Rumberas film

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The principal Rumberas film stars in the cover of the book Las Reinas del Trópico: María Antonieta Pons, Meche Barba, Amalia Aguilar, Ninón Sevilla, Rosa Carmina, by the Mexican journalist Fernando Muñoz Castillo, (Grupo Azabache, México, 1993).

The Rumberas film (in Spanish Cine de rumberas) was a film genre that flourished in the so-called Golden Age of Mexican cinema in the 1940s and 1950s. Its main stars were the actresses and dancers known as "rumberas" (Afro-Caribbean rhythm dancers). The genre is a hybrid that is rooted in various film genres and today, thanks to its unique characteristics, they are considered cult films. The Rumberas film and the Luchador films are two of the contributions of the Mexican Cinema to international cinema.


The Rumberas film finds his roots in various film genres. The film noir so popular in the Hollywood Cinema and in other film industries in the 1930s and 1940s, can be considered as its cornerstone in that it is based on criminal matters. Another influence is the musical film, particularly the Hollywood musicals of Busby Berkeley in the 1940s, which were famous for theirs colorful and extravagant musical numbers endowed with a profound aesthetic expression, and the Hollywood B films of the 1930s, famous, among other things, for their exaltation of the exotic and extravagant environments. Finally, the Rumberas film was also influenced by the "social film" or Mexican urban melodramatic film, whose main architect was the director Alejandro Galindo. This mix of elements and genres can be considered the basis of the Rumberas film.[1]


The "rumberas" were the dancers and actresses who danced to Afro-Caribbean rhythms, which flourished in the Mexican Cinema in its Golden Age in the 1940s and 1950s. The term "rumbera" comes from the Cuban dance known as the Rumba, a musical rhythm that became fashionable in Mexico and throughout Latin America since the late nineteenth century to the 1940s. The first rumberas danced this rhythm. Eventually, there were new Afro-Caribbean rhythms, like the Cha-cha-cha and the Mambo, who quickly displaced the Rumba as the favorite rhythm of the public. Although the dancers eventually adopted these new genres, and later used these their dances in their films, the term "Rumbera" continued to be used to refer to them.

The rumberas first came to the theater in the 19th century when they came to accompany many comedians and buffs of Cuban origin who settled in Mexico City, at the time of the vaudeville and the burlesque. From the early 20th century until the 1920s, in the age of the great Mexican Vedettes of the frivolous theater (as María Conesa or Lupe Vélez) Rumba dancers began to emerge. Lolita Téllez Wood is popularly considered the first dancer to popularize West Indian rhythms. During the course of the next decade, many rumberas and vedettes from Cuba came to Mexico.[2]

In the cinema[edit]

The concept of the "Rumbera" has been embodied in the Mexican Cinema since the first talkies in the early 1930s. The actress Maruja Griffel was the first to dance the rumba in the film Que viva Mexico! (Sergei Eisenstein, 1931). She was followed by others such as Consuelo Moreno in Mujeres sin alma, ¿Venganza suprema?, Rita Montaner in La noche del pecado (1933) and Margarita Mora in Águila o Sol (1937). In addition, the Puerto Rican actress Mapy Cortés (called "The Rumbera Blanca"), was famous for dancing the Conga in numerous films. Lolita Tellez Wood participated in three Mexican films: El rosal bendito (Juan Bustillo Oro, 1936), Mujeres de hoy (Ramón Peon, 1936) and Honrarás a tus padres (1936), the latter directed by Juan Orol, considered the "spiritual father" of the Rumberas film, and whose image probably inspired him to shape his future muse, Maria Antonieta Pons.

