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Cannibalizing the Colony: Cinematic Adaptations of Colonial Literature in Mexico and Brazil

Richard A. Gordon

The 1992 and 2000 quincentenaries of the arrival of the Spanish and the Portuguese in America prompted an explosion of rewritings and cinematic renditions of texts and figures from colonial Latin America. However, such negotiations with the colonial past are not simply a recent phenomenon in Latin America. Cannibalizing the Colony analyzes a crucial way that Latin American historical films, since the beginning of sound cinema, have grappled with the legacy of colonialism. It studies how and why filmmakers in Brazil and Mexico—the countries that have produced most films about the colonial period in Latin America—appropriate and transform colonial narratives of European and indigenous contact into commentaries on national identity. The book focuses on the dynamics of cinematic adaptation and examines the processes through which filmmakers “devour” and “digest” artifacts from the colonial period. In other words, it looks at how they attempt to reconfigure history and culture and incorporate it into present-day understandings of the nation. The book additionally considers the motivations and implications for these filmic dialogues with the past and how the directors attempt to control the way that spectators understand the complex and contentious roots of identity in Mexico and Brazil.

"Gordon probes Latin American cinema as the perfect vehicle for illuminating its history—through colonial discourse, postcolonial hybridism, modernist anthropophagy, national allegory, and adaptation theory. This first-rate study should appeal to scholars and students of film, and to all who are interested in how history is represented on film." —Patricia Hart, Director of Film/Video Studies, Purdue University

"… explores a particular genre of the region's films that has received little scholarly atention to date and raises important questions concerning film and national identity in ways that touch on issues of race and gender." —Maite Conde, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 87 (2010): 1032-33.

“Where actual colonial texts are adapted for the screen, Cannibalizing the Colony  goes directly to the pages and finds the visual approximation given by the director paragraph by paragraph and scene by scene.… This work will remain a reference for those who are interested in studying the influence of cinema in the reconfiguration and contemporary reception of Latin American identities.”  —Daniel Chavéz, Romance Quarterly 60.1 (2013): 66-69

For more reviews, see
Choice 47.2 (Oct. 2009): 47-0757 (by D. L. Heyck)

Richard A. Gordon, The Ohio State University, works in the areas of Hispanic and Portuguese-language literatures and cultures and film studies and comparative studies. His research intersects with colonial and post-colonial studies, centering on Brazilian and Spanish-American historical cinema. He is currently writing a book that evaluates the role that films about slavery have played in shaping national identities in Cuba and Brazil. His articles have appeared in Hispania, MLN, Luso-Brazilian Review, Letras peninsulares, Colonial Latin American Review, and Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies.

ISBN-13: 978-1-55753-519-1
2009. Vol. 45. ca. 250 pp. Paper $43.95


Window display in Stanley Coulter Hall, April 20-27, 2009.

Thanks to Charlotte Scarcelli and David Dull of SLC for the loan of several items. Photo of dancers: Terena Indians in the closing ceremony of the ninth Games of the Aboriginal Peoples (Olinda PE), courtesy of Agência Brasil,, from Wikipedia. Poster for Humberto Mauro's Descobrimento do Brasil, courtesy of the Centro Técnico Audiovisual, Ministério da Cultura, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Clipart @ 2009

Information last updated June 24, 2015

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