How Latina Women in Horror Movies are Reclaiming Their Power

By Andrea Gomez 

In mainstream media, Latinx women are seen as disposable, passive, and two-dimensional. They make choices that firmly take control of their fates, and by doing so, are pushing the tropes that have plagued them in the media.

Historically, Latina characters are reduced to the “spicy” femme fatale, ready to steal love and induce fury. On the flip side, they are shells in the form of maids, waiters, migrant workers, placed into stories for trauma points. They are either hypersexualized or devoid of it all — with no room for nuance. 

In the process, they are robbed of their own personhood. Their ability to make choices is completely dependent on the best solution for the Anglo protagonists. 

While Hollywood attempts to change this portrayal, the contemporary horror genre has cultivated its mark in defiance. The women are fierce in their rage and terror, yet hold an emotional depth not easily found outside of the genre. 

La Llorona (2019) by Jayro Bustamante tells the familiar story of a spirit looking for her children, but our ghost is not see through — when she wails, it isn’t for the sake of narrative. It is a direct cry to the audience. 

Infusing cultural critique, this film takes hold of the viewer’s attention and shows us haunts that go deeper into the history of a nation. Played by Mercedes Conroy, La Llorona is an Indigenous housekeeper, mistreated by her white Guatemalan bosses and a victim of the La Llorona massacre. Her position and identity are not a footnote – instead, they anchor the story. She is a mother, she has suffered, and she refuses to be anybody’s silent phantom. She owns her destiny, forcing those around her to stare at their own reflection instead. 

La Llorona not only disrupts the assumption the mainstream media has of Latina women by placing a layered pull into her intentions – it challenges those within the community. The film exposes the reality so many women in Latin America face when it comes to racism and classism.

The overwhelming majority of Latina representation in film and TV is white and light. Darker women are typecast, not given the same depth of personality as their counterparts. La Lllorona shows the horror that many non-white Latinas face and reclaims their power by allowing women to take control of situations that seem beyond their reach.

In books, horror is also making its mark against the norm. In Latin America and the diaspora, there is a saying: “Calladita te ves mas bonita.” In English, that’s “you look better when you are quiet.” It’s a lifestyle that has spilled into media and representation, prioritizing the good, meek, girl who takes all the punches. 

Goddess of Filth by V. Castro takes this tired stereotype, scratches through the flesh and digs into the bone. In this book, a young Mexican-American woman gets inhabited by the spirit of an ancient goddess. Rather than reject this as the “other” and turn our main character into a frenzied villain, she accepts it. The book makes a point to describe the event as a “inhabitation” rather than “possession.” Castro is not interested in telling a story where girls are punished for being larger than life. 

Goddess of Filth finds strength in the liberation of expression, in allowing women the range and grace to be both angry and loving. 

But these changes aren’t exclusive to women – they are also apparent in girls. In Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017), directed by Issa López, a group of children are on the run in an attempt to escape cartel violence. Estrella, the only girl in the group, shines as bright as her namesake. She is defiant, with a plucky command carefully placed in all of her actions. 

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She is not quiet, and while she may come from a low income background, Estrella is not defined by her social class. While she may be small, López loads her with leadership, something that creates a stark contrast to the representation of girls – especially Latinas – in other genres. 

 

In horror, Latina women are given no boundaries – there is no line forbidden to cross. Horror allows Latina women to explore themselves and enjoy the full range of emotions that all of us have. While the fight continues on, women and girls like these in horror are ripping the seams of the mainstream and threading their own stories and futures.

 

Andrea Gomez is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She has bylines in Tor.com, WeAllGrow Latina, Locale Magazine, CV Independent and more. You can find her online here

 


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