Reel Transgressions: Global Business, National Film, and Female Filmmakers in Twentieth Century Mexico and Cuba
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
In the final years of the nineteenth century, a novel new form of medium debuted to a world in the throes of massive change. This medium, film, seemed to capture the zeitgeist of the moment. The turn to the twentieth century in much of the world was marked by increased industrialization, rapid urbanization, an emphasis on mechanical, scientific and social progress. Film’s initial global success was as a technical novelty illustrating the kind of wonders these new forces might bring. While the U.S. and Europe gained quick hegemony of the global film production industry, the consumption of the increasingly narrative-based media entrenched itself into the cultures of most countries where film appeared. As the twentieth century took shape, rapid change also meant conflict as countries and their peoples grappled with the interdependence of globalization and domestic reinvention.
This dissertation focuses film’s relationship with nationalism in Mexico in the early twentieth century through the lens of Matilde Landeta, Mexico’s first institutionally trained and officially recognized female director. Born in 1910, at the start of the Revolution, Landeta was raised within the developing nationalism of the Revolutionary state. A fractured conflict, the state that developed in the wake of the conflict was also divided, embracing modernism, global business relations, and consumerism while mining Mexico’s indigenous and colonized history to encourage a more unified nationalist identity while maintaining secularized but traditional social, gender, and political hierarchies.
Landeta believed in the proffered social change of the Revolution, but as a woman lacked a clear pathway for her ambitions until coming into contact with synchronized-sound film in her teens. Through film, Landeta found a curious liminal space in the restructuring Mexico. The Mexican industry that Landeta entered in the 1930s was on the cusp of transition from ad hoc to greater formality. Mexican film was also ensconced in the global network of U.S. and American film production and distribution. The informality generated from this critical moment allowed Landeta to embed herself in the role of “script girl” through which she could train on virtually every job on set, taking advantage of films’ lack of firmly established gender roles to parley her experience into official promotion. Landeta’s sex remained an obstacle throughout her career, yet she was still able to direct four feature films through which she articulated for a more reflective Revolution that more responsibly considered its nationalist inclusion. Following Mexico’s peak of production during World War II, Landeta all but disappeared from Mexican film discourse until 1975, when she was rediscovered as part of Mexico’s contribution to the U.N.’s International Women’s Year. Partly attributable to the monopolization of Mexican film exhibition by William O. Jenkins, Landeta’s hiatus owed as much to sexism as to a lack of protection for domestic Mexican product.
This dissertation aims to problematize the label of Mexico’s “Golden Age” by understanding the continuity of struggle between Mexico’s creative and industrial cinema forces. Mexico continued to make movies despite Jenkins’ attempts at monopolization, turning to co-production and Spanish-speaking global audiences to maintain an audience. Consequently, this dissertation views film as a continuity not easily contained in nationalist boxes. To understand the influence Mexico’s cinema development Landeta’s career is placed in contrast to that of Cuba’s first Afro-Cuban female director, Sara Gómez, and Gómez’s relationship with the Cuban cinematic mechanism that developed following Cuba’s Revolution of 1959. As Hollywood imposed into Mexico, Mexico imposed into Latin American and Caribbean markets to fill gaps in Hollywood hegemony. This incursion influenced the foundation of Cuba’s industry, specifically designed around avoiding in its early years the kinds of restrictions that were commonplace for Landeta—highlighting the continuity and portability of reflexive criticism as a desirable aspect of revolutionary and nationalist cinema, even against state pressure.
Wilkey, James Ralph III, "Reel Transgressions: Global Business, National Film, and Female Filmmakers in Twentieth Century Mexico and Cuba" (2022). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 5793.
Andes, Stephen J.
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