Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Chon A. Noriega

Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media of the University of California, Los Angeles

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Biographical Note

Chon A. Noriega is Professor in the UCLA Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media and Director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. He is author of Shot in America: Television, the State, and the Rise of Chicano Cinema (Minnesota, 2000) and editor of nine books dealing with Latino media, performance and visual art. For the past decade, Noriega has been active in media policy and advocacy, for which Hispanic Business named him as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Hispanics. He is co-founder of the 500-member National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP, est. 1999) and served on the Board of Directors of the Independent Television Service, the largest source of independent project funding within public television in the United States.

Research Interests

My research interests related to the residency topic cover three distinct disciplinary areas: cinema history, media policy, and art history. I will elaborate on the first. My current research project examines the history of Chicano feature films. This project follows upon my book, Shot in America: Television, the State, and the Rise of Chicano Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2000). That book examined the way in which social protest, media reform, and federal regulation created a space for Chicanos and other minorities to enter the film industry via public affairs television. The new project, Reel Chicanos, picks up where the earlier history left off, examining the different ways in which Chicano filmmakers have produced and distributed feature films with an eye toward Hollywood. I am particularly concerned with presenting this history within the context of the technological and economic transformation of the film industry since the 1970s. During the period of "New Hollywood" in the 1970s, Chicano filmmakers produced gritty social problem films but were unable to secure theatrical distribution, turning instead to self-distribution or the Mexican film industry. Starting in the 1980s, the studios attempted to tap into the Hispanic market with several Chicano-directed genre films: Zoot Suit, La Bamba, Born in East L.A.. Meanwhile, other filmmakers turned to the art house film (El Norte, Break of Dawn, the Ballad of Gregorio Cortez), often with financial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS's American Playhouse, and foundations. Both tendencies continued in the 1990s, but other models emerged, too, made possible by video, cable, and the multiplex phenomenon (which opened up opportunities for small-scale theatrical release in Latino-dominant communities). These new films were often produced by younger filmmakers, including the first female directors, who broke from the earlier tendency to depict "epic" histories centered on the Chicano family. Instead, these new films engaged in parody and satire (Never Trust a Serial Killer, Staccato Purr of the Exhaust), explored urban youth culture (Livin' the Life, Road Dogz, Runnin' at Midnite), or foreground women's stories (Vocessitas, Real Women Have Curves). Other films exploited the straight-to-video market with low-budget crime films (The Barrio Murders, Drive By) or comedies (A Million to Juan, Suckers, A Lowrider Spring Break in San Quilmas).
Other related research interests include a book project on Puerto Rican artist Raphael Montanez Ortiz, whose compilation films in the 1950s and digital appropriations in the 1980s represent a counter-history to the genre of recycled or gallery films within the art world. I am also completing a quantitative research project on hate speech in commercial radio in collaboration with social science researchers and media advocacy groups, and with support from the Social Science Research Council.

Contribution to the Research Group

In relying on the historical method, I am less concerned with defining "Chicano cinema" than in exploring the ways in which the impulse for self-representation (by Chicano producers, writers and directors) has resulted in a diverse cinematic history, both in terms of the types of films that have been made and the ways in which these films have been marketed, distributed, and written about. In other words, I am less concerned with creating an ethnic "genre" (which would be fraught with contradictions) than I am in examining the various ways in which Chicano filmmakers have participated in the history of U.S. and world cinema. Toward that end, I would like to discuss not only ethnic feature film production, but its relation to television-cable and the media arts, not just in economic and aesthetic terms, but also with respect to cultural politics, media policy, and site of consumption (theater, home, museum).

Relevant Publications:

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