I am an historian with a passion for uncovering and recovering histories thought lost or unimportant. In my first book, Making Cinelandia: American Films and Mexican Film Culture before the Golden Age (Duke University Press, 2014), I set out to answer a question provoked by a 1926 newspaper article. That article reported that Mexican women were leaving their homes en masse, destination Hollywood. I had heard about Midwestern girls heading out west to see if they would be discovered but as far as I knew, no one had told the story of these anonymous young Mexican women who were just a train ride away from the center of U.S. film production. I became obsessed with figuring out what was motivating these young women. By way of an answer I discovered that in the 1920s Mexico's movie screens were dominated by American films and that Mexican audiences young and old not only consumed those films voraciously but also appropriated the new models of gender and social relations they saw on screen for their own purposes: becoming modern and Mexican. Rather than being solely an instrument of cultural imperialism, American films became a tool that Mexican audiences used to make sense of their own place in the modern world.
You can read the introduction to Making Cinelandia at Scribd.
You can listen to an interview about the book at New Books in Latino Studies.
My second monograph length project is a history of film distribution in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, el Gran Caribe, in the teens and twenties. The history of cinema in Latin America has been largely circumscribed by the analytic lenses of nation or hemisphere. This project asserts the importance of region in general and regional trade networks in particular to the development of the industrial infrastructure (e.g. distribution firms and exhibition venues) that would support the development of national cinematic traditions. I'm fascinated by the very straightforward way in which early regional film entrepreneurs thought of cinema first and foremost as a business that could and should contribute to the modernization of the region. I've begun by looking closely at the flowering of a vibrant film culture in Yucatán which not only supported a thriving exhibition industry but also sustained local film production including industrial shorts, historical dramas, romantic comedies, and sponsored film at the height of the revolution. I will be exploring Yucatán's relationship to Cuban distributors and entertainment firms as well a brokers and exporters in both New York and Europe. Research for this project has been generously funded by COMEXUS, which administers the Fulbright-García Robles grant program in Mexico.
I am also engaged in research that examines the production (rather than the fact) of Mexican stereotypes in American silent and early sound film as a way of understanding how "Mexican" was constructed as a racial category in the early twentieth century. This research primarily examines the ways in which art directors and production designers sought to create "atmosphere" via the selection of locations, dressing of sets, costuming, and as the illustration above suggests, makeup. Rather than focusing on characters or narrative this project examines the material practices of the film industry that worked to produce not only a version of the Spanish heritage fantasy that permeated southern California in the first half of the twentieth century but also to render the state's Mexican population a diffuse aesthetic element, a "pervasive tone or mood." Taking up the production of race in pre-production and extra-textual registers, this project provides a more finely grained account of the processes by which race is constructed in the media.