Juan Orol was born in Spain but grew up in Cuba, where he grew up in the "solares", as they are known in Cuba to the Low neighborhoods. There he had much contact with people of African origin, who him taught all their dancing techniques.[3] After establishing himself as a film director in Mexico, Orol became famous for the importation of numerous Cuban figures to the Mexican Cinema. María Antonieta Pons was one of his discoveries. It is common to recognize Maria Antonieta Pons as the first cinematographic rumbera following her debut on the film Siboney (1938), a film inspired by the music of Ernesto Lecuona, and directed by Orol, who quickly realized he had in his hand a gold mine after Siboney became a blockbuster. Thus, the Rumberas film gradually took shape. The dancer Estela invented the maracas at the waist, to do more flashy musical numbers. Another leading figure was the Cuban dancer Celina, who choreographed numerous films. In Cuba, the Mexican Luz Gil was considered the master of all the rumberas.[4] Although the Rumba was the initial musical genre that was danced in these productions, soon other tropical rhythms were added to the repertoire, such as Mambo, conga, Calypso music, samba, Cha-cha-cha and bolero. Artists such as Perez Prado, Beny Moré, Agustín Lara, Kiko Mendive, Toña la Negra, Rita Montaner, Maria Luisa Landin, Olga Guillot, Pedro Vargas, Amparo Montes and others deserve a special mention.

Rise of the genre[edit]

During the administration of the Mexican President Miguel Alemán Valdés (1946-1952), the growth of Mexico City as a great metropolis was reflected in the huge boom in cabarets and nightlife around the town. The Mexican Cinema was influenced by this phenomenon. The rural settings that set the tone in the first half of the 1940s began to lose ground against the new melodramas with urban and suburban settings. The famous film Salon Mexico (Emilio Fernández, 1950), marked the transition of the role of the heroine, from the campirano and naive women to the low class young sinners, "night women" dragged by urban revolution to the suburbs and perdition. In this sense, even with all its fancy and tropical extravagance, the Rumberas film was a genre that showed a more authentic form of social life of Mexico at the time, without false stylized images that were shown in films from Emilio Fernández and other directors.

Aventurera (Alberto Gout, 1950), film considered as the masterpiece of the film genre.

Although it is common to recognize María Antonieta Pons as the first film "rumbera", the film Humo en los ojos (1946), directed by the filmmaker Alberto Gout, was the film that began the mass production of Rumberas films because the big production houses found large sales from them at the box office. The film Aventurera (1950), also directed by Alberto Gout, is considered the masterpiece of the genre. What is remarkable is that the most obvious characteristics of Rumberas film (songs, dances, actors, scenery) are easily identifiable in Aventurera and do not differ much from any other films.

The Rumberas film, unique to Mexico, reached the attention of many specialized critics. François Truffaut, still writing for Cahiers du cinéma, write a dossier on this exotic subgenre. The critics of Cahiers du Cinéma wrote some of the most ardent pages dedicated to Mexican actresses.[5]

It is also important to note that due to the success of Rumberas film, many other films were created, which together, allowed the Mexican film industry to consolidate itself. Today, the industry is struggling, despite very specific successes.

The Queens of the Tropic[edit]

According to experts and film critics, of all the rumberas who raided in the Rumberas film in the Mexican cinema, only five of them have managed to go down in history as the maximum exponents of the genre. In 1993, the journalist Fernando Muñoz Castillo, named them The Queens of the Tropic. They were:

Maria Antonieta Pons (1922-2004)[edit]

Pons was brought to Mexico in 1938 by her then husband and discoverer, the Spanish filmmaker Juan Orol. She was the first rumbera of the Mexican Cinema. Maritoña was noted for her particular style of dancing: frantically wiggling her hips. The star found her best cinematic moment under the baton of her second husband, fellow filmmaker Ramón Pereda. Her most important films include Siboney (1938), Konga Roja (1943), Embrujo antillano (1945), La reina del trópico (1945), El ciclón del Caribe (1950), La reina del mambo (1950) and María Cristina (1951). After the decline of the genre, she tried to enter, with little success, other film genres, like comedy. After her last film, realized in 1965, she remained isolated from public life until her death[6]

Meche Barba (1922-2000)[edit]

Barba was the only Mexican among the five major exponents of the genre. She began her career in her childhood in the Carpas, or popular theaters, where great figures of Mexican cinema were forged. Her foray into Rumberas film occurred with the film Rosalinda (1945). She starred in Humo en los ojos (1946), a film that started the mass production of rumberas films. Her films include Cortesana (1947) Venus de fuego (1948), Amor de la calle (1949), Cuando los hijos pecan (1952), La mujer desnuda (1953) and Ambiciosa (1953), among others. She formed a famous film couple with the singer and actor Fernando Fernández. She retired from films early, but reappeared on television in the 1980s, where she remained active until her death.[7]

