National Hispanic Heritage Month Movie Guide – American Film Institute


National Hispanic Heritage Month Movie Guide

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sep 15 – Oct 15), please join us in celebrating these iconic and groundbreaking films named to our AFI lists, honored with AFI AWARDS and selected for AFI Movie Club.

A powerful epic crime drama that opens up with the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 and spans 30 years, AMERICAN ME (1992) marked the feature directorial debut of AFI Trustee Edward James Olmos, who also stars in the film. Learn more about AMERICAN ME in the AFI Catalog.

From Academy Award®-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu, BABEL was honored with an AFI AWARD in 2006, with AFI noting that the “[r]aw performances from an extraordinary cast drive this haunting and, at times, harrowing tale about our inability to communicate despite advances in technology.” Learn more about BABEL in the AFI Catalog.

BEATRIZ AT DINNER (2017), directed by AFI Conservatory Alum Miguel Arteta (AFI Class of 1990), stars Oscar® nominee Salma Hayek as a Mexican immigrant and healer who, when her car breaks down at the home of a wealthy client, ends up staying for dinner and engaging in an epic sparing match, exposing harsh truths about race, class and privilege. Learn more about BEATRIZ AT DINNER in the AFI Catalog.

A moving testament to artistic and sexual freedom directed by Julian Schnabel, BEFORE NIGHT FALLS (2000) is a “sensual, lyrical and searing memorial to the late Cuban novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas, played by Javier Bardem with a riveting mixture of passion and playfulness” – and the film was selected as an honoree at the first annual AFI AWARDS. Learn more about BEFORE NIGHT FALLS in the AFI Catalog.

Writer/director Jorge Gutierrez’s colorful valentine to Mexican folklore, THE BOOK OF LIFE (2014), features an all-star cast led by Diego Luna. The design of the film’s character La Muerte was inspired by José Guadalupe Posada’s iconic zinc etching “La Calavera Catrina,” as well as by muralist Diego Rivera’s “Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central.” Learn more about THE BOOK OF LIFE in the AFI Catalog.

Winner of two Academy Awards® – one for Best Animated Feature Film and one for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) for “Remember Me” written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, COCO (2017) follows a young boy in pursuit of his dream to become a great musician who uncovers the mysteries behind his ancestors’ stories and traditions. Learn more about COCO in the AFI Catalog.

Written, directed, shot, produced and edited by Robert Rodriguez on a shoestring budget when he was just 23 years old, EL MARIACHI (1993) launched his career and became the first installment of the iconic “Mexico Trilogy” – which continued with DESPERADO (1995) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003). Learn more about EL MARIACHI in the AFI Catalog.

With powerhouse performances from Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina, this 2002 biographical drama which depicts the professional and private life of the surrealist Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was co-written by AFI Conservatory Screenwriting Discipline Head Anna Thomas. FRIDA (2002) was honored with an AFI AWARD, nominated for six Academy Awards®, including a historic nomination for Salma Hayek, and won two Oscars®. Learn more about FRIDA in the AFI Catalog.

Renowned playwright and director Luis Valdez, who wrote “Zoot Suit,” the first Chicano play on Broadway – which was then later adapted into the first Chicano major feature film, wrote and directed this biography of rock ‘n’ roll superstar and pioneer of Chicano rock, Ritchie Valens. In 2017, LA BAMBA (1987) was selected as one of 25 films to be added to the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress. Learn more about LA BAMBA in the AFI Catalog.

AFI AWARDS honoree MARIA FULL OF GRACE (2004) takes the audience on a treacherous and tension-filled journey from Colombia to the U.S. through the eyes of Maria, played by Catalina Sandino Moreno in an Oscar®-nominated portrayal of a pregnant teenager working as drug mule to support her family. Learn more about MARIA FULL OF GRACE in the AFI Catalog.

In a story about three generations of a Mexican American family living in East Los Angeles exploring their tragedies and triumphs, MY FAMILY, MI FAMILIA (1995) stars Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales and AFI Board member Edward James Olmos, and was co-written and produced by AFI Conservatory Screenwriting Discipline Head Anna Thomas. Learn more about MY FAMILY, MI FAMILIA in the AFI Catalog.


ROMA (2018), Alfonso Cuarón’s love letter to his homeland of Mexico, was honored with a Special Award at the 2018 AFI AWARDS – recognizing it as “an ode to life, love and loss – a monument to the power of film to inspire empathy across the walls of geography, class and culture. Alfonso Cuarón’s personal tour de force deftly captures the emotional balance of intimacy and opera – recalling the poetic power of Fellini and Buñuel while creating a film of striking originality and vaulting ambition.” Read more about ROMA at the 2018 AFI AWARDS.

International superstar Jennifer Lopez stars as the beloved Grammy® Award-winning Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez in this biopic written and directed by Gregory Nava. In 2021, SELENA (1997) was officially selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Learn more about SELENA in the AFI Catalog.


Marking Mexican director Patricia Riggen’s feature directorial debut and starring Kate del Castillo, Adrián Alonso and Eugenio Derbez, UNDER THE SAME MOON (2008), which premiered at Sundance, follows a woman and her son separated by the U.S.-Mexico border. Learn more about UNDER THE SAME MOON in the AFI Catalog.


A contemporary reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet” based on the beloved stage musical, WEST SIDE STORY (1961) is ranked on AFI’s list of the top 100 movies and boasts three entries among AFI’s accounting of the greatest movie songs. The iconic screen story also ranked #3 on AFI’s list of the greatest love stories and #2 among AFI’S 100 YEARS OF MUSICALS – and features AFI Honorary Degree recipient Rita Moreno in a groundbreaking, Academy Award®-winning performance as Anita. Learn more about WEST SIDE STORY in the AFI Catalog.


This modern reinterpretation of the iconic musical, WEST SIDE STORY (2021) was honored with a 2021 AFI AWARD, recognizing the film as culturally and artistically representative of the year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image. For her stunning performance as Anita, Ariana DeBose won an Academy Award® – and made history as the first Afro-Latina and openly queer woman of color to win Best Supporting Actress. Read more about WEST SIDE STORY at AFI AWARDS 2021.

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