Times & Places

Mexico: Mexican Cinema (1900-1950)

The cinematograph was well received by Mexican society from the arrival of the Lumière brothers’ emissaries to Mexico in 1896. The first Mexican cameramen and filmmakers appeared soon after. With the beginning of the armed movement in 1910 against the 30-year dictatorship of Mexican president Porfirio Díaz, a new chapter in film history was written. The first revolution recorded in the 20th century drove Mexican and foreign filmmakers to document its main protagonists, such as Francisco I. Madero, Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza, and the legendary Francisco Villa.

From the very beginning, narrative films took as their subjects some of the most emblematic episodes in Mexican history. Mexican cinema also used literature and music as an instrument to show all the facets of Mexican society. Additionally, the visual arts had a clear influence on “the ways of seeing men and things,” as Gabriel Figueroa—one of the most important Mexican cinematographers in the twentieth century—once said. There are many striking examples of exchanges between fine arts and cinema, especially during Mexico’s “Golden Age” of film production, which would become a reference point for visual aesthetics in contemporary filmmaking.

Romanticism’s arrival in Mexico in the 19th century helped cement a perception of women’s intellectual capacities as being based on intuition and imagination over reason. Almost out of habit, Mexican cinema attributed these behavioral patterns to its female characters, often determined by the character’s setting. On one end of the spectrum stands the neat, home-loving woman, generally a self-sacrificing mother and wife in a small or rural town, and on the other the sinful woman, typical of Mexico’s city nightlife or seafaring ports. Between these we find the soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution portrayed by the movies of the 1940s and 50s (known as the “Golden Age” of Mexican Cinema) alongside battered women, femmes fatales, and contemporary women demanding these patterns be broken.

Adapted from

  • México 1900-1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant Garde, Gallery text [Mexican Cinema; Strong Women in Cinema], 2017.

Related Multimedia

This lecture launches the DMA's film series celebrating the Golden Age of Mexican cinema with a talk by director and film historian Sonia Fritz.

Web Resources

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