There are many statistics we could deploy here to remind you of the systemic ways female directors in general and Latina filmmakers in particular are undervalued and under-appreciated around the world. But for Women’s History Month, we figured it’d be more productive to celebrate instead the work of talented Latinas around the globe who are thriving with passionate work that’s setting the standard for film industries all over.
In that spirit we’ve compiled a list of films from the past two decades directed by Latina filmmakers that you can stream this month. Whether you’re looking for a chick flick about getting over a guy, a gripping doc about Brazil’s current political crisis, or a sweet coming of age tale starring America Ferrera, Latina directors have you covered. Take a look at our short list below and find the time to rewatch an old fave or discover a brand new one.
Available to stream on Amazon Prime.
This long-awaited adaptation of Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 classic of Latin American modernism transports us to a remote corner of 18th-century South America, where a servant of the Spanish crown slowly loses his grip on reality. Written and directed by Lucrecia Martel, the Argentine auteur behind The Holy Girl and The Headless Woman, Zama is that rarest of creative feats: a perfect coupling of literary source material and cinematic sensibility. Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) leads a suspended existence as a sort of upper-tier government clerk in what is now Paraguay. He has not seen his wife and children in years. His relationships with his fellow Europeans are strained due to competition and confusion, while his interactions with the settlement’s Black and Indigenous servants are addled by desire and hostility. Zama’s entire sense of purpose is tied up in the promise that he will soon be delivered to his rightful position in faraway Buenos Aires, but the waiting seems endless. As time passes, Zama’s paranoia and capacity for violence burgeons — while his circumstances become only more precarious.
Que horas ela volta?
Regina Casé is impressive in the role of a live-in maid, Val, who works for a wealthy family in São Paulo. The arrival of Val’s daughter, whom she has not seen for years, creates a revolution in the household. She calls the boss Bárbara, instead of Dona Bárbara, while both the husband and son fall in love with her. “You’re born knowing what you can and cannot do,” Val reprimands her daughter. She confronts her by putting into question her servitude. The film raises class issues and examines generational gaps. Director Anna Muylaert, who has worked as a film critic and reporter, drafted a thoughtful script and put care into directing the actors, with a big payoff. Que horas ela volta? (The Second Mother) was Brazil’s submission for the 88th Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
Heartbreaks are enough to upend an entire life. When Maria (Gisela Ponce de León) gets ceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, Matias (Andrés Salas), she feels as if she could die. With a seemingly dead-end job as a copywriter in an ad agency in Lima, Maria soon takes friends’ advice and decides to channel her hurt and resilience into the kind of writing she’s always dreamed of producing. That’s how “Soltera Codiciada,” Maria’s blog, is born. As she writes out her every thought, Maria soon finds her life turning around in this touching comedy about learning to love yourself and finding strength in one’s friends.
Bellas de Noche
In the 1970s and 1980s, Mexico’s burlesque culture was at its disco-era heyday. The clubs were filled with beautiful women who razzled and dazzled. Decades later, Beauties of the Night introduces us to five of those former showgirls who recount their lives in the spotlight and give us a glimpse of what they’re up to nowadays. Shot over eight years, María José Cuevas’s documentary is a thrilling look at these exotic dancers who continue to search for the love and adoration they got on stage all those years ago.
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four
Deborah S. Esquenazi is here telling the story of Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez—four Latina lesbians who in 1994 were tried and convicted of a heinous assault on two young girls in a court case that was infused with homophobic prejudice and the Satanic Panic sweeping the nation at that time. Southwest of Salem is a fascinating true crime story that puts the trial of the San Antonio Four in context of their ongoing search for exoneration.
Real Women Have Curves
Available to stream on HBO Now.
Based on Josefina López’s play by the same name, Patricia Cardoso’s Real Women Have Curves was an instant-classic when it premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. Set in East L.A., the film is centered around Ana García (America Ferrera), a young woman who’s torn between her ambitions and the plan her family (especially her strong-willed mother, played by Lupe Ontiveros) has laid out for her: to marry and provide grandchildren. Working alongside her sister, sneaking away to meet with her high school sweetheart, and later needing to confront her parents about her desire to move to New York City for school, Ana offers a quintessential look at the struggles of first-generation Latino immigrants.
