The Historic Brownsville Museum opened the “Bonita Maria Felix in Cinema” exhibit in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. There are 20 framed and 10 unframed original posters, ranging in size, illustration, origin and printing company.
The original movie posters that feature Felix in different outfits and stages of her life are from Argentina, Russia, Germany, Mexico, France, Italy, Poland, Yugoslavia, and other places.
Felix, also known as “La Doña” and “La Barbara”, is probably the most recognizable actress from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema; she was one of the first feminist icons in Mexico and refused to play roles that did not portray Mexican women as multidimensional characters.
“In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we wanted to feature someone that made an impact in Hispanic culture, especially since we live along the border and people can relate to Maria Felix. So we thought bringing cinema and this was the perfect collection that we found in order to do that,” Aubrey Nielsen, collections manager at the museum, said. “She wanted that figure of power and that strength, her personality is shown in a lot of the posters; you see that fierceness. The poster for her first movie is here, and also the last one, so you can definitely see the progression in the arts and also her development in her career as an actress.”
The cinema posters are part of Freddy Peralta’s private collection. Peralta lives in McAllen and has been collecting vintage cinema posters since the 80’s. The exhibit highlights the preservation and promotion of cinematography, with Felix in colorful posters as old as 1942.
“(Maria Felix) is a symbol of beauty, but at the same time she is a symbol of a woman with a temperament, a woman who was related to art, to paintings, to literature,” Peralta said. “She is a complex woman and it is very hard to find a cinema actress that has all these connections with other arts. Maria Felix was painted by so many great artists and she even had songs made about her.”
Peralta said the purpose of this exhibit is to educate the community about the Golden Age of Cinema and bring back the memories they may have from Mexico. He added he hopes this exhibit educates students and teachers interested in design and communication so they can see how the posters looked before.
“This is a great exhibit for people to get together and remember the beauty of Mexico and the cinema it made and also all the memories that come with looking at these posters,” he said. “The main purpose of me collecting these posters is not to save them at home, it is to restore them and exhibit them so they can be a method of learning for the community.”
La Doña played an important role for Hispanic culture by refusing to learn English and not accepting work in Hollywood because directors would only offer her stereotyped roles of Mexican women. Up to this day, she continues to be a symbol of beauty, glamour and sophistication to people of all ages around the world who may know of her because they saw the movies with their parents and grandparents.
“I’d like to invite the community to attend because a lot of our individuals can make those connections and bring back fun memories from their childhood. Even today we have some individuals who are in the mid-twenties and even teens that watch these (movies) with their parents, so they can reminiscence and see how she made an impact in Hispanic film culture but also individuals today who can relate to her,” Nielsen said. “We look at it from a historical perspective, and arts are very important but in a historical aspect it is that impact that she has made in cinematography and the posters show different styles and different images, different types of art.”
Felix starred in movies made in Mexico, Spain, Italy, France and Argentina and she would always portray figures of power including a man-eating Roman empress. In most of her movies, she was portrayed as she was in real life: a strong-minded woman.
“As a woman, we have the ability to play an important role and impact our community, whether it is through cinema, art or through history,” Nielsen said. “She is a figure that made that impact, when before, women were kind of behind, and she refused and said ‘if I choose this role, I will be the lead’ and that really made a difference, and as a woman you can relate and say ‘if she was able to do it, so can I’.”