some, and you lose some. So while we’ll let white America take Hispanic Heritage Month as an opportunity to reflect on the profound impact Latinos have had on American culture, from Jordi Farragut up through Sonia Sotomayor, it’s also a good opportunity for us to celebrate the richness and diversity of our own experience.

How, you might ask? Naturally there are at least a thousand ways we can do just that, but here we decided to narrow that list down to 20: that is, 20 Latino films from PBS that you can stream for free online. From Latino Public Broadcasting to Independent Lens and P.O.V., we already know PBS has shown a deep commitment to Latino stories over the years, which has resulted in a veritable treasure trove of world-class documentaries. But you may not have known that the folks at PBS have been kind enough to make a large part of this audiovisual fortune available for free online including their 4-hour epic doc on Latin music.

From undocumented college hopefuls, to recovering drug addicts giving high school a second shot, teen moms struggling with tough decisions, and families torn apart by deportation, these are stories that get to the heart of our struggles, hopes, and achievements. And now’s as good a time as any to heat up the popcorn, fry up some plátanos, and remember that through the good and bad, it’s great to be Latino.

1

Reportero

Bernardo Ruiz

Stream Reportero here.

Reportero follows Sergio Haro, a veteran photojournalist for Zeta, a Tijuana-based weekly newspaper. Even in the face of constant death threats, Zeta’s reporters refuse to censor themselves and routinely publish the names and photos of narco traffickers and corrupt politicians. At the heart of film is Haro’s daily life as a journalist. He sometimes questions himself — the danger, the threats to his life — is journalism really worth dying for? His devotion to his craft is unshakeable. This chilling documentary succeeds at painting a powerful portrait of a man committed to social justice and exposing the truth, no matter the cost.

Synopsis By: Vanessa Erazo
Mexico, United States
Documentary
Bernardo Ruiz
Bernardo Ruiz, Patricia Benabe
2012
55

2

Ruben Salazar: Man In the Middle

Phillip Rodriguez

Stream Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle here.

This documentary examines the life and death of pioneering Mexican-American journalist Ruben Salazar. At the heart of the story is his transformation from a mainstream, establishment Los Angeles Times reporter to a supporter and primary chronicler of the radical Chicano movement of the late 1960s. Killed by a law enforcement officer in 1970, Salazar became a martyr to the Latino community.

Synopsis By: Nick MacWilliam
United States
Documentary
Jennifer Craig Kobzik, Phillip Rodriguez
2014
53

3

Irma

Charles Fairbanks

Stream Irma here.

POV presents a portrait of Irma Gonzalez, the former world champion of women’s professional wrestling. Filmed in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl — a notorious district of Mexico City — Irma contradicts everything we have come to expect from stories reported from Mexico. Featuring music written and performed by Ms. Gonzalez, her story surges with love and deceit, masculine strength, feminine charms, and humor.

Mexico, United States
Short Film, Documentary
Charles Fairbanks
2010
12

4

El reloj

Yolanda Cruz

Stream El reloj here.

Like every Sunday morning, a Zapotec grandfather goes to the city of Oaxaca to visit his granddaughter for the day. Their ritual consists of attending mass and window shopping throughout the city. On this particular Sunday, their routine is disrupted when they pass by a stand selling watches.

Synopsis By: Andrew S. Vargas

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqWZrW_kZIk

Mexico, United States
Short Film, Drama
Yolanda Cruz
2013
6

5

El doctor

Heather de Michele

Stream El doctor here.

In an Arizona Home Depot parking lot, a married couple — Andrew and Jen — hires undocumented day laborer Carlos and his buddy to repair their deck. As Carlos washes up in the family’s bathroom, 7-year-old Jonah interrupts him. A tragedy of errors puts Carlos’ and Andrew’s lives at risk, leaving everyone caught between their individual consciences and the law.

Synopsis By: Andrew S. Vargas

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_gg3mtQLjA

United States
Short Film, Drama
Jude Roth
Jude Roth
2013
11

6

You’re Dead to Me

Wu Tsang

Stream You’re Dead to Me here.