Amalia Aguilar (1924- )[edit]

Aguilar was called "The Atomic Bomb" for her enormous charisma and extraordinary dance technique. She was brought to Mexico by the Cuban dancer Julio Richard in 1945. Her frenetic dancing won her the opportunity to venture into Hollywood movies. Unlike her colleagues, she never played suffered or perverse women, preferring to lean toward the comedies. Her films include Pervertida (1946), Calabacitas tiernas (1948), Ritmos del Caribe (1950), Al son del mambo (1950), Amor perdido (1951), Las tres alegres comadres (1952) Las interesadas(1952), Mis tres viudas alegres (1953) and Las cariñosas (1953 ), among others. Although she withdrew from acting for several decades, she makes frequent appearances at public events[8]

Ninón Sevilla (1929-2015)[edit]

Sevilla began her training in nightclubs in Cuba and reached Mexico in 1946. She was exclusive star of the film studios Cinematographic Calderon, and performed under the filmmaker Alberto Gout, who filmed a series of films that made her a favorite in markets like France and Brazil. She was a complete star, because she not only danced and acted, but also sang and wrote her own musical numbers. Her films include Perdida (1949), Aventurera (1949), Victimas del Pecado (1950), Sensualidad (1950), Aventura en Río (1953), Mulata (1954) and Yambaó (1956), among others. After retiring from films for over a decade, she returned in the eighties, and remained active in television until her death[9]

Rosa Carmina (1929- )[edit]

With her unique stature and stunning physical beauty, Rosa Carmina came to Mexico in 1946 after being discovered by Juan Orol in Cuba. She acted not only in the Rumberas film, but also in Mexican Gangster films. For this reason, she was called "The Queen of the Gangsters," thanks to her many films of this genre, filmed by Juan Orol. Among her most important films are Tania, la bella salvaje(1947), Gangsters contra charros (1947, Amor salvaje (1949), En carne viva (1951), Viajera (1952), La diosa de Tahití (1953) and Sandra, la mujer de fuego (1954), among others. In her versatile film career, Rosa Carmina performed in numerous film genres (horror, action, drama, etc.). After sporadic appearances on television, she retired in 1992. She currently resides in Spain.[10]

Another Rumberas[edit]

It is a common mistake to confuse the rumberas with the Exóticas. Even though they also danced in the Mexican Cinema, they danced different rhythms (Polynesian, Eastern, African, Tahitian, Hawaiian, etc.). Due to censorship on films, the Exóticas lived their moment of glory at nightclubs, and only later came to film. Some used exotic names. Among the most famous are Su Muy Key, Kalantan, Trudi Bora, Bongala, Eda Lorna, Turanda, and Gemma. The most striking of all was Tongolele, probably the only exotic that managed to have relatively distinguished career in film.

Many actresses also danced tropical rhythms in some films. Among them are: Rosita Quintana, Elsa Aguirre, Lilia Prado, Leticia Palma, Lilia del Valle, Silvia Pinal, Ana Bertha Lepe, Evangelina Elizondo and Ana Luisa Peluffo.

There are other dancers who performed in the Rumberas film but, for various reasons, had only a fleeting step on the screen. These include the Puerto Rican Marquita Rivera, the Cubans Blanquita Amaro, Olga Chaviano and Lina Salome; Caridad and Mercedes Vasquez, better known as "The Dolly Sisters", and the Costa Ricans Yadira Jimenez, Mary Esquivel and Dinorah Judith, who were also discovered by Juan Orol.


