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Nov 29: “Legalizing Eroticism”: Masochism, Pleasure, and Queer Spectatorship in Mexican ‘Rumbera’ Films (1940s-1950s)

a talk by Laura G. Gutiérrez

November 29, Thursday
6:30 to 8:30 pm

Department of Social and Cultural Analysis
20 Cooper Square, 4th Floor

Laura G. Gutiérrez, Spanish and Portuguese, University of Arizona

This presentation examines a number of cinematic texts that belong to a corpus of films from the so-called Golden-Age of Mexican cinema that starred mostly foreign-born dancers and actresses. These women were dubbed and are still remembered as rumberas. Thus, the hundreds of films produced during the Miguel Alemán presidency (1946-1952) earned the category of cine de rumberas. Taking my cues from Ana López’s foundational essay on women and melodrama, where she discusses those “female” melodramas whose narratives transpire outside of the domestic space—i.e. the cabaret—I examine these films as being the first ones to challenge head-on Pre-Revolutionary sexual mores, which, until then, remained pretty much intact. For this particular presentation I examine the ways in which these rumberas opened up a space for discussions of female sexuality in the Mexican context; they do so via their embodied performances, which contained high doses of gyrating hips and ample pelvic thrusts that not only seduced male characters in the films, but also their intra-diegetic and extra-diegetic publics, both male and female. My presentation examines how these rumberas seduced their multiple publics during a moment in history when rigid gender roles and sexual systems of the bourgeoisie were still the norm, which, through these films, were challenged for the first time in the cultural sphere. Following Linda William’s provocation to think about the notion of “screen” as both revealing and concealing, during this period a certain set of conventions were deployed to represent sex, sexuality, and/or desire. Within this cinematic structure, dancing and other corporeal movements enacted by these rumberas in the cabarets and other locales, could stand-in for sex or, at the very least, signify sexuality and desire. And, if we follow cultural critic Carlos Monsiváis’s description of these films within Mexican film history, the rumbera films represent a moment in which “eroticism was legalized.” Thus, these intra-texual corporeal movements, dancistic or otherwise, and however momentarily, do much to undo for the spectator’s Catholic indoctrinations about sex and sexuality in post-revolutionary Mexico. The relationship established between the dancers and their publics produces a tension for the onlooker, both within and outside the film’s frames, that can be described as masochistic desire and pleasure. Moreover, this presentation gestures towards a theory of queer spectatorship practices during Mexico’s cinematic classic period, which is thought to be highly nationalist and heterosexist. However, I also argue that this queer spectatorship is problematically enabled via the use of Afro-Antillean rhythms, movements, and elements, all displaced on white, yet non-Mexican (i.e. Cuban) bodies.

This event is free and open to the public.  Venue is wheelchair accessible.

For more information about this event, please contact the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis.

Laura G. Gutiérrez (PhD University of Wisconsin 2000) is associate professor & director of graduate studies of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Arizona. Her research and teaching interests include: Mexican Visual Culture, Latin American and Latina/o Performance Studies, Gender and Sexuality, Latin American Popular Culture. In spring 2012 she received the Provost’s General Education Teaching Award. She is the author of Performing Mexicanidad: Vendidas y Cabareteras on the Transnational Stage (U of Texas P, 2010), winner of the 9th Annual MLA Prize in United States Latina and Latino and Chicana and Chicano Literary and Cultural Studies. Gutiérrez has also published essays in journals Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy, Spectator, Studies in Latin American Popular Culture, Latin American Literary Review, Feminist Media Studies; and chapters in the following books: Global Mexican Cultural Productions, Cartografías Queer: Sexualidades y Activismo LGBT en América Latina, Latino and Latina Writers, Velvet Barrios: Popular Culture & Chicana/o Sexualities. She is currently writing a book under the working title Rumberas in Motion (Pictures): Transnational Movements in the Archive of Mexican ‘Classic’ Cinema. She is on the advisory boards of The Tepoztlán Institute for the Transnational History of the Americas and Freedom University.


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