Subversive screens

NOV making cinelandiaMaking Cinelandia: American Films and Mexican Film Culture Before the Golden Age
Laura Isabel Serna
2014, Duke University Press
317 pages, plates, paperback

THE fear of cultural imperialism posed by the US monopolisation of titles on show in Mexico’s cinemas is understandable, even if the American films on offer have long traded in overwhelmingly negative stereotypes that audiences have long learned to reject, or better still ignore. Mexicans know cheap entertainment when they see it. But travel back to the 1920s, when cinema was a new art form, and it is hardly surprising that this fear was acute among Mexico’s cultural and political elite who had no understanding or knowledge of the long-term consequences of celluloid chauvinism. Yet as Laura Isabel Serna demonstrates in this interesting study, in the period before the golden age of Mexican cinema Hollywood films were not mere vectors of cultural imperialism, instead offering Mexicans on both sides of the border a means of participating in global modernity in strangely empowering ways. Drawing on detailed research, Serna explores the experience of cinemagoing from a range of perspectives to argue that audiences and workers in the nascent Mexican cinema industry itself engaged with yanqui productions to identify more deeply with … Mexico. The point the author is making is profoundly important, providing a valuable case study of the potentially contradictory effects of overwhelming cultural domination, which can contribute as much to nation-building as to assimilation. The moral of this plot is ultimately hopeful, suggesting that we need not be afraid of US cultural imperialism because it can work against itself. – GJ