Appointed As



ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


University of California, Davis

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Musicology, University of Texas at Austin

Dissertation Abstract

"Rum, Tobacco, Dance, and Music: The Cuban Mulata in Twentieth-Century Cinema of the Americas"

Early twentieth-century Cuban film featured the mulata (a mixed-race woman of black, white, and sometimes indigenous heritage) performing characteristic Afro-Cuban dances such as danzón, guaguancó, cha-cha-chá, rumba, and mambo that facilitated the popularization of Afro-Cuban music internationally. As a construct, the mulata’s image in film is associated with fertility, sexuality, excess, transgression, and danger. Her staged musical performances underscore her position as a mediator between black and white society, popularizing elements of Afro-Cuban music among mainstream audiences. Yet the mulata character type did not originate with narratives in film, but rather in early nineteenth-century song lyrics, print media, imagery on tobacco and rum labels, literature, and later in staged works such as Cuba teatro bufo (comic theater), zarzuela, and opera.
My dissertation examines the mulata and other Latina figures who perform Afro-Cuban music in films of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Particularly, I address films from Cuba, the US, and Mexico that depict Cuban characters or incorporate Cuban musical styles. My research investigates how the mulata is represented through music, narratives, and imagery in cinematic productions that contribute to definitions of cubanidad throughout the Americas. Critical examinations of the staged mulata character type are valuable in that they document ongoing post-colonial struggles with racial inequality and ideological bias. By extension, the varied national contexts and investigations across the media and genre that I pursue underscore the marginal status of women (and in some cases their attempts to challenge the social order) in dramatic representations throughout history. Such representations suggest how national governments and multinational media have exploited the mulata and Afrodescendant music and dance for economic or political gain.