United States-Based Latina Producers of Feature Films (1976-Present): The Role of Community, Creativity, and Currency in Synergistic Authorship
Latinas' marginalization within the film industry has been reproduced in the writing of film history as a result of many factors, including (but not limited to) male-centered notions of history and dominant models of authorship that center the director as the principle creative force behind the filmmaking process. Motivated by a commitment to securing Latina filmmakers' place in film history, this study of U.S.-based Latina producers of Latina/o-themed feature films proposes a "synergistic" model of authorship that makes visible creative contributions of authors who do not occupy designated roles such as "director" or (less so) "writer," traditionally associated with authorship. Instead, it acknowledges the way numerous creative, institutional, historical, sociological, and economic forces come together to shape a film.
This dissertation involves a series of case studies that represent various modes of production, from independently produced, self-distributed films to those made and distributed by Hollywood studios. The case studies include: Josey Faz, who was involved with the making of the first three Chicano features during the 1970s; Elizabeth Avellán, who is co-owner of Troublemaker Studios and one of the most successful and prolific producers working on Hollywood films today; the making of Chasing Papi (2003) at 20th Century Fox, which involved writer/producer Laura Angélica Simón, director Linda Mendoza, and associate producer Christy Haubegger; and Hollywood star-turned-producer, Salma Hayek, who was a driving force behind the film, Frida (2002) and the television series, Ugly Betty (2006-2010).
This study investigates the way creative control is conceptualized, as well as dynamics at work in the production culture of Latina filmmakers and the variety of activities involved in the work they do. While there is no "ideal" mode of production that provides "better" opportunities for Latinas to create more "positive" images than others, there are unique advantages and challenges associated with each. Utilizing a feminist, cultural studies approach to the subject, this study mobilizes oral histories, discourse analysis, and to a lesser extent, textual analysis to show Latinas are creative authors who are gaining power to change the way feature films are made while diversifying who it is that gains opportunities to make them.