Americas In Transition: A Review
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 12, Number 3, September 1982
- pp. 66-69
- Additional Information
Americas In Transition: A Review by Gene Leach It is two decades since the Bay of Pigs, three years since the Sandinistas and Carter finally jettisoned Somoza, and a year and a half since Haig blew the cover on El Salvador by trying to turn quiet counteri nsurgency into a national crusade. Castro put Latin America on North American front pages and it has remained there, off and on, ever since. Surely no one who is curious about US- Latin relations has lacked for learning opportunities. Yet the great bulk of newsprint and video tape on Latin America stacks event on event without doing much to illuminate trends, much less causes. Even the canniest daily reporting is often the stuff of shock, indignation, and ultimately of number indifference. The nations to the south of Texas and Florida remain terra incognita. Scholars and publishers have barely begun to make up the information deficits left by news· organizations. For too long English language scholarship was scandalously silent on the record of US interventions and blandly sympathetic to the Latin status quo. As late as 1962 a respected historian could write a popular survey of Latin America (Frank Tannenbaume Ten Keys to Latin America) without including a word about "yanqui" occupations and coups. Latin American studies today no peddle such selective views, although most of the sharpest scholarship is still unavailable in English. Reporters like John Gerassi have published excellent books that relate the foam of events to the tides of history. But even such an impressive piece of journalism as Penny Lernoux's Cry of the People is a pastiche of investigative reports, itself more a cry than an analysis. "Americas in Transition" is no less impassioned than Lernoux's book or other documentaries like the grisly "Revolution or Death" on El Salvador. Reconnoitering in a battle zone where all viewpoints are politically charged, the film crosses back and forth over the Gznz Lzack ¿6 Ckciinman oI AmoAÁcan Studies cut TfviyuXy ColLzgo, am Ha/vtiofid, Conntcticiut. VoK moKz Á.n£oKmcutlon on Amesviccu am TKam,ÁXÁ.on wkäXq.: AmeJticœi, am Tmvu>ít¿on, 401 Wz&t Broadway, W. V., M. V. 10012. 66 murky frontier between education and propaganda. But "Americas in Transition" is set apart by its temperate tone and its determination to show the historical logic of contemporary events. It penetrates the past not to provoke outrage but to help make a reasoned case for change in U.S. foreign policy. "What are the people of Latin America fighting for," asks narrator Ed Asmer, "and whom are they fighting against?" The film supplies forthright answers rooted in rejection of the Monroe Doctrine and all its military manifestations in this century. Assuming that "the people " who count are Latin America's revolutionaries, the film argues that they are fighting for democracy and self-determination. On the other side stand traditional oligarchies, governments or army goons, and misguided U.S. .policy leaders. Until the fall of Somoza, Latin America seemed in descent toward a universal fascist nightmare. "Americas " envisions a counter-tradition, toward social justice and representative institutions, if only the Colossus of the North would get out of the way. But "Americas" goes beyond political pamphleteering, by coaxing viewers to be reflective about their premises. It opens with a Fifties -vintage yanqui stereotype: Carmen Miranda singing a peppy number about hot weekends in Havana, backed up by a rumba band in ruffled sleeves. The following montage suggests how history has complicated the old images: Shots of America sailors and salesmen living it up in Latin nightclubs with scenes of marching troops, sweating laborers, and combat. Twenty-nine minutes later the closing shot frames a dignified Nicaraguan woman looking inquisitively into the camera, as if asking the viewer, "which side are you on?" The film tries to tug the viewer's gaze away from fantasies of Latin firecrackers, to meet the eyes of the Nicaraguan. Along the way "Americas" surveys revolutions, coups, and invasions in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Chile, and El Salvador. The order is significant, because it mirrors the chronology of major U.S. manipulations in Latin America over the last half-century . Helping to glue these thumbnail...