FQ’s new books editor Carla Marcantonio reflects upon her experience serving as Netflix’s official translator for Yalitza Aparicio, the Indigenous Mexican woman who plays the housekeeper in director Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. Marcantonio explores themes that emerged over the course of the film’s promotional campaign, ranging from the expected (the film’s social impact and depiction of a makeshift matriarchy) to those less discussed, such as the film’s significant political context and critique of patriarchy, masculinity, and violence. In closing, she offers a counter-argument to the interpretation that Cuarón denies Cleo her agency by limiting her spoken lines, arguing that Cuarón’s masterful use of cinematic language allows Cleo’s voice to come through loud and clear.
FQ Columnist Amelie Hastie offers a unique and personal meditation on cinema’s affective qualities, particularly the sentiment of love. She traces Cuarón’s exploration of cinema’s fundamental humanism back to Jean Renoir and continues through the Italian Neo-Realists, particularly Vittorio de Sica. She discusses Cuarón’s intellectual formation as a student of cinema, and finds a consistent emphasis on women’s experiences throughout his films. Introducing Cuarón’s description of Roma as an “inquiry” into the relation between “foreground” and “background,” she delves into scenes where character and social environment converge.
Sergio de la Mora reviews Roma’s reception in Mexico and reflects upon the film’s intimate relationship with the nation’s political history. Situating Roma with the broader trend in Latin American cinema for films that explore servant-employer relations, he examines how Roma visualizes the ways in which Indigenous domestic and intimate labor has been historically racialized and gendered in Mexico. He discusses the controversy surrounding Cleo’s voice and agency in the film along with the aesthetic debates prompted by Cuarón’s decision to film in black and white.
Historically, the study of the idea of black film has been a fraught, insightful, and generative enterprise—be it a matter of industrial capital and its delimitation of film practice in terms of profit, or the tendency to insist that the “black” of black film be only a biological determinant and never a formal proposition. In many ways, the black film as an object of study mirrors the history of America, the history of an idea of race. While the field continues to shift and change, and the study of black film becomes more common, it is often still tokenized by the industry. Discussion about black film and media is booming in academic programs (e.g., American Studies, Women and Gender Studies, English) and in Film and Media Studies, but it is doing so even more in nonacademic spaces, with blogs, podcasts, and think pieces proliferating at a rapid pace. We offer our manifesto, recognizing that film manifestos never whisper. Their messages envision political, aesthetic, and cultural possibilities. They demand and plot. They question and insist. What follows are expectations bundled as concerns for not only the renderings of black film to come but, as well, the thinking on blackness and cinema that we hope will thrive and inspire future discussions. We are devising new terms of engagement with current developments in mind.