In suburban Inglewood, California, Andrea — a grieving Chicana mother — confronts an unwanted family member before her Día de Muertos celebration. By night’s end, death offers her a choice that she couldn’t make in life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Di3ymkVqEFM

United States
Drama
Adelina Anthony
Melissa Haizlip
2013
13

7

Border Bedazzlers

Grace Jackson

Stream Border Bedazzlers here.

Hoping to heal the divide between Mexico and the United States, an inspired group of artists turn the border wall into a giant canvas.

Synopsis By: Remezcla Estaff

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecy91i8HXMs

United States
Short Film, Documentary
2014
4

8

Frontera! Revolt and Rebellion on the Rio Grande

John Jota Leaños

Stream Frontera! Revolt and Rebellion on the Río Grande here.

An animated history lesson looking at northern Mexico during the colonial era, this is a garish and bloody account of repression and resistance under Spanish rule. The enslavement, exploitation, and massacre of indigenous peoples resulted in a series of uprisings against the conquistadores, whose voracious appetite for wealth and power motivated their campaign of terror against the people. The film highlights how spiritual beliefs and indigenous culture were fundamental to the struggle and continue to be relevant to modern-day Latinos.

Synopsis By: Nick MacWilliam

https://vimeo.com/105574854

United States
Animation, Short Film
2014
19

9

Los graduados

Bernardo Ruiz

Stream Los graduados here.

This two-part special examines the many roots of the Latino dropout crisis through the eyes of six inspiring young students who are part of an ongoing effort to increase graduation rates for a growing Latino population.

United States
Documentary
Bernardo Ruiz
Pamela Aguilar, Katia Maguire
2013
110

10

Sin País

Theo Rigby

Stream Sin País here.

Nearly twenty years ago, Sam and Elida Mejia escaped Guatemala during a violent civil war and brought their one-year-old son to California. They worked hard, raised a family, and lived the American dream. Two years ago, immigration agents stormed the Mejias’ house and they have been fighting to stay in the U.S. ever since. Sin País begins two weeks before Sam and Elida are deported and the family is ripped apart. With intimate access and striking imagery, this short film explores the complexities of the Mejias’ new reality of a separated family – parents without their children, and children without their parents.

United States
Short Film, Documentary
2010
20

11

Baby Mama High

Heather Ross

Stream Baby Mama High here.

It’s the last few weeks of high school for Yessenia, a soft-spoken senior with two small daughters and a boyfriend who’d rather she stay at home than go to school. Yessenia is forced to choose: stand up for herself and her daughters, or give in to expectation.

United States
Short Film, Documentary
Heather Ross
Heather Ross
2012
21

12

Skipping Up

Jim Mendiola

Stream Skipping Up here.

Skipping Up follows a group of eighth graders in San Antonio as they finish their year in the Middle School Partners Program, a successful dropout-prevention project that has generated national interest as a model for schools with significant Latino populations.

United States
Short Film, Documentary
Faith Radle
2013
16

13

I Really Want to Make It

Raymond Telles

Stream I Really Want to Make It here.

Sharon Montano of Oakland decides to go back to school at age 20 after several years of substance abuse and other struggles. When she discovers Civicorps Academy, she finally gets another shot at a high school diploma — and a future.

United States
Short Film, Documentary
Angela Reginato
2013
16

14

Immigrant High

Xochitl Dorsey

Stream Immigrant High here.

Immigrant teens face discrimination, language barriers, unfamiliar cultural traditions — all while dealing with the changes all teens struggle with. Many give up on school. Immigrant High takes us into the halls of Pan American International High School in Queens, New York, a school that aims to give its Latino students a place to belong and excel.

United States
Short Film, Documentary
2048
18

15

Can’t Hold Me Back

Madeleine Bair, Betty Bastidas

Stream Can’t Hold Me Back here.

Can’t Hold Me Back follows Detroit teen Fernando Parraz as he overcomes a mountain of roadblocks to become the first in his family to earn a high school diploma — his ticket out of the struggles of inner-city poverty and violence. He finds support from an unlikely figure: his father, a former gangster who has suffered the costs of his own mistakes.

