The 1960s and 1970s are recognized as key moments when LGBTQ+ people began to appear on the big Mexican screen.
It is time to talk about the (very obvious) repressed homosexuality in the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. In recent years, Mexican cinema has stood out for making room for dignified representations of members of the LGBTQ+ community. The films by director Julián Hernández and other films such as I promise you anarchy (Julio Hernández Cordón, 2015), Camino a Marte (Humberto Hinojosa Ozcariz, 2017), Dream in another language (Ernesto Contreras, 2017) and El baile de los 41 (David Pablos, 2020) have paved the way for those non-heterosexual voices that have been silenced or oppressed for so long in national filmography.
The 1960s and 1970s are recognized as the key moments in which members of the LGBTQ+ community began to gain relevance on the Mexican big screen. Mauricio Garcés played an openly homosexual character in Dressmaker for Ladies (René Cardona Jr., 1969); la Manuela (Roberto Cobo) made her way into The place without limits (Arturo Ripstein, 1977). While Jaime Humberto Hermosillo was the filmmaker responsible for the insertion of multiple characters apart from heterosexuality in his cinema.
Misrepresented homosexuality in the Golden Age of Mexican cinema
However, in these two decades not all the representations of the group were worthy. In the so-called file film, the presence of homosexual characters -generally male- was frequent, who were ridiculed and caricatured for the expression of their sexuality and for their very orientation. This can be seen in great detail in the most distinctive film of these productions: Bellas de noche (Miguel M. Delgado, 1975).
Despite the fact that members of the LGBTQ+ community began to come out of the Mexican cinematographic closet as of 1960, it is possible to identify several characters of the group in various productions of the Golden Age of national cinema.
The first homosexual on screen
La casa del ogro (Fernando de Fuentes, 1938)
Several researchers and specialists in Mexican cinema of the Golden Age agree that this feature film by Fernando de Fuentes presents the first homosexual character in national film history: Don Pedrito (Manuel Tamez).
In a conservative society like Mexico, de Fuentes dared to include a homosexual character in his film. To do this, he resorted to the stereotypes that prevailed at the time and presented an effeminate gay man, elegantly dressed, with delicate gestures and voice, who enjoys hearing all the gossip.
Don Pedrito, despite interacting with all the other members of the neighborhood in which the story takes place, is more comfortable surrounded by women. Likewise, he becomes the target of several ridicules by the others, who call him, behind his back, “faggot” or “Doña Petrita”.
Although La casa del ogro shows the stereotyping of the homosexual character and presents him as an alien or strange individual in the face of predominant heterosexuality, it is the first firm step in the representation of members of the LGBTQ+ collective in national cinema.
La monja alférez (Emilio Gómez Muriel, 1944)
Transvestism was a recurring theme in Mexican cinema of the Golden Age. A comic approach to the theme was almost always shown, developing the plot in the fact that, for romantic reasons, a character had to disguise himself or dress as someone of the opposite sex, which ended up building ingenious comedy of entanglements where the comedy was rooted in the same conventions of heterosexuality.
In the 1940s and 1950s, several films were released where this comic transvestism was exposed, this being the case of Me has been kissed by a man (1944), Vuelven los García (1947), Yo soy muy macho (1953) and Pablo y Carolina (1957). La nun alférez , starring María Félix, is located in this category .
Gómez Muriel’s film freely recovers the story of Catalina de Erauso, a nun who in 1624 escapes from the convent dressed as a man, which gives rise to multiple entanglements and conflicts. In real life, the ensign nun was prosecuted by the same Inquisition for cross-dressing.
In the film, the Doña represents a woman forced to behave “as a man” given the circumstances she faces, she is inserted into the masculine practices of the time in which the film is set, such as visits to taverns, as well as the demonstration of a hard and severe character in front of others.
Muchachas de uniforme (Alfredo B. Crevenna, 1951)
When talking about lesbianism in the cinema, it is possible to find that there is a great numerical difference in terms of productions starring non-heterosexual women with respect to what happens with homosexual men, something evident in the same Golden Age of Mexican cinema.
An atypical case unfolds in the film Girls in uniform, where —like a drama— the story of Manuela Medina (Irasema Dilián) is told, an orphan student who falls deeply in love with her teacher Lucila (Marga López). The film has a tragic ending for both women, emphasizing the impossibility at this time of a relationship of this type.
Crevenna’s film is currently considered a cult piece that dared to propose a theme completely removed from the genre conventions that prevailed at the time of its release.
Like homosexuality, lesbianism in Mexican cinema de Oro was not explored consistently until the 1970s, when several films starring Isela Vega gave rise to the representation of several non-heterosexual women.
Friends or, rather, boyfriends?
A toda máquina (Ismael Rodríguez, 1951)
In the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, few films dared to show openly homosexual characters. However, a considerable number of productions presented homoerotic situations or themes in the subtext of the films; that is, by way of mere hints.
This was developed in the “buddy movies”, films in which the friendship and companionship between two male characters tend to be more important than any possible affective relationship with a woman. These films focus on showing the closeness between the men that is abruptly interrupted by the appearance of a woman who begins to separate them.
A toda máquina ahead explores this situation in a story starring Pedro Infante and Luis Aguilar, two officers who maintain a profound —and suggestive— friendship until the moment when a woman appears who separates them and arouses the jealousy of the other man.
Something similar is presented in What has that woman given you? (1951) and, later, in Tintorera (1976). All of the films with a homosexual subtext given the impossibility, at the time, of presenting the characters outside the closet of Mexican cinema.
With information from: Alfonso Ortega Mantecón