Rape culture in Latin America cinema
Written by Laura DELCAMP
Translated by Chloé LUSVEN
Rape culture is defined by a number of behaviors that promote, minimize and normalize rape, is present in all strata of society and reinforces the idea that women are men’s propertyRyan Broderick, Jessica Testa, Heben Nigatu et Anais Bordages, « La culture du viol, c’est quoi ? », Buzz Feed, 29th April 2014. URL : … Continue reading. In cinema, rape culture is often represented through a few (chosen) popular beliefs like the woman is seen as weak but seductive, and the man seduces her into submission with his charm or money, or like saying “no” to sexual intercourse turns into “yes” when the man insists. These clichés are ingrained into the collective psyche and it contributes to violence against women being tolerated. This series of articles’ goal is to show how present rape culture is in movies in different parts of world.
In this article, we’ll analyze cinematographic productions made in Latin America, a part of the world known for societies where machism is often structural. Through movies and telenovelas (extremely popular TV shows) more specifically, the idea of male domination is widely being spread. On the contrary, women-made productions do not perpetuate this culture of putting down women, which proves that there is a gender issue in Latin American cinema. The female and male archetypes have, in this way, been put into question by young filmmakers in Argentina first – a country with a strong film culture – and then in Brazil, Mexico and Chile…
Machism in Latin America has a major part in movies
In 2015, following a streak of femicides in Argentina, a group of activists decided to create the movement “Ni Una Menos” (Not one less) to protest violence against women and took to the streetsLaura Delcamp, « Les féminicides en Amérique Latine », 2nd June 2020, Gender in Geopolitics Institute. URL : https://igg-geo.org/?p=1118. These acts of violence are numerous and affect thousands of women and girls every year. Macho culture is so pervasive that it can be seen as one of the leads to explain the ever-growing number of aggressions and rapes of women because of their gender. Machism is defined as “the male obsession with domination and virility, which expresses itself in wanting to possess women, bragging actions and aggression towards other men”Viveros Vigoya, Mara. « Jusqu’à un certain point, ou la spécificité de la domination masculine en Amérique latine », Mouvements, vol. 31, no. 1, 2004, pp. 56-63., and is present in every part of the world.
However, it seems particularly structural in South America. For example, 14 out of the 25 countries with the highest number of femicides are in Latin AmericaUN Women. « Take five : Fighting femicide in Latin America », 15th February 2017. URL : https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2017/2/take-five-adriana-quinones-femicide-in-latin-america. Many movies in Central America and South America deal with the theme of machism by denouncing it, or on the contrary, by promoting how men get the dominant place. It is the case of the 1983 Cuban movie Hasta cierto punto (Until a certain point), directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea. The main character, a writer, has to write a movie about machism but ends up in an extra-marital relationship that makes him into a ‘macho’. The woman he falls in love with is independent at the beginning of the film, but ends up being submitted to a man, and this female submission is a major image of rape culture in cinemaViveros Vigoya, Mara. « Jusqu’à un certain point, ou la spécificité de la domination masculine en Amérique latine », Mouvements, vol. 31, no. 1, 2004, pp. 56-63.. Mara Viveros Vigoya, a specialist in gender studies, has analyzed this movie and has concluded: “Gutiérrez Alea’s film paints machism as something from the past and as an attempt to preserve male privileges that have lost legitimacy in the new political context. In a sense, machism becomes a negative behavior in the eye of the viewer and no men should or would claim such a behavior their own” Ibid. Machism, although still very present in some men’s and society’s attitudes, becomes a trait of character that is denounced and despised.
The importance of telenovelas in Latin America
Telenovelas are televised soap operas mainly produced in Latin American countries, and are a genre specific to this region. They first aired in 1951 and still are in all countries, six days a week, and the most popular ones gather more than 40 million viewersMachado-Borges, Thaïs. « Transformations télévisuelles : réflexions au sujet de l’impact des telenovelas brésiliennes sur la vie quotidienne des … Continue reading. This genre, even though it is not cinematographic, is valued by both men and women. It addresses different themes and contemporary social issues such as homosexuality, unwanted pregnancies and racism.
These series also depict family and amorous relationships and are based on topos, sometimes stereotyped, that made them successful. Sinhá Moça (broadcast in Brasil in 1986), Da Cor Do Pecado (broadcast in Brasil in 2004), Destino (broadcast in Mexico in 2013) are telenovelas that have in common talking about forbidden love and showing women as an object of desire. The inherent sexism of these soap operas can be explained by the people that embody these stories on screen: Latino men that have a misogynistic approach to society.