Between 1946 and 1959 there were more than a hundred productions of Rumberas Film. The principal directors are:


The principal films were:

  • Siboney (1938)
  • Noches de Ronda (1942)
  • Konga Roja (1943)
  • Balajú (1944)
  • Cruel destino (1945)
  • Rosalinda (La flor de la costa) (1945)
  • Pervertida (1945)
  • Embrujo antillano (1946)
  • Humo en los ojos (1946)
  • Pasiones tormentosas (1946)
  • La reina del trópico (1946)
  • La sin ventura (1947)
  • Cortesana (1947)
  • Pecadora (1947)
  • Tania, la Bella Salvaje (1947)
  • La insaciable (1947)
  • La bien pagada (1947)
  • Ángel o demonio (1947)
  • La hija del penal (1948)
  • Lazos de fuego (Mujeres de cabaret) (1948)
  • Conozco a los dos (1948)
  • Señora Tentación (1948)
  • Negra consentida (1948)
  • Revancha (1948)
  • Coqueta (1948)
  • Flor de caña (1949)
  • El pecado de Laura (1949)
  • En cada puerto un amor (1949)
  • Perdída (1949)
  • La mujer del puerto (1949)
  • Venus de fuego (1949)
  • El colmillo de Buda (El diente del dragón) (1949)
  • Un cuerpo de mujer (1949)
  • Cuando el alba llegue (Fuego en la carne) (1949)
  • La vida en broma (1949)
  • Piña madura (1950)
  • Una mujer con pasado (La Venus Azteca) (1950)
  • Ritmos del Caribe (1950)
  • Aventurera (1950)
  • Amor salvaje (1950)
  • El ciclón del Caribe (1950)
  • Casa de vecindad (1950)
  • Al son del mambo (1950)
  • Víctimas del Pecado (1950)
  • Cabaret Shanghai (1950)
  • La reina del mambo (Sin ti) (1950)
  • Amor de la calle (1950)
  • Traicionera (1950)
  • Si fuera una cualquiera (1950)
  • Amor vendido (1950)
  • María Cristina (1951)
  • Cuando tu me quieras (1951)
  • Amor perdido (1951)
  • Sensualidad
  • ¡Que idiotas son los hombres! (1951)
  • La niña popoff (1951)
  • Dancing (Salón de baile) (1951)
  • Delirio tropical (1951)
  • No niego mi pasado (1951)
  • El infierno de los pobres (1951)
  • La muerte es mi pareja (Quiero vivir) (1951)
  • Los huéspedes de la marquesa (¡Que rico mambo!) (1951)
  • Hombres sin alma (1951)
  • Perdición de mujeres (1951)
  • En carne viva (1951)
  • Noche de perdición (1951)
  • Carnaval en la Atlántida (Carnaval en Brasil) (1952)
  • Yo fui una callejera (1952)
  • Las tres alegres comadres (1952)
  • Mujeres sacrificadas (1952)
  • Viajera (1952)
  • Cuando los hijos pecan (Cabaretera) (1952)
  • Las interesadas (1952)
  • Aventura en Río (1952)
  • Especialista en señoras (1952)
  • Estrella sin luz (1952)
  • Me lo dijo Adela (Necesita un marido) (1953)
  • La mujer desnuda (1953)
  • Mis tres viudas alegres (1953)
  • Llévame en tus brazos (1953)
  • La segunda mujer (1953)
  • Ambiciosa (1953)
  • Las cariñosas (1953)
  • La diosa de Tahití (Los chacales de la Isla Verde) (1953)
  • Casa de perdición (1954)
  • As negro (1954)
  • Los dineros del diablo (1954)
  • Mulata (1954)
  • Sandra, la mujer de fuego (1954)
  • La gaviota (1954)
  • ¡Que bravas son las costeñas! (La jacarandosa) (1955)
  • Las Viudas del Cha Cha Cha (1955)
  • Amor y pecado (1955)
  • Secretaria peligrosa (Agente internacional) (1955)
  • La culpa de los hombres (1955)
  • Club de señoritas (1955)
  • Yambaó (1956)
  • Flor de canela (1959)
  • Mujeres de Fuego (Lina, la mujer de fuego) (1959)
  • Acapulqueña (1959)
  • Caña Brava (1965)

Genre Decline[edit]

Rosa Carmina & Meche Barba in a escene from the mexican telenovela María Mercedes (Televisa, 1992).

