[1] While some videos carry the disclaimer, “This movie has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your screen,” announcements about content loss are nowhere near as systemic, either on home video or in TV broadcasting or airplane programming. [return to page 1 of essay]

[2] Mestizaje originally referred to “miscegenation or cultural mixture as the basis for conceiving a homogenous national identity out of a heterogeneous population” (de Castre qtd. in Pérez-Torres 5). As Maria Josephine Saldaña-Portillo explains,

“In early-twentieth-century Mexico, the discourse of mestizaje was deployed as a strategy of national identification and unification in the aftermath of a divisive revolutionary war against the oligarchic class of the porfiriato…. The nineteenth century discourse of mestizaje was perfectly adaptable to such twentieth-century revolutionary aspirations because it not only metaphorized national unity for Mexico through biological coordinates but also interpellated subjects into a principle of citizenship based on a leaving behind of residual indigenous and imperial racial categories and cultures” (762).

Today many Chicano theorists and artists use mestizaje as a metaphor and call for a radical politics that can recognize the colonized history of Latin America while also connoting a trope of mixture, border identification, and hybridity in gender, class, and sexual orientation as well as race (Pérez-Torres xiv). Thus mestizaje now implies social incorporation, including sexual union across class divisions (as in Y tu mamá también).

[3] For a more detailed history of Mexican cinema, its allegorical tradition of social critique, and its role in the creation of a post-Revolution national identity in Mexico, see Hector Dominguez-Ruvalcaba, Carlos Bonfil, Carlos Monsiváis, Susan Dever, and Andrea Noble. Dominguez-Ruvalcaba provides a particularly thorough unpacking of the allegorical significance of Maria Candelaria and the comedia ranchera genres in the formations of Mexico’s secularized patriarchal culture (78-86), while Noble historicizes the original exigencies behind allegorical cinema in the national mythologizing of the Mexican Revolution (53).

[4] For an historical exegesis of Mexican neoliberalism, see Manuel Pastor and Carol Wise’s “The Origins and Sustainability of Mexico’s Free Trade Policy” and “State Policy, Distribution, and Neoliberal Reform in Mexico.” As Wise and Pastor explain, Mexico began to liberalize its international trade licenses in the mid-1970s, replacing them with tariffs which were gradually lowered through the mid-1980s as many state functions (such as banks and other lending programs) were privatized and agricultural subsidies reduced (“Origins” 460-462; “State Policy” 422, 429, 440-442). These changes paved the way for NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Area, a trade bloc composed of the United States, Canada, and Mexico that was brought into effect on January 1, 1994 by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The NAFTA treaty reduces tariffs on goods traveling between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, as well as extending copyright domain. It thus expands opportunities for North American businesses to sell their goods for more money in more markets and produce their goods for less money in cheaper markets, in part by removing the previous import tariffs between Mexico and the U.S. and outlawing “subsidies explicitly used to protect domestic products and markets from the foreign competition” (Saldaña-Portillo 753). Trade liberalizations like NAFTA thus ease the flow of capital across international borders, but they rarely improve labor conditions and have historically had detrimental effects on the lives of working class and subaltern North Americans, especially in Mexico. Incidentally, Wal-Mart is both the fourth largest video retailer in the U.S. and arguably one of the biggest beneficiaries of NAFTA’s trade liberalizations (Epstein “Sex” 1, Juhasz, Hill 518).

[5] Ernesto R. Acevedo-Muñoz has an altogether different reading of Luisa in which she “ultimately is offered as a kind of sacrificial body” (41, 47). I would argue that Luisa demonstrates too much agency and self-determination to be dismissed as anyone’s sacrifice, even her own; however, Acevedo-Muñoz’s investigation of Cuarón’s interest in the Malinche myth is provocative and worth considering.

[6] For an exemplum of Cuarón’s critique of narrative qua solipsism, see Children of Men (2006). In this movie, the camera only indulges in one look away, when it temporarily abandons Theo and Kee as they flee a refugee camp battle. The camera abandons its protagonists to attend to the grief of an anonymous mother whose son was just killed by a stray bullet. It is a dramatic gesture that asks, “Why would you think their story was more important than anyone else’s?”

[7] Indeed, sex and sexual tension seems previously to have held the boys’ friendship together even when class prejudices threaten to overwhelm it. Thus although the narrator informs us that Tenoch uses his foot to touch the toilet at Julio’s house and Julio always lights matches after defecating at Tenoch’s, we see that they are able to translate their scatological embarrassment into mutually amusing fart jokes.

