5 Films Based on Epic Moments in Latinx History

In the Time of Butterflies (L-R) EDWARD JAMES OLMOS as Trujillo and SALMA HAYEK as Minerva Mirabal. Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Biopics give us a glimpse into the lives of those who have made their mark on this world. Actors, activists, educators, and musicians are just some of the celebrities who have had their lives portrayed on the silver screen. It means a lot when these subjects are people you admire; it’s even a bigger deal when they are also Latinx. 

We already know there is a problem with representation of Latinxs in Hollywood. According to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, “Hispanic/Latino-speaking characters” were completely absent from 44 of the top 100 films of 2019 (47 in 2018; 40 in 2015). All the while, we make up 18.7% of the U.S. population–a whopping 62.1 million people. The majority of films that come out in America don’t include us or our narratives, so we instantly gravitate towards those that do.

Luckily, there are epic moments in Latinx history that have been portrayed in film. And we want to share them with you here. 

Stand and Deliver

In 1988, the film Stand and Deliver was released. It portrayed real-life Bolivian teacher Jaime Escalante, who made history when he led his “predominately Hispanic and low-income” Garfield High students to their full potential. Latinx icon Edward James Olmos portrayed Escalante in the film and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for the role. Other Latinxs in the cast include Vanessa Marquez, Rosanna DeSoto, Daniel Villarreal, and Andy Garcia.

Cesar Chavez

Another Latinx film you should know about is Cesar Chavez. Starring Michael Peña in the title role, the 2014 movie follows the iconic Chicano activist and union leader as he fights for the civil rights of farmworkers. The main focus of the film is the years spanning 1965 to 1970, when the now-famous Delano Grape Strike and Boycott occurred. By his side, fighting her own fight, was the equally legendary Dolores Huerta, portrayed by Rosario Dawson. Other Latinxs involved include director Diego Luna, America Ferrera as the organizer’s wife Helen, and Jacob Vargas as his brother Richard. 

In the Time of the Butterflies

Salma Hayek. Edward James Olmos. Marc Anthony. Demian Bichir. Pedro Armendáriz Jr. When big Latinx names unite for a film, we take notice. They were all in the 2001 film In the Time of the Butterflies, released in 2001, and based on the book of the same name by Julia Alvarez. The movie tells the true story of the Mirabal sisters, three Dominicanas–Patria, Minerva, and Maria Isabel–who stood up to the oppressive, violent Trujillo regime, and ultimately became martyrs for their country. In it, Hayek plays Minerva, Lumi Cavazos plays Patria, and Mía Maestro portrays Maria “Mate” Isabel. 

La Bamba

La Bamba is a classic Latinx film. The 1987 biopic shares with the world the story of Ritchie Valens, who is considered to be the first Latino rocker. In the span of just eight months the teenaged Chicano from Pacoima had accrued several hits (“Donna,” “Come On Let’s Go,” “La Bamba”), became a star, and pioneered Latin Rock/Rock en Español. Filipino, Indigenous Lou Diamond Phillips was practically adopted into the Latinx culture after playing Valens! You can also catch Elizabeth Peña, Esai Morales, Rosanna DeSoto, Dyanna Ortelli, and Daniel Valdez in La Bamba


Walkout. Courtesy of HBO

Films that show Latinxs making a difference not only share our history, but inspire younger generations to also stand up for what is right. In 2006, the movie Walkout was released, based on the 1968 real-life story of the East L.A. Chicano high school students who walked out of classes to demand better education Their actions served as the catalyst to the large Chicano civil rights movement, according to the California State University Los Angeles Magazine. The film was directed by Edward James Olmos (who also plays Julian Nava), and has Alexa PenaVega, Michael Peña, Laura Harring, Yancey Arias, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Efren Ramirez, and Tonantzin Esparza among its many Latinx actors.

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