In the mid-fifties, the Rumberas film had lost originality. All actresses acted in similar roles and the genre gradually ceased to be attractive to the public. The end of the Rumberas film also marks the end of the administration of the President Alemán, and the new administration was much less tolerant to the nightlife that triumphed in Mexico City, which lost the splendor it had enjoyed years back. The Mexican cinema in general was about to begin its precipitous decline. The genre was further attacked by radical groups such as the "Legion of Decency" which had the support of the authorities, and considered the genre as a breach of morality and decency because it depicted the image of the prostitute, the "sinful woman". The prevailing double standards in Mexican society made the rumberas marginalized in the film industry. Even the Mexican Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for many years prevented rumberas actresses from receiving the Silver Ariel Award. Some rumberas began to move towards other film genres, took refuge in their personal shows in theaters and nightclubs, or opted for a decent retirement. The film Caña Brava (1965), starring María Antonieta Pons, is considered the film that closed the Rumberas film production, and even can be considered a kind of memorial to the genre.

Figures like Ninon Sevilla, Meche Barba and Rosa Carmina chose to migrate to television. However, the prevailing censorship on Mexican television marginalized the rumberas once again, limiting them to guest appearances on Mexican telenovelas, usually on characters from popular cut, away from their cinematic myths and in most cases, with characters little according to their trajectories.[clarification needed]

Genre reevaluation[edit]

Ninón Sevilla, Amalia Aguilar & Rosa Carmina in a tribute in the hotel Waldorf Astoria of New York (1988)
Ninón Sevilla, Meche Barba & Amalia Aguilar in a tribute organized by a mexican magazine in 1999.

In the 1970s, Mexico City experienced a new golden age of nightlife and cabarets. This was made possible, in large part, to the demise of the "League of Decency". The Mexican cinema, which had success with government films early in the decade, again fell into decline with the rise of low-quality films that were full of sexual exploitation. The clearest example is the rise of so-called Cine de ficheras in the late seventies and early eighties. Like the Rumberas film, the Cine de ficheras is based on the nightlife of women of the cabaret, but from a very different context, since that time, film censorship was relaxed and international cinema found itself in the middle of the sexual revolution. The Cine de ficheras shows explicit nudity to attract audiences to the box office, in contrast to the work of the rumberas, who never needed to display their bodies in explicit way to achieve success. However, the rise of cabaret frames in the Mexican Cinema began to provoke nostalgia for the spectators, who slowly began demanding the presence of the authentic "Queens of the Night" in the screens. Some rumberas began to reappear, first in films and later in television. The Mexican Academy of Film first recognized the careers of Ninon Sevilla in 1984 and Meche Barba in 1992.

The telenovelas writer Carlos Romero became another vital figure for the revaluation of the genre by rescuing several rumberas from oblivion and honoring them in telenovelas like La pasión de Isabela in 1984, and Salomé in 2001. The telenovelas of the Mexican pop singer Thalía were point vital meeting of the great rumberas.[clarification needed] The rumberas found a new way to stay current in the public memory and to approach new generations as new popular myths. To the public taste, a soap opera network is not complete without the presence of Barba, Sevilla and Rosa Carmina.

Many film festivals around the world began to pay homage to the Rumberas film. Its unique condition as a curiosity of Mexico, together with its other unique features, has made it a cult film niche.

Between 1997 and 2011, Mexican actress Carmen Salinas revived the classic Aventurera through a musical stage play (the longest in history in Mexico) where she pays homage to the heyday of the Rumberas film. The stage play made it to Broadway and has been led by various actresses like Edith González, Itatí Cantoral, Niurka Marcos and Maribel Guardia, among others. In the same vein, other musical plays (as Perfume de Gardenia), are inspired by the old Rumberas film.

In 2012, the biographical film El fantástico mundo de Juan Orol, directed by Sebastian del Amo, and inspired by the life and work of filmmaker Juan Orol, was released. The film shows a summary of the origins and rise of the Rumberas film from the 1940s and 1950s.[11]



See also[edit]

External links[edit]