Sadly we were not able to have the Puerto Rican Day Parade this year for the first time in so many years, but November is Puerto Rican Heritage Month. While the origins of the month are tied to (ugh) Christopher Columbus, the sentiment behind the month is fantastic, as November marks the celebration of the Puerto Rican culture, and all of its contributions to society, science, education, technology and pop culture. This year, be sure to stay home and celebrate with these five great films that are perfect for Puerto Rican Heritage Month.
Knock Down the House (2019)
It feels often like no one can really break in to politics unless they know someone or have immense wealth. And while it is getting to that point, there are people out there working to change the world. “Knock Down the House” is the story of three female POC all running for seats in the government, one of whom is Bronx native Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Although the movie is about all three women that aspire to change the system for the better, Ms. Ocasio Cortez’s story becomes the focal point of the movie. She’s infectious as the down to Earth, hard working, and intelligent bartender with big aspirations toward congress, and she manages to rattle the status quo and give us little guys hope.
I Like it Like That (1994)
Lauren Velez really should have been a bigger movie star, as she’s turned in so many rich performances in her career. For Darnell Martin’s 1994 movie, Velez plays Lisette, a young mom living in the Bronx with her husband Chino and their defiant children. When Chino is arrested and jailed, Lisette has no choice but to go to work. While finding a new career path, she also manages to learn about so much more waiting out there for her beyond the Bronx, and her small neighborhood. Velez is excellent as is Jon Seda, and Griffin Dunn. It’s a great film about self-discovery and seeking independence.
Nothing Like the Holidays (2008)
Alfredo De Villa’s ensemble holiday film about a large Puerto Rican family looking upon a Christmas that may be their last, is a simple but sweet drama comedy with an immense cast of fantastic performers. Starring John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodriguez, Alfred Molina, Jay Hernandez, Luis Guzmán, and the late Elizabeth Pena, respectively, “Nothing Like the Holidays” is another often overlooked holiday film. The screenwriters dig deep in to overtones about family, loss, grief, and the legacy our parents pass down on to us, while also never being afraid to show a less glamorous sense of family life. With the caliber of actors and pure message, it deserves a wider audience.
NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell (2007)
This important documentary chronicles one of the most tumultuous times in New York City history. From a look at the evolution of hip hop and the punk movement, the rise of Son of Sam, the Bronx becoming decrepit war zones, and a historic nation wide black out, “NY77” is a great nostalgia trip. Director Henry Corra’s look at New York during a time that was both exciting and terrifying is a priceless time capsule filled with great first hand accounts, fascinating interviews, and a gritty deep dive in to the New York Hollywood rarely showed America.
!Yo Soy Boricua, Pa ‘Que Tu Lo Sepa! (2006)
Director Rosie Perez delivers an extremely overdue (and overlooked!) exploration of the origins of Puerto Rican. From the almost magical island, the diverse people that live there, their migration to America, and their overall impact on everything from American foreign affairs, politics, and of course, entertainment. Director Perez simply never misses a beat, digging deep in to how Puerto Ricans were stuffed in to ghettos and barrios in America, worked slave wages to get by and provide for their families.
Not to mention how they were viewed as lesser than human. There is also inevitably becoming one of the more recognizable faces of music, pop culture, their deep connection to New York, and how the Puerto Rican Day Parade became a nation wide day of celebration. This is a documentary that celebrates the Puerto Rican heritage while also teaching viewers about the importance of knowing where you came from.