Moreover, one must underline the importance and influence of telenovelas on young Latinos watching them, and the power they have to shape mentalities on their relationship to gender and relationships between genders. Ilan Stavans, author of an essay on telenovelas and himself a telenovela actor explains: “If there is a change to be made in the Hispanic world, it is through telenovelas. If telenovelas change, I think society will change. If telenovelas do not change, the change in society will be slower”Olga Segura. « Why telenovelas are a powerful – and problematic – part of Latino culture », America, 6 April 2018. URL : … Continue reading.
Though today telenovelas embody an outdated genre, as is proven by the loss of audience towards more “modern” content and better crafted like on NetflixDavid Lunhow Santiago Perez. « Les telenovelas, un genre à réinventer », Courrier International, 24 August 2018. URL : … Continue reading.
This loss of interest for telenovelas demonstrates an evolution of what the audience wants, and they want a well-crafted scenario, without stereotypes, that places women at the heart of the story and where their happiness and success do not depend on a man. But despite the evolution of some soaps, like the Columbian telenovela Los Reyes (The Kings, aired in 2005) that talked about trans identity, most of the scenes are still focused on female sensuality and show women as a sexual object to men.
The female gaze in cinematic productions: female directors as “producers of their own storiesPatricia Torres San Martín, « Cinéastes d’Amérique latine : outrages d’une pratique cinématographique », Cinémas d’Amérique latine, 22 | 2014. URL : … Continue reading”
Lesser known, although very important in Latin American cinematographic culture, are the movies directed by women, that often have great success and reverse sexist stereotypes that can be found in other movies. “It is interesting to underline the wa
y most films written by women coincide on essential issues (although they have different themes, historical references, characters and scenarii): questioning the myth of the woman/mother, a representation of reality through the eyes of children and the topic of child sexual abuse” María Lourdes Cortés Pacheco, « Femme et mère dans le cinéma actuel d’Amérique centrale », Cinémas d’Amérique latine, 22 | 2014. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cinelatino/907, analyzes María Lourdes Cortés Pacheco, an author and cinema historian. She takes the example of the French-Mexican movie La Yuma (2009) directed by Florence Jaugey, where Yuma, a young girl, succeeds in getting out of poverty through boxing, and even saves her brothers and sisters in the process.
Although rape culture has permeated a lot of areas in the cinema industry, female directors are proving that machism is not always predominant in relationships between men and women. The stereotype of the woman that only flourishes when she is a mother was put into question in the movie Princesas rojas (2013) by Laura Astorga. These women also participated in demystifying femininity and the nuclear family, notions that are essential in South American traditionsPatricia Torres San Martín, « Cinéastes d’Amérique latine : outrages d’une pratique cinématographique », Cinémas d’Amérique latine, 22 | 2014. URL : … Continue reading. Mexican director María Novaro even goes beyond in her films by having main female characters that are not victims –also a stereotype of rape culture in cinema- but masters of their destiny like in Danzón (1991) or Sin Dejar Huella (2000). Like María Lourdes Cortés Pacheco says, female directors are the same as the female characters they direct, they are “the producers of their own stories” Ibid.. The female gaze brought by these women in their pieces of art is fundamental even though, unfortunately, they are still not very present in cinemaClara Kriger, « Combien de femmes sommes-nous dans la production audiovisuelle ? », Cinémas d’Amérique latine, 22 | 2014. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cinelatino/768.
The role of the man, the macho to whom everything is owed, that dominates society, and the role of the woman that can only be fulfilled by being a wife and mother and submitted to the man, are very defined in Latin America, which also brings exacerbated gender violence. In cinema, male and female directors are trying to break gender stereotypes and show other images of Latin-American culture. The melodrama genre for example, ever present in films and telenovelas, and that sometimes promotes rape culture, has been questioned through the years especially the patriarchal dimension it used to have (as in Madeinusa by Claudia Llosa, a Peruvian movie from 2006, or El Niño Pez by Lucía Puenzo, out in 2009) Juana Suárez, « Le déclin du mélodrame : les cinéastes contemporaines et la transformation du genre », Cinémas d’Amérique latine [Online], 22 | 2014. URL : … Continue reading. According to Juana Suarez, a specialist of Latin-America cinema and literature “this corpus of recent art by Latin-American filmmakers contains an important and renewed feminist critique of the male gaze (which wasn’t propagated by men only), a gaze that works as a voyeuristic and consumeristic attack of the female bodyIbid..
