Representations of the Child in Latin American Cinema

  • Martin, D (PI)

Project: Research council

Project Details


This project shows how shifting discourses around the child since 1990 have influenced their filmic representation in Latin America, where cinema has long been fond of child-centred narratives. The 1989 UN Convention on child rights led to renewed interest in representing the poorest children in Latin America, and an upsurge in realist films about such children, whilst public debates at regional and national levels over, for example, disappeared children and street children have influenced filmmaking significantly. At the project's centre is the idea that the discursive construction of the child as subject of rights has produced a shift in representational strategies, producing films which privilege child agency and experience by contrast with traditional uses of children as ciphers for exploring adult preoccupations. The study compares films from countries including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.\n\nThe study asks what representational uses the child has in Latin American film, what narrative and stylistic techniques are at play in the creation of the child's perspective, and how these representations confirm or disrupt the child's status as 'other', drawing on work in childhood studies, girls' studies and recent film theory. It argues that a changing politics of child-representation is key to understanding contemporary Latin American countries' relationship to the issues children have traditionally represented, among them, modernity, nation, past and future. The study comprises four chapters: 'Children on the edge' examines Latin American films centring on marginal children in the 1990s (e.g. Sicario, [Novoa, 1994]), paying attention to the discursive construction of the 'problem' and the 'at risk' child in addition to the ethics of representing child suffering and questions of emotion and spectatorship; 'Childhood and cinematic journeys' explores films depicting travelling children in the late 1990s and early 2000s, either across the national territory (often linked to a search for the father, as in Central do Brasil [Salles, 1998]), whilst urban to-ing and fro-ing radically undermines conventional identity narratives; 'Ghosts and witnesses' discusses films like El niño pez (Puenzo, 2009) which figure children as uncanny or ghostly loci of memory and/or witnesses to political or personal trauma; and 'Queer children and the future' proposes the advent of the girl-child within Latin American film as subject of unregulated desire disruptive of the patriarchal-heterosexual matrix and symbol of the future, discussing how such films queer representational norms, as in La niña santa (Martel 2004).\n\nIn recent years, significant work has been done on the child in film, and new questions generated about cinematic uses of the child and what they say about adult culture. This research is informed by the growing interest in children's relationship to culture and politics and the belief amongst scholars of various disciplines that the kind of scrutiny that has been applied to the structural role of gender in modern culture should with urgency be applied to that of childhood, especially in Latin American studies where the child is scarce in contemporary scholarship despite the fact that half the continent's population is under 18. Many Latin American films are about children, yet the role of the child has received scant attention in critical work by contrast with categories such as gender or race. What studies there are tend to focus on street children, and are essentially about class rather than childhood. This study will see representations of child poverty and homelessness alongside other representations of the child, and will therefore be in a unique position to ask (echoing Lebeau) what the child is for Latin American cinema (beyond simply a means to highlight social marginalization); what Latin American cinema wants of thechild, which is vital to an understanding of cultural identity in contemporary Latin American countes.
Effective start/end date1/10/1130/06/12


  • AHRC


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