Nico is a famous actor in Argentina, but in New York, nobody takes notice. After giving up a successful career in his home country for a chance to make it in the Big Apple, he needs to juggle bartending, babysitting and odd jobs to keep himself afloat. Starting from square one is hard in the city of dreams. With each role Nico takes on, he puts on a new persona in order to fit in. He performs the ideal bartender, the up-and-coming actor, the friend, the father figure. But when old friends from Buenos Aires come to visit, he needs to juggle the image of his old life with the reality of the struggling actor in New York City. In a moving depiction of this vibrant city, director Julia Solomonoff’s touching feature presents a portrait of immigrant solitude. Nico faces the difficulty of finding not only a home, but himself amidst the indifferent metropolis. Nobody’s Watching questions how we adjust when we lose our audience.
Everybody Loves Somebody
Available to stream on Pantaya.
How to Get Away with Murder star Karla Souza continues her hot streak on the big screen with Everybody Loves Somebody. She plays Clara Barron, a successful OB-GYN living and working in Los Angeles. In true rom-com mode, Clara asks a co-worker to pose as her boyfriend as she heads to a family wedding in Mexico, a choice that may finally push her to let someone into her love life again. Of course, she couldn’t have anticipated that her ex-boyfriend whom she hasn’t seen in a decade would show up unannounced, derailing what would have been a perfect weekend with her family. Helped along by her loving (and hilarious) family, Clara will have to choose between going back to the past or open her heart to new and unexpected possibilities.
The Edge of Democracy
Once a nation crippled by a military dictatorship, Brazil found its democratic footing in 1985 and then, in 2002, elected a hugely popular political disrupter: steel-worker-turned-activist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Under his watch, 20 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty, and his country rose to international prominence. In 2010, Lula passed the presidential baton to his prodigy, a fierce female guerrilla named Dilma Rousseff. But beneath their sunny legacy, rumblings of populist rage and institutional corruption seeped into the mainstream – much of it abetted by a partisan judge who fed news outlets sensational, deeply flawed corruption reports that targeted Lula, Dilma and anyone else who refused to scratch the backs of powerful politicians and special interest groups. With remarkably intimate access, The Edge of Democracy follows Brazil’s embattled leaders as they grapple with a scandal born out of their country’s fascist past and inflamed by a furious and ideologically divided nation.
Filmed on the Mar de Plata coastline, XXY shows an unpredictably wild but gorgeous seaside where Alex’s father works to protect and rescue sea turtles endangered by the area’s fishing industry. Kraken seems to feel his primary role is protector especially when it comes to his child Alex, a secretive and aggressive wild child who provokes Álvaro another young teen who has come to visit along with his family but both kids, each feeling themselves misfits, end up developing an intense connection. Eventually we learn that Alex, an intersex child, is beginning to go through puberty and is grappling with her (so far she’s been raised as a girl) sexuality. Fed up with hormone pills and forcing her complex body into a strictly female form. Alex, or at least her mother, is looking into whether Alex will undergo gender reassignment surgery. Then they discover that the head of the family staying with them is a renowned plastic surgeon specializing in sex changes. Fluid camera work filled with shots of window frames, mirrors, and reflections emphasizes the story’s doubling, narrowness of view, and constant thinking about fixed ideas and viewpoints of themselves, of others, and of how others might perceive them.
El lugar más pequeño
Available to stream on Vimeo.
Highlighting the resilience of the human spirit, El Salvador-born filmmaker, Tatiana Huezo, explores the aftermath of the devastating civil war in the Central American country through the experiences of five families that returned to their village, Cinquera, over a decade after its destruction. Huezo’s documentary chronicles their journey and traces a harrowing history they’re only now able to articulate. Their testimonies are simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting. Despite the tragedy, the survivors choose to rebuild and move forward, while never forgetting those who died in the conflict. Memory is their most powerful weapon for a peaceful future and El lugar más pequeño is proof positive of the way storytelling can be both a way to look back and to move forward.
Todo lo demás
How do you set about discovering yourself at sixty-three? This is the question that documentarian Natalia Almada asks us in her first fiction film. With a powerful central performance by Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza, Todo lo demás follows Doña Flor, who mourns the death of her cat as she tries to take solace in the one daily activity that’s always soothed her: swimming. Examining this one seemingly invisible life (at least, that’s how Doña Flor feels at her job as a government clerk,) Almada shows deep empathy for her main character, etching an unforgettable poetic portrait of one women finding herself anew.
