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15 Movies & TV Shows That Celebrate Hispanic and Latinx Culture

Written by Erin Feher and Maria O. Alvarez

Photography by Film Still From Coco

Did you know that this week kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month? The annual event started in 1968 and runs from September 15 to October 15. It’s a national celebration begun by the United States government, created to celebrate and spread awareness of Hispanic and Latinx culture and acknowledge the many contributions to American culture by Latinx citizens of the U.S. or those with ancestors in Spain, México, and Central or South America.

With this in mind, we thought it was the perfect time to round up a stellar list of kids’ movies and TV shows about and by Latinx. From the colorful adventures in Dora the Explorer to the sweeping drama and high energy dance scenes in East Los High, Latino-influenced TV shows and movies are full of great role models, positive messages, and rich storytelling. These films and series cover a wide range of genres, from kid-friendly animations to hilarious comedies to emotional dramas, demonstrating the diversity within the Latino community. Explore the language, culture, and history of Latinx people with these programs for every age.

Canticos, Age 3+
Canticos is a bilingual series that features nursery rhymes sung in English and in Spanish. It’s toddler- and preschool-friendly, and features all the songs and characters of the Canticos franchise.
Available on Amazon Prime and Nick Jr.

Dora the Explorer, Age 3+
Dora the Explorer is a show about a bilingual communicator who can speak with all of the critters and humans in her vicinity. Some of the language lessons may rub off on kids—but other viewers might get bored. Since phrases are constantly repeated, parents may want to consider whether they want their kids to be repeating the same episodes all day. The series offers good exposure to language, culture, and creativity.
Available on Amazon Prime

Nina’s World, Age 3+
Nina’s World is an animated series about the childhood adventures of The Good Night Show‘s Nina. The show celebrates multiculturalism and family in Nina’s close-knit household, where she’s cared for by her parents and her grandmother and elements of their Latinx heritage are prominent. Dialogue includes English, Spanish, and even some American Sign Language. Solving problems, embracing new experiences, and forging strong relationships that cross cultural boundaries are strong themes as well.
Available on Hulu

Maya and Miguel, Age 5+
Maya & Miguel is well-written, funny, and full of upbeat charm. The program focuses on a set of Spanish language vocabulary words that are repeated throughout the episode. Kids will find the animated twins a delight.
Available on Amazon Prime

The Book of Life, Age 7+
The Book of Life is a refreshingly original animated film that takes viewers to the underworld and back. This is a beautifully animated film about Dia de los Muertos that combines essential Mexican folklore, ancient mythology, and pop culture. Luna is charming as Manolo, the guitar playing bullfighter who’s too kind to kill the bull. Tatum has just the right amount of bravado to play Joaquin, who shouts his own name as he rushes into battle, and Saldana is sassy and adorable as the smart, independent Maria. It’s also an invitation to explore and learn more about Mexican culture, from the details of the Day of the Dead celebrations to legendary creatures like Chupacabras.
Available on Amazon Prime

Legend Quest, Age 7+
Legend Quest is an adventure cartoon about a Latino boy and his supernatural friends (ghosts, a shape-shifting animal, and two Mexican candy-sugar skulls) who team up against a nefarious creature god. The story is set in the 19th century and is heavily inspired by Mexican folklore; there’s some educational opportunity as well as the possibility of sparking an interest in those who watch. And as for those viewers, count adults among them, as these curious tales of mythical creatures and spirits are great for parents and kids to watch together.
Available on Netflix

Coco, Age 7+
Coco is a vibrant Disney/Pixar film that explores the traditions of the Day of the Dead, a child’s desire to become a musician despite his family’s wishes, and the power of unconditional love. Told from the point of view of Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy who ends up in the Land of the Dead, the movie—which features an all-star Latinx voice cast (including Gael García Bernal and Benjamin Bratt), as well as a Latinx co-director and many Latinx crew members—is a tribute to Mexican traditions and customs. It also has powerful themes of perseverance, teamwork, and gratitude and encourages audiences to love and appreciate their family and always follow their dreams.
Available on Netflix or Amazon Prime

Trollhunters, Age 9+
Trollhunters is an action-packed series based on the Guillermo del Toro book about a mild-mannered teen who becomes a hero in a secret world of trolls. The story follows the protagonist in both dimensions—the trolls’ world and his regular world as a high school student—as he stands up to bad guys in both scenarios. There are excellent themes about friendship, loyalty, courage, and fighting the good fight throughout, but the scares (trolls fighting, snarling, and in peril) likely are too much for very young kids. Older ones and tweens will enjoy this visually impressive DreamWorks production and its principled teen hero.
Available on Amazon Prime

