Bandits With a Cause

This past weekend the Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend and I went to the Autry National Center for the American West to see the exhibit Bold Caballeros y Noble Banditas. I became interested in going to this show after seeing a painting of a gun-slinging woman, Adelita by George Yepes. The image is being used to promote the exhibit.

The theme of the exhibit was the tradition of virile heroes and heroines fighting for social justice in Latino and Latina culture. Drawing examples from the historical record as well as from popular culture and the imagination, the exhibition ranged from the Old West to the Mexican Revolution to Hollywood and the Mexican cinema.

Film poster for the Bandit Queen

As I've mentioned here before, the Autry Museum has an impressive collection of material artifacts from Hollywood cowboy movies and Western serials. Many such pieces were put to use in this bilingual exhibit, in effect shifting the focus towards American (rather than Mexican) and non-Hispanic (as opposed to Latino and Latina) contributions.

For example, while there was some interesting illustrated matter dating from the Mexican Revolution on display, the larger narrative of the exhibit emphasized the way Hollywood was inspired by revolutionary leaders and events. I would have rather seen more historical artifacts pertaining to Pancho Villa than see the costume worn by the actor playing Pancho Villa in a Hollywood production.

The section of the exhibit on outlaw champions of social justice in film contained a wall devoted to macha women in Mexican cinema. I especially enjoyed the material related to the life and career of movie star Maria Felix. Although the images and posters related to Zorro and other Hollywood creations were fun to look at, I felt the presentation willfully ignored Hollywood's history of racism in depicting Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

Despite these reservations, I enjoyed the exhibit overall and am happy to see such cross-cultural, cross-border offerings. The theme of the show has special resonance now, when a Robin Hood or two would be most welcome.