Mosquita y Mari
Featuring intimate camera angles and a lilting soundtrack to make US indie filmmakers swoon, Mosquita y Mari is the low-key and personal tale of two young Latinas, Yolanda and Mari, whose burgeoning affection develops under the domineering glare of family tradition. What begins as a friendship energised by the rebellious spirit of adolescence soon becomes something deeper as the girls’ mutual journey allows both to discover their true self. If that sounds corny, the film is anything but, with supreme performances from the two leads. The overriding message is one of positivity and unity, where the decisions we make are ours and ours alone. Not that that stops everyone else from sticking their beak in where it’s unwanted.
De Jueves a Domingo
Available to stream on Fandor.
A family road trip frames Dominga Sotomayor’s De Jueves a Domingo (Thursday Til Sunday). But the journey to the beach Ana and Fernando had promised their two kids, Lucía and Manuel, slowly becomes a long goodbye. For these parents had already decided to break up but couldn’t deny their children their long-awaited beach trip. In between the claustrophobic feel of the car and the long, lonely roads they travel through, this is a portrait of a family slowly breaking down and apart.
Available to stream on Shudder.
Hailed by Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro as one of the best Mexican films in recent years, Issa Lopez’s dark fantasy is a heartfelt genre film that surpasses all expectations. Its protagonist, 10-year-old Estrella, has three wishes. The first one is for her missing mother to return. Her wish is granted, but her mother is dead and her ghost follows her everywhere. Terrified, Estrella tries to escape by joining a gang of orphan children, but she quickly discovers that in the real world, ghosts are never truly left behind, and that only the bravest survive the brutality and violence that surround her.
Junior is a young boy whose outward appearance just doesn’t match up with what he feels inside. He fervently hopes for “pelo bueno” instead of “pelo malo”– for him this means elusively straight, free flowing locks that he can only achieve by applying enormous amounts of effort and sometimes oil or mayonnaise to his naturally curly, kinky hair. As the darker-skinned older boy of his mother’s two children, it’s not just his more African features but also his more effeminate ways that make him the brunt of her anger. However, his grandmother understands and even encourages young Junior’s differences. She helps him blow out his hair and encourages him to sing and dance along to saucy 60s tunes.
Dólares de arena
The Dominican feature Dólares de arena (Sand Dollars), by husband-wife directing duo Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, features none other than Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie and a brilliant actress in her own right) as an elderly French tourist who falls in love with a young Dominican woman and makes plans to move her back to France. Not your typical story of tropical romance told through the eyes of a white foreigner, this film is equally interested in exploring the predicament of the young Dominican woman, played by Yanet Mojica, and the shady power dynamics that may be at work.
Pájaros de verano
Available to stream on HBO Now.
Set in Colombia in the 1970s, right when the demand for marijuana is set to explode, Ciro Guerra’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent ditches the black and white aesthetic of his previous film for the colorful world of the Guajira desert. Yet again, though, he’s set his sights (alongside co-director and producer Cristina Gallego) on a story about the way Colombian history intersects with its indigenous population. Birds of Passage follows an Wayuu indigenous family who takes a leading role in the budding new drug trade, and discovers the perks of wealth and power, but with a violent and tragic downside.
La misma luna
Available to stream on YouTube.
Carlitos is a nine-year-old boy living in the Mexican countryside with his grandmother and oppressive aunt and uncle. Four years prior, his mother Rosario left to seek work in the United States and sends money back regularly, but when Carlitos’ grandmother dies, his aunt and uncle hatch a plot to take custody of the child and keep his remittances. Carlitos decides to escape across the border in order to find his mother, and after being separated from his coyotes, he meets up with a kind stranger who helps him on his way.
La novia del desierto
Paulina García (Gloria, Little Men) delivers another warm and sympathetic performance in Cecilia Atán’s and Valeria Pivato’s feature debut. García plays Teresa, a woman who has worked all her life as a live-in maid for a Buenos Aires family who is left adrift after the family sells their house. On her way to a new job in a distant town, Teresa loses her bags with all her belongings. She searches for them with the help of traveling salesman El Gringo and ends up finding love and her own potential.