12 Films By Latinos, For Latinos, Starring Latinos

With Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World rolling into theaters this month, featuring no fewer than four Latino lead actors (Jessica Alba, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara and Danny Trejo), we thought about how encouraging it is that throughout the years, Latino directors have put together films about us, starring us.

Here’s our list of outstanding examples:

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1. Latino Directors: Nothing Like the Holidays

Nothing Like the Holidays (Alfredo De Villa)

A heartwarming and funny family Xmas story stars an almost all-Latino cast that features old favorites as well as new faces: John Leguizamo, Elizabeth Peña, Luis Guzman, Jay Hernandez, Alfred Molina, Freddy Rodriguez, Melonie Diaz and Manny Perez. It’s a holiday feast in more ways than one.

2. Latino Directors: Desperado

Desperado (Robert Rodriguez)

If there’s anyone who can be lauded for representing, it’s Rodriguez, who has consistently cast Latinos in his films and built his most successful series, Spy Kids, around a Latin family. After handing Salma Hayek her breakout role opposite Antonio Banderas in the sequel to El Mariachi, he also cast her in Once Upon a Time in Mexico.  Was there ever a couple mas caliente?

3. Latino Directors: Machete

Machete (Robert Rodriguez)

Rodriguez’s winking ode to illegal immigrants stars his cousin and longtime collaborator, Danny Trejo (as well as Trejo’s son, Gilbert), as a Federale-turned-hitman out for revenge. True to form, he included tough and beautiful characters played Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Rodriguez’s daughter Electra Avellan, as well as Cheech Marin.

4. Latino Directors: Bitter Sugar

Bitter Sugar (Leon Ichaso)

This indie film is a rarity: An American production by TV and film director vet Ichaso (Miami Vice, El Cantante), it’s in Spanish, set in Cuba and filmed in the Dominican Republic, starring U.S. based telenovela actress Mayte Vilan and Rene Lavan as a prostitute and a communist-turned-would-be assassin.

5. Latino Directors: El Super

El Super (Leon Ichaso, Orlando Jimenez-Leal)

Starring Raimundo Hidalgo-Gato and telenovela vet Zully Montero and a young Elizabeth Peña, this is a classic immigrant tale of a Cuban family starting over in an isolating, utterly foreign New York.

6. Latino Directors: The Lost City

The Lost City (Andy Garcia)

Oscar-nominated Garcia directs his first feature film, about a family’s divided loyalties during the Cuban Revolution, and packs it with a large cast in which every Latino character is played by a Latino and includes a bevy of gorgeous of men as a bonus: Danny Pino, Nestor Carbonnell, Enrique Murciano and Jsu Garcia.

7. Latino Directors: Stand and Deliver

Stand and Deliver (Ramon Menendez)

A big part of what’s satisfying about this classic gem is that it’s not only a good story based on real events but has wall-to-wall great performances including an Oscar-nominated one by Edward James Olmos by a largely unknown Latino cast.

8. Latino Directors: Selena

Selena (Gregory Nava)

It is, of course, the movie that turned Jennifer Lopez into a star while affirming the legendary status of the murdered Tejana singer in a moving way. With Edward James Olmos, Jon Seda, Constance Marie, Jacob Vargas and Jackie Guerra.

9. Latino Directors: My Family, Mi Familia

My Family, Mi Familia (Gregory Nava)

The director of Selena and El Norte has dedicated his career to telling our stories and this is among his best, telling an epic Latino family story, perhaps the only one ever put on film. Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales and Edward James Olmos form the powerful acting backbone of the story.

10. Latino Directors: Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup (Maria Ripoll)

This fun family comedy about a chef who loses his sense of taste, and his daughters, was transformed from a Chinese hit to a Latino classic thanks to Hector Elizondo’s sensitive acting and a stellar cast headed by Constance Marie and Elizabeth Peña.

11. Latino Directors: American Me

American Me (Edward James Olmos)

If you look up the word ‘unflinching’ in the dictionary, it says: See American Me. The gripping true story of a Mexican American gangster trying to go straight after prison is intense, thanks in large part to Olmos’ own searing performance and that of lesser known Latinos.

12. Latino Directors: La Mission

La Mission (Peter Bratt)

Peter enlisted his brother, star Benjamin Bratt, to tell the moving story of a macho man who comes out of prison only to come to terms with his son being gay. Jeremy Ray Valdez gives a touching performance as the boy.

13. Latino Directors: Related Links