It is perhaps timely that the Latino/a Caucus of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) is finalizing a special “In Focus” to speak to the “state of our field” just weeks after two major Latin American media figures were so in evidence at the Eighty-Sixth Academy Awards ceremony: Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón and his seven Oscars for Gravity (2013) and Brazilian documentary film-maker Eduardo Coutinho (1933–2014), who was honored during the ceremony’s “those that have died this year” montage. Cuarón’s Oscar for best director—the first Latin American director to win the award—and for a “British” film no less, points to both the vitality of our field of Latino media and film studies and the transnational mediascapes we increasingly have to negotiate in our scholarship. Coutinho’s inclusion in the academy’s “In Memoriam” evidences not just his individual contribution to the documentary form—Twenty Years Later (Cabra marcado para morrer, 1984), The Mighty Spirit (Santo forte, 1999), and Master Building (Edifício master, 2002), to name just a few of his most important films—but also the lasting significance of the region’s cinema in global terms.
It is with Cuarón’s victory and the sad loss of Coutinho in mind that this “In Focus” takes a metacritical approach to issues of trans-nationality, research accessibility, corpus building, and history in Latin American media scholarship. The field originally (and lastingly) envisioned as the “scope” of the Latino/a Caucus has expanded beyond the wildest imaginings of those who originally formed the caucus more than twenty years ago. Looking only at Cinema Journal, in the five-year period 1990–1994, the journal published only one essay that addressed Latino and/or Latin American issues. In comparison, between 2011 and 2013, inclusive, Cinema Journal published six essays addressing issues or films of concern to the caucus. The field now has [End Page 112] specialized journals of its own and others that overlap significantly with (and regularly feature) the work of our membership: for example, Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas and Transnational Cinemas. And, of course, in Latin America itself the field has also blossomed beyond an earlier, primarily historiographical impetus to nurture a significant cadre of scholars producing cutting-edge work. Finally, beyond Latin America itself, the field of Latino studies has also assumed its own maturity and produced works of great importance and lasting significance. Thus it was with no small dose of trepidation that we had to make some difficult choices structuring this “In Focus.” We could not hope to encompass the tremendous scope of the work of the interdisciplinary and international caucus membership and do it justice: we elected to focus (primarily) on English-language scholarship on Latin American film with the hope that a future “In Focus” could be devoted exclusively to Latino film and media studies. In this “In Focus,” then, we bring together a range of scholars from the Latino/a Caucus, including both a founding member (López) and two of its newer members (Poppe and Navitski) to represent the different generations and different constituencies in the United States, Europe, and Latin America that make up our core membership.
Our four feature essays speak broadly to the state of our field as well as challenge some of its standard assumptions and review new avenues of scholarship within Latin(o) American media. Although distinctly different in scope and approach, all the essays present measured assessments of scholarship to date while also pointing toward new directions for research. We hope that this work simultaneously captures the contemporary energy of the field, is useful to others beginning to embark on research in the area, and communicates our excitement and hopes for future scholarship.
We have organized the essays in roughly chronological fashion and from the most concrete to the more speculative. Nicolas Poppe’s essay, which begins this “In Focus,” explores how recent critical studies have approximated Argentine, Brazilian, Hollywood, and Mexican films of the early sound period in new ways. Poppe looks at how scholars both inside and outside Latin...