The Unmaking of Indigeneity

Indigenous Representations in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema

  • Natalia Koper
Keywords: Mexican revolution, Mexican Golden Age, Mexican cinematography, indigenous representation, national identity


This paper contributes to the debate on racialized and deracialized representations of the category of indigeneity in Mexican cinematography during the Golden Age (1935–1959) as a response to the post‑revolutionary nation‑building project. Based on the analysis of representative movies of that period, I argue that the cinematography reflected indigenista public policies, aimed at homogenizing the society by incorporating indigenous people to the society as Mexicans. Insofar as the state narrative displaced the notion of indigeneity towards the “past” – as a foundation of the national cultural heritage – movie industry romanticized and exoticized the indigenous, but at the same time, it portrayed indigenous characters as submissive and even obsolete, thus perpetrating the colonial archetype of oppression. Images situated in the present, however, rejected any ethnic differentiation, and instead replaced it with a class‑based model of social interactions, but in reality the “raceless” ideal of national identity would continue to ascribe indigeneity to lower social strata.

Author Biography

Natalia Koper

Graduated from University College London with Master of Science in International Relations of the Americas and from University of Warsaw with Bachelor degree in International Relations and Applied Linguistics; awarded the UCL International Relations of the Americas Prize for Best Dissertation on an International Relations Topic; specializes in human rights and civil rights in the Americas, in particular the safeguard of indigenous rights.


I. Audio‑visual sources:

Primary sources:

– films:

• Buñuel L. (Director), & Dancigers Ó (Producer), Los Olvidados/ The Young and the Dammed [Motion picture], Mexico 1950.

• Calles G., Contreras Torres, M. (Directors), De raza Azteca [Motion picture], Mexico 1921.

• De la Bandera M. (Director), Cuauhtémoc [Motion picture], Mexico 1918.

• Eisenstein S. (Director), Eisenstein S. (Writer), ¡Que viva México! [Motion picture], United States 1979.

• Fernández E. (Director), María Candelaria [Motion picture], Mexico 1944.

• Fernández E. (Director), La perla/The pearl [Motion picture], Mexico 1945.

• Fernández E. (Director), Maclovia [Motion picture], Mexico 1948.

• Fuentes F. D. (Director), Allá en el Rancho Grande/ Over on the big ranch [Motion picture], Mexico 1936.

• Rodríguez J. (Director), ¡Ay, Jalisco no te rajes! [Motion picture], Mexico 1941.

• Soria G. (Director), Ortiz P. (Writers), Ora Ponciano [Motion picture], Mexico 1937.

• Zinnemann F., Gómez Muriel E. (Directors), Chávez C. (Producer), Strand P. (Writer), Redes/ Waves [Motion picture], Mexico 1936.

II. Printed sources:

Secondary sources:

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