Selena, Age 10+
Selena is a 1997 movie tells the story of the Grammy-winning Tejano singer Selena, who was killed at age 23 by her fan-club president. Jennifer Lopez shines in the title role of the movie, which chronicles the performer’s rise to stardom and explores her relationship with her tight-knit family, including a domineering yet loving father, Abraham (Edward James Olmos). Although it occasionally feels somewhat sugar-coated, this film remains a very watchable, entertaining, and moving tribute to a beloved performer. Selena also includes portrayals of Mexican-American culture and Hispanic families. A great pick for families looking to learn more about the Tejano superstar. For aspiring musicians, this movie shows the amount of work, dedication, and perseverance it took Selena and her family to find success. This movie also shows the sexist and racist attitudes Selena had to transcend as a Mexican-American female lead vocalist.
Available on Amazon Prime

Zurdo, Age 13+
Zurdo is a subtitled 2003 Mexican film, named for its main character, Zurdo (Spanish for “Lefty”), a tween boy living in Buenaventura; he is the town’s marbles champion and has never lost a match. When a mysterious stranger visits the local bar and tells of “the Wizard,” the marbles champion in his hometown, the citizens of Buenaventura bet their money that Zurdo can defeat the Wizard. Zurdo is a wonderful movie that skillfully evokes the best elements of Latin American folklore and literature. And yet, for all its stylized filmmaking and action sequences, Zurdo is about a tween boy trying to do the right thing in an adult world that doesn’t always have the best intentions. Also, this movie manages to make marble-playing seem interesting—no easy feat in an era of gaming culture, IMAX 3-D, and, well, digital everything.
Available on DVD via Amazon

Ugly Betty, Age 13+
Ugly Betty is an hour-long comedy set in the competitive, materialistic world of a high-fashion magazine called Mode. Several characters—most of whom are pretty over-the-top—consequently exhibit poor values and iffy behavior (scheming, corporate one-upmanship, petty meanness to those who don’t fit in, etc.). By comparison, delightful main character Betty stands out like a cheerful, hardworking beacon. Unabashedly proud of her working-class roots and eclectic taste in clothes and accessories, Betty is a great role model for teen girls who worry about fitting in.
Available on Amazon Prime

The Fosters, Age 14+
The Fosters are an unconventional family: Stef Foster (Teri Polo) is the bio mom of teen piano prodigy Brandon, whom she had with her ex-husband Mike, whom she left for her current partner Lena Adams (Sherri Saum). Also in the family: adopted twins Jesus and Mariana, and Callie, recently sprung from juvie and uneasily staying for “a while” with the Foster/Adams brood. All of the kids go to the beachside charter school at which Lena’s a vice principal; Stef holds down a cop job with her ex-husband as her partner on the beat. “We’re definitely not the Brady Bunch,” Stef says about her blended brood, but a family they are nonetheless.
Available on Netflix and Amazon Prime

Real Women Have Curves, Age 15+
Ana Garcia (America Ferrera), the youngest daughter of an L.A. Mexican-American family, has just graduated from Beverly Hills High School and wants to go to Columbia University and date the sweet but dorky Jimmy (Brian Sites). But her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), is determined to marry Ana off, have a grandchild, and install Ana at the local sweatshop so she can finally retire. Ana clashes with her traditional mom, rolling her eyes at her mother’s insistence that she lose weight to meet a boy and makes snide, belittling comments about her mother’s beliefs and life. This is a welcome addition to the great pantheon of teen heroine movies. Like Pretty in Pink, this film encourages young girls to follow their dreams and rewards them with both the boy and scholastic success. And, like the warmly human Quinceañera, it shows a teenage girl who isn’t white, rich, and pampered.
Available in HBO Now and Amazon Prime

East Los High, Age 15+
East Los High is a gritty, partially dance-themed teen soap featuring an all-Latinx cast and set in inner-city East Los Angeles. The plot approaches big issues such as drugs, sex, teen pregnancy, immigration, and violent crime in a thoughtful way that’s also respectful to the characters’ Latinx-American and urban culture. Likewise, all the teens’ decisions in matters like these have realistically drastic consequences to be dealt with. Each season of East Los High follows a new group of teens, while still featuring some of the original cast members, which ensures that every social niche is represented, from the conniving social diva to the troubled street kid. But this series manages to represent each personality with far more substance than stereotypical fluff, making it more genuine. Meanwhile, it debunks some stereotypes and touches on strong topics and their real-life consequences without sugarcoating them.
Available on Hulu

Roma, Age 16+
Roma is a drama, in Spanish and Mixtec (a native dialect used in some parts of Mexico) with English subtitles, from Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron. Telling the story of a maid and the troubled family she lives with, circa 1971-1972, it’s a gorgeous, moving masterpiece, but it includes some very mature material.
Available on Netflix

Need more movie recs? Check out The Best Family Movies of 2018, 1o Summer Movies to Broaden Kids’ Perspectives, and Movies and Books Starring Brainy Heroines.

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