CORPUS: A Home Movie for Selena

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 49 min

In CORPUS: A Home Movie for Selena, Lourdes Portillo explores the rising career, untimely death and lasting legacy of Tejana-Pop crossover sensation, Selena Quintanilla. Through interviews with family members, interactions with fans, a facilitated discussion among Latina intellectuals and home-video, Portillo creates a tapestry of Selena, the Latina and Selena, the phenomenon. There are incredibly touching scenes of never-before-seen home video of the iconic Quintanilla family as well as insightful, if not devastating interviews with Selena’s father and big sister. The heart of this documentary, though, is the collection of moments with fans Portillo captures across Selena’s hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. Notable highlights include a moment with a devoted older Latina fan who comes to clean Selena’s tombstone every morning, a moment where aspiring young Latina girls express their connection to the late superstar through performances, and a controversial scene depicting a drag queen performing as Selena.

The piece was created for a PBS docuseries called POV in 1999 and from its release, created plenty of criticism from the Quintanilla family, but was generally well-received by the Chicano community as a work that captured what Selena meant to an often overlooked community. The piece also features excerpts from a discussion of leading Latina “intellectuals” including acclaimed author, Sandra Cisneros, who notably (and controversially) criticizes the broader message that Selena sends to young Chicanas. Though the piece has its faults, it excels at starting a conversation around Selena, who, 25 years after her death, remains a giant in Chicanx culture and does so with a uniquely Brown and uniquely feminist lens.


For more on Selena’s legacy in the Chicanx community, read Deborah Paredez’s Selenidad: Selena Latinos and the Performance of Memory

(Jonathan Galvan ’21)

Nu Shu: A Hidden Language of Women in China (Yue-Qing Yang 1999)

Country of Origin: ,
Running Time: 59 min

Format: Color, VHS/DVD

Nu Shu, which translates literally to women’s writing, is a unique language that was developed surreptitiously in Jianyong county in Hunan province. This secret language of Jianyong’s local women has attracted much attention, as its creation can be seen as an incredible act of defiance and rebellion against the patriarchal nature of feudal China. As Yue-Qing Yang investigates the phenomenon in Hunan, she obtains access to first-hand testimony of the effects of female oppression and subordination condoned by society, along with evidence of the outlet that Nu Shu, a language exclusive to women, provided for Jianyong’s mother’s and daughters.

Within Yue-Qing Yang’s interviews with the local women, we are shown gripping images of bound feet and stories of domestic abuse which become reminders of women’s lower class status and even more so, their physical subjugation. The women of Jianyong speak candidly of their frustrations with the nature of marriage and wifehood within their society. Thus, the documentary depicts the women’s resounding response to the binding of their freedom. The film details the development of Nu Shu, demonstrating how the women used the domestic mediums which were available to them and transformed the arts of simple sewing and craft into a written language. Nu Shu was unrecognizable to men and because it was viewed as a bastardized version of Chinese, it was allowed to slip by unnoticed. Thus, empowered by its low status, Nu Shu enabled the creation of a community of “sworn sisters” and refuge among the women. Nu Shu also became a gift that would be bestowed from one generation of woman to another. Thus, the film traces the history of Nu Shu and its passage among women, as well as the ways in which Nu Shu and the “sworn sisters” became an essential source of freedom, a means for finding support, as well as an alleviating medium for a community of the oppressed women of Jianyong.

Though many Nu Shu documents were shown to have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and the lineage of this heirloom has very much diminished, the study and understanding of the characters from what primary documents do still exist is research that is ongoing. However, the last proficient user of Nu Shu in Jianyong, Yang Huanyi, died on September 20th, 2004.

Further reading:

Overview of Nu Shu:


Comparison of Nu Shu and Chinese characters :

More on Nu Shu

McLaren, Anne E. 1996. “Women’s Voices and Textuality: Chastity and Abduction in Chinese NüShu Writing,” Modern China 22.4: 382-416.

Silber, Cathy L. 1994. “From Daughter to Daughter-in-law in the Women’s Script of Southern Hunan.” Engendering China: Women, Culture and the State: 47-68.

Performing the Border

Running Time: 42 min

color, video
Distributor: Women Make Movies


Performing the Border explores a world along the Mexico/US border by presenting an inside look at pervasive maquiladoras, US-implemented factories, in Juarez, Mexico, “the city that produces.” One activist in the documentary describes the border as the result of an unequal power relationship between two nations. Ursula Biemann gives a public voice to the women who live and work in the area through interviews with factory workers, prostitutes, activists, and journalists. She uses experimental documentary methods that include sound image disjunction, scripted voiceover, found footage, scrolling text, and split screens.

The film brings a personal view to industrial work that and forces awareness to the labor that goes into ordinary products, bought in the US, like lingerie and microchips. Biemann’s focus, however, remains on a deeper issue instigated by the use of women along the border. She points out that the gendered use of women as merely part of the machinery forces the fragmentation of the female body into a simple unit of production. This dissociates the women from their bodies, resulting in a gendered dehumanization and transforms a person into a “marketable good.” The younger women are most degraded by the maquiladoras, poverty, and devaluation of female voice. Ultimately, Biemann documents, dehumanizing the women results in their victimization in violent serial murders. The women in the documentary are clearly the backbones of their society, as the hope, sustainers of commerce and mothers of the future generation. In Performing the Border, Biemann encourages them to speak their truths and through their eloquence, reveals the gender disparities corrupt industrialization creates.

Other works by Ursula Biemann:
Remote Sensing (2006)
Writing Desire (2001)

Ch. 7: Videographies of Navigating Geobodies, Transnational feminism in film and media
by Katarzyna Marciniak, Anikó Imre, and Áine O’Healy

Journey Shared: Ursula Biemann’s Been There and Back Back to Nowhere in Transnational Spaces
by Berelowitz, Jo-Anne


Written by Madrianne Wong
November, 2008

Black, Bold and Beautiful (Dir: Nadine Valcin, 1999)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 40 min

Format: Color, VHS

Black, Bold and Beautiful depicts a relationship that few films venture to explore: the relationship between black women and their hair. The multitude of styles and their social implications are discussed in this riveting documentary. Valcin, through six different women of varying ages, illustrates the effects hair can have on the lives of black women. Using interviews, narration, and personal pictures and videos, Valcin manages to beautifully tell the histories and struggles of black women and their hair. Social and racial, as well as private and familial issues are explored, and in the process Valcin is able to “comb” through to the root of the problem. Far more than a mere accessory, some women find their hair defines them, while others refuse to fall into society’s expectations of them. The six women interviewed, all falling between 16 and 60 years old, had very different experiences with their hair, but could agree on one thing: it is a large and important part of them.

While some chose to go “natural” and others to “relax” their hair, the social aspects of the choices can not be ignored. Because society tells women that straight hair is beautiful, black women straighten and perm their hair. This social pressure, which all the women recognize and discuss, is the main reason women struggle constantly with their hair. This struggle, which not only occurs within, but amongst mothers and daughters, can greatly affect relationships. Auna, one of the women in Black, Bold, and Beautiful, attested to the difficulties that hair caused between she and her mother.

This is a beautiful and personal film. It wonderfully introduces issues and questions the effects of society’s perception of beauty.


“Amazing that a documentary about hair can say so much about politics, race and culture.”
Antonia Zerbisias
The Toronto Star

” An entertaining and informative primer on the do’s and don’ts of Black hair….Filmmaker Nadine Valcin runs her comb through some of the tangled dilemmas surrounding Black hairstyles.”
Starweek Magazine