United States
Short Film, Documentary
Madeleine Bair
Betty Bastidas, Madeleine Bair
2011
17

16

New American Girls

Mitchell Teplitsky, Betty Bastidas

Stream New American Girls here.

What is it like to grow up in a country that fails to recognize your status or citizenship, while classing you as “illegal,” in spite of your integration at all levels of culture and society? In this documentary series, three teenage girls (of Mexican, Peruvian, and Indian descent) brought to the U.S. by their parents at a young age describe their experiences as undocumented residents who feel American. Having excelled at school, the girls are subsequently unable to go to college, get jobs, or register in a system that impedes their sense of identity and damages their prospects. The situation has led to a national campaign for reform and state recognition of young people’s rights.

Synopsis By: Nick MacWilliam

https://vimeo.com/105578975

United States
Documentary Series, Documentary
2014

17

Latino Americans

David Belton, Sonia Fritz

Stream The Latino Americans here.

Latino Americans is a landmark six-hour documentary featuring interviews with nearly 100 Latinos and more than 500 years of history. It was the first major documentary series for television to chronicle the rich and varied history and experiences of Latinos, who have helped shape North America over the last 500-plus years and have become, with more than 50 million people, the largest minority group in the U.S.

Synopsis By: Nick MacWilliam
United States
Documentary Series, Documentary
Adriana Bosch, Nina Alvarez, Daniel McCabe, Cathleen O'Connell, Ray Telles, John Valadez
2013
360

18

Black in Latin America

Ricardo Pollack, Ilana Trachtman

Stream Black in Latin America here.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a Harvard professor, an expert in African and African-American history, and the host of Black in Latin America. Gates has taken his knowledge of African history and racial dynamics in the U.S. and focused his attention on the rest of the Americas in this four-part PBS documentary series. He uncovers the hidden history that most Americans, African-Americans, and even Latinos don’t know about. In the series, Gates teaches us that that more than 11 million africanos were taken to Latin America as slaves. That is 25 times the number sent to the United States. He visits Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. He discovers the similarities in religion, food, and music – tracing their common origin to Africa.

Synopsis By: Vanessa Erazo
United States
Documentary Series, Documentary
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
2011
222

19

Latin Music USA

Daniel McCabe

Stream Latin Music USA here.

Thanks to PBS, we get the history of Latin music in the United States condensed into an easy-to-watch four hours. The documentary shows us the birth of boogaloo, jazz’s influence on Santana and rock ‘n’ roll, the rise and fall of Fania Records’ salsa revolution, the wave of Chicano music starting in the 60s, and artists like Selena, Linda Ronstadt, Ricky Martin, Ritchie Valens, Gloria Estefan, Shakira, and so much more. Even for those who grew up listening this music in their homes from an early age, Latin Music USA shows us just how big an influence our heritage has had on the history of American music.

Synopsis By: Stefa Alarcon
United States
Documentary Series, Documentary
2009
240

20

America by the Numbers

Charlotte Mangin, Billy Shebar, Marty Spanninger, Ross Tuttle, Leslie Asako Gladsjo, Pamela Aguilar, Xochitl Dorsey

Stream America by the Numbers here.

Bringing together her more than 25 years of experience as a journalist for networks like CNN, PBS, and CBS, María Hinojosa is hosting a weekly news program. In her own words, the new show America by the Numbers covers, “The most phenomenally deep demographic change that our country has ever experienced.” What kind of demographic change? If you’ve been watching mainstream media, then maybe you haven’t heard the news. “We are going to be a majority non-white country in a matter of decades,” Hinojosa explains. This is exactly why she created her company, Futuro Media Group, in the first place: to tell stories that the big networks are ignoring – stories that can no longer be ignored.

Synopsis By: Vanessa Erazo

https://vimeo.com/103263583

United States
Documentary Series, Documentary
María Hinojosa, Charlotte Mangin
2014
286