The gaze these women brought to their works of art has been primordial because it shows another social order, and renews a film narration that is too masculine and biased. Beyond telenovelas, they struggle to renew and bring a new vision of today’s societies and many moviemakers are trying to question the macho culture with plots that put women at the center and where they are not just mothers or wives. Movies like A Vida Invísivel de Eurídice Gusmão (2019) by Karim Aïnouz or Aquarius (2016) by Kleber Mendonça Filho, won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and talk about female emancipation in different time periods and deal with contemporary subjects that can remind us of the “Ni Una Menos” movement for example.
Next article will talk about rape culture in Asian cinema, where Bollywood, the Indian main cinema industry in this region of the world, produces movies that contributes to perpetuating rape culture. Even though violence against women, especially rapes and honor crimes, are numerous in Asian countries, these movies will tend to exacerbate sexism and misogyny. Countries like Thailand, where there were 4,000 rape cases between 2008 and 2013, are trying to end rape culture by passing laws that limit representations of sexual violence on women on TVAna Salva. « Thailand’s new TV rules to check sexual violence », Aljazeera, 31 March 2016. URL : https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2016/03/31/thailands-new-tv-rules-to-check-sexual-violence/. But how can one explain that countries where gender-based violence is high keep on broadcasting stereotypes and a fake vision of the feminine and the masculine?
To cite this article: Laura DELCAMP, “Rape culture in Latin America cinema”, 22.10.2020, Gender in Geopolitics Institute.
|↑1||Ryan Broderick, Jessica Testa, Heben Nigatu et Anais Bordages, « La culture du viol, c’est quoi ? », Buzz Feed, 29th April 2014. URL : https://www.buzzfeed.com/fr/ryanhatesthis/culture-du-viol-sexisme-harcelement|
|↑2||Laura Delcamp, « Les féminicides en Amérique Latine », 2nd June 2020, Gender in Geopolitics Institute. URL : https://igg-geo.org/?p=1118|
|↑3, ↑5||Viveros Vigoya, Mara. « Jusqu’à un certain point, ou la spécificité de la domination masculine en Amérique latine », Mouvements, vol. 31, no. 1, 2004, pp. 56-63.|
|↑4||UN Women. « Take five : Fighting femicide in Latin America », 15th February 2017. URL : https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2017/2/take-five-adriana-quinones-femicide-in-latin-america|
|↑6, ↑13, ↑16||Ibid.|
|↑7||Machado-Borges, Thaïs. « Transformations télévisuelles : réflexions au sujet de l’impact des telenovelas brésiliennes sur la vie quotidienne des téléspectateurs. » Anthropologie et Sociétés, vol. 36, no. 1-2, 2012, p. 74.|
|↑8||Olga Segura. « Why telenovelas are a powerful – and problematic – part of Latino culture », America, 6 April 2018. URL : https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2018/04/06/why-telenovelas-are-powerful-and-problematic-part-latino-culture|
|↑9||David Lunhow Santiago Perez. « Les telenovelas, un genre à réinventer », Courrier International, 24 August 2018. URL : https://www.courrierinternational.com/article/les-telenovelas-un-genre-reinventer|
|↑10, ↑12||Patricia Torres San Martín, « Cinéastes d’Amérique latine : outrages d’une pratique cinématographique », Cinémas d’Amérique latine, 22 | 2014. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cinelatino/755|
|↑11||María Lourdes Cortés Pacheco, « Femme et mère dans le cinéma actuel d’Amérique centrale », Cinémas d’Amérique latine, 22 | 2014. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cinelatino/907|
|↑14||Clara Kriger, « Combien de femmes sommes-nous dans la production audiovisuelle ? », Cinémas d’Amérique latine, 22 | 2014. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cinelatino/768|
|↑15||Juana Suárez, « Le déclin du mélodrame : les cinéastes contemporaines et la transformation du genre », Cinémas d’Amérique latine [Online], 22 | 2014. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cinelatino/860|
|↑17||Ana Salva. « Thailand’s new TV rules to check sexual violence », Aljazeera, 31 March 2016. URL : https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2016/03/31/thailands-new-tv-rules-to-check-sexual-violence/|