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Film / Chicana

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Chicana is a 1979 short film (23 minutes) directed by Sylvia Morales.

It is a documentary about the history of, you guessed it, Chicanas in the Americas. The film begins with an overview of Aztec and pre-Columbian culture, and how native societies were based on matriarchal culture and worshipped strong feminine goddesses. Then the Spanish arrive in the 16th century, crush the Americas under a patriarchal and Catholic boot, and substitute veneration of the Virgin Mary for the worship of traditional goddesses. Chicana women are exploited as manual labor, deprived of rights and education. Yet still they struggle, fighting against the Spanish, fighting in the Mexican wars of the early 20th century, demanding their rights and independence, and being crucial to the growing labor movement.


  • Book Burning: Only symbolically. But the segment discussing Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican nun who wrote about the rights of women, ends by explaining that the Church forced her to stop writing and made her sell her books. Then there's a shot of flames leaping up.
  • Chickification: Discussed Trope, as the film explains how the Spanish, when they imposed Catholicism in the Americas, replaced worship of "the Indian goddess of creation, death, pain, and abundance" with veneration of the Virgin Mary, a symbol of motherhood and nurturing that fit right in with the patriarchy.
  • Documentary: A history of native women in Mexico and Central America, and how they stand up and fight for their rights even as they are oppressed and exploited by the patriarchy.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: Discussed Trope. Much of the latter portion of the film talks about how the industrialization of Mexico and the southwestern U.S. led to native women being pressed into service in factories at poverty-level wages, when they weren't being employed at picking fruit in the fields. Chicanas help organize the United Farm Workers in order to stop their exploitation.
  • Glasses Pull: The opening narration reflects on how in traditional Chicano culture, women are seen as nurturers and homemakers that raise children by freeing men to work. Then the narrator says "If we refuse to do this," and there is a montage of people giving skeptical and scornful looks at the camera. One woman who is wearing glasses pulls those glasses down to give the camera an "are you kidding me" look.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: Heard during the sequence depicting the Spanish conquest of the Americas, to further underline the theme of suffering and death.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used heavily throughout the film with many pans and zooms of still pictures that tell the story.
  • Kuleshov Effect: A lot of quick cutting and zooms during the sequence about the Spanish conquest, as pictures and art of the era flash by, gives a feeling of the chaos and violence of the Spanish takeover of Mexico.
  • Narrator: Carmen Zapata provides narration, recounting the history of Chicanas in the Americas.
  • Staggered Zoom: The title is rendered very simply as a typed word on paper, but given emphasis by a staggered zoom onto "CHICANA".
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: The portion of the film depicting the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century talks about how Chicanas fought for their rights, including some who joined the army and fought in combat, like Valentina Ramirez, who disguised herself as a man.
  • Stock Footage: Some stock footage of labor protests towards the end of the film, as the narrator discusses how organized labor helped Chicanas claim their rights.