Censorship and Diplomacy: The Controversial Soviet Film Season in Mexican Cinema
Explore the history of Mexican cinema censorship and its relationship with Soviet films. Discover the controversy surrounding the Soviet film season at the Imperial Cinema and the Mexican government's efforts to control the movie industry in the early 20th century.
After the Mexican Revolution, more and more movie theaters opened up in Mexico. Even though they were places to have fun, they were also seen as places where it was easy to spread bad ideas. For this reason, on more than one occasion, the authorities had to go to the cinema or watch films to make sure that there was no propaganda from other countries.
When Mexico established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, there was inevitably a cultural exchange, so, despite being on good terms, the Mexican government inspected Soviet films for Bolshevik propaganda. In the end, this suspicion was dismissed, for although they were inspired by communist thought and Soviet history, their artistic value was recognized.
From the 20th century on, cinema began to gain ground in Mexico as a means of entertainment, and cinemas and cinema pavilions spread throughout the country, especially in the cities. At first, the Mexican government didn't care much about making rules and regulations for its control. But as time went on, they realized that it could be used to spread immoral ideas or change the beliefs of a population that was thought to be open to doctrine.
Because of this, laws and government departments were set up to keep an eye on the film industry and stop the showing and making of movies that were thought to be degrading or against national values. The Ministry of the Interior's Department of Film Censorship was one of the first groups to be in charge of censoring movies that were thought to be inappropriate for the Mexican public to watch. However, this department went away in 1920.
Still, the authorities of the Ministry of the Interior were in charge of censorship and film bans. They put their Confidential Department to work to deal with complaints or suspicions about any unapproved films. One such case was the monitoring by confidential agents of the Imperial Cinema, also known as the Imperial Cinema, during the spring of 1927.
Soviet Film Scandal
It all started with a series of posters and leaflets advertising a film season that was to take place on March 21 of that year at the Imperial Cinema. This season had films like Death Bay, The Strike, Battleship Potemkin, The Mother, and The Bear's Wedding, as well as twenty other films that had something to do with Soviet Union directors and writers like Sergey Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Abram Matveevich Room, and Anatoli Lunacharsky.
The propaganda message accompanying Imperial Cinema's publicity campaign stated that these films had been "banned in civilized European nations" as "Bolshevik propaganda," but "authorized in Mexico by the Supreme Government," which turned out to be a false claim.
During the investigation, the manager of the Imperial Cinema, Juan Bustillo Bridat, was arrested and denied being responsible for the advertising propaganda, as the work had been carried out by the printing company El Libro Diario. Adrián Devars Cadena, who was in charge of this printing company, was also arrested and declared that he did not know who had carried out the printing work since the staff had more than forty workers.
In the end, although the authorities ordered the removal of all advertising that pointed to the Mexican government's authorization of the screening, the Soviet film series was not canceled. After the scandal, the Ministry of the Interior itself proceeded to view the films and ruled out that they were Bolshevik propaganda films. Also, the owners of the Imperial Cinema and the printing house were released, as it was determined that the advertising messages had not been intentionally produced by these people.
Mexican-Soviet Movie Diplomacy
The Mexican government hesitated because relations between Mexico, the Soviet Union, and the United States were complicated at the time. It's important to remember that Mexico was one of the first in the Americas to make diplomatic ties with the USSR. This made our northern neighbor nervous about the possibility of an alliance between two governments that had come to power through revolutions.
But the exchange between Mexico and the USSR was more cultural than political or economic, and one way that the two countries tried to talk to each other was through movies. Lastly, anti-communism and the rise of other film companies led to the demise of those with roots in the Soviet Union. By the 1920s, these companies were showing movies that were banned in other countries.
Full Citation: Archivo General de la Nación. “Luces, Cámara, Acción: La Llegada Del Cine Soviético a México En La Primavera De 1927.” gob.mx, 14 Mar. 2023, www.gob.mx/agn/es/articulos/luces-camara-accion-la-llegada-del-cine-sovietico-a-mexico-en-la-primavera-de-1927?idiom=es.