INTRODUCTION
In 1920 revolutionary warlord Saturnino Cedillo catalogued the
changes he hoped to see in his home state of San Luis Potosí. He told
an American journalist: “I want land and I want plows, and I want
schools for my children and I want teachers, and I want books and
pencils and blackboards and roads.” “And,” he added, “I want moving
pictures for my people, too.”1 Cedillo seemed convinced that motion
pictures, like property ownership, education, and improved trans-
portation systems, would contribute to San Luis Potosí’s “material
progress and social advancement.”2 Convinced, despite the fact that
seeing a moving picture in Mexico in 1920 generally meant seeing an
American film. One might expect a revolutionary like Cedillo to rail
against the motion pictures readily available to Mexican audiences as
a form of cultural imperialism that worked against one of the revo-
lution’s primary goals: wresting Mexico from the shackles of foreign
influence.3 Some in Mexico certainly held this view, but Cedillo and
many others saw motion pictures and moviegoing as evidence not of
American cultural imperialism, but of Mexico’s modernity.
From the late 1910s to the early 1930s American films dominated
Mexico’s movie screens. During this period Mexican imports of U.S.
films increased dramatically, part of the success of American studios’
efforts to edge out European filmmakers in the global market.4 Fast-
paced westerns, crime films, domestic dramas, and serials produced
in the United States pushed European comedies, historical films, and
melodramas off Mexican screens. Films sponsored by American cor-
porations that showcased technological advances impressed Mexi-
can audiences at movie theaters, schools, and other venues.5 What
is more, through the concentrated publicity efforts of the producer-
distributors that came to dominate the U.S. film industry in the late
1910s, American films and film culture permeated Mexican visual and
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