[8] The Hays Code refers to the Production Code that the MPAA used to govern potentially offensive or controversial subject matter in films distributed in the U.S. from 1934 to 1968. Named for its author and the first president of the MPAA, William H. Hays, the Hays Code established a Production Code Administration to approve films for U.S. distribution and guide filmmakers towards acceptable depictions of taboo subjects, like sex.

[9] For example, the boys’ naked swimming contest is not only shortened to avoid shots of the boys’ penises, but the water also appears to have been digitally enhanced, made murkier, to obscure their genitalia. To be fair, I should also mention that the R-rated Y tu does replace Julio and Ceci’s sex scene with an off-screen hand job while the teenagers are enroute to the airport. Perhaps ironically, this exchange accompanies the unrated Y tu as a “deleted scene.” [return to page 2 of essay]

[10] As Baer and Long explain, the film’s narrative moment can be determined from its denouement: “The penultimate voice-over segment finally states that the ruling party (the PRI) lost for the first time in seventy-one years the following summer [i.e. in 2000], thereby confirming that the narrative time of the film has been the summer of 1999” (161).

[11] The film focuses on the various gifts the travelers receive from less fortunate characters, including a hat Julio accepts from his mechanic and the stuffed mouse Luisa takes from Doña Martina. They are never seen giving gifts in return.

[12] Since the narrator only adds that “Julio ran into Tenoch on his way to the dentist” after they run into each other, PAN’s victory stands in the place of a description of their meeting or the upheaval in their friendship. Such observations are not readily available to U.S. viewers, however, because the subtitles literally write over Tenoch and Julio in the establishing shot of the Mexico City intersection where they meet. I saw the film almost a dozen times before I noticed them.

[13] Previous scholarship on the history of international film exhibition in the U.S. (including its censorship) is too rich and complex for me to summarize here. For more on early cinematic nationalism, see Abel; for a history of foreign film distribution in the U.S., see Segrave; for an analysis of Hollywood’s attack on foreign competitors, see Thompson; and for a historical reading of how distribution plans affected early industry policy, see Vasey. [return to page 3 of essay]

[14] Barbara Wilinsky objects to such generalized death knells and argues that the art house is transitioning, not dying (135-136). While I would like to share her optimism, all of her anecdotal evidence comes from the major metropolitan centers known as the last bastions of art house cinema.

[15] By comparison, the highest grossing film of 2007 was Sam Raimi’s Spider-man 3, which earned over $336 million in the U.S., while the highest grossing foreign-language film was Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others, with just over $11 million (“Yearly Box Office”).

[16] I say “films,” because the MPAA handles unrated DVDs, especially English-language unrated DVDs, quite differently, as I will go on to explain. Furthermore, the studios as a rule do not release their statistics on video rental or sales, so one must turn to box office receipts to study unrated movie releases in the United States.

[17] For more statistics on unrated film releases in the U.S. from 2001 to 2006, see appendix A.

[18] Netflix, by way of comparison, can only boast 5.7 million households to Blockbuster’s 50 million, while the next runner up, Movie Gallery, has a mere 3,500 stores in the U.S. and Canada (“About Netflix,” Roberts 1, “About Movie Gallery”).

[19] The studios technically should not release unrated DVDs, since according to their agreement with the MPAA, they must “voluntarily” submit all of their motion pictures, even their trailers and television ads, for an MPAA rating (Goldstein 1). The MPAA is a studio organization, however, and so, according to Los Angeles Times reporter Patrick Goldstein, it

“has taken a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach to the video marketplace. Former MPAA chief Jack Valenti, who still oversees the ratings board, has said that as long as the packaging is honest, he has no problem with unrated movies” (1).

These DVDs become “unrated” by featuring material that was “not submitted for the MPAA’s approval,” but that material can arrive either as part of the formerly-rated movie or a special feature (Levin 1). As for the chain stores, they now accept unrated editions of previously-rated movies

“as long as [the stores] are assured by studios that the videos would be rated R if they had received a rating” (Goldstein 1).

This claim is even true occasionally, as in cases like Wedding Crashers: Uncorked, but it still belies the advertising that accounts for the popularity of these editions—and thus the very reason that stores like Wal-Mart want to carry them.

[20] You might be wondering whether Cuarón “had to” cut Y tu to get U.S. distribution for his film, and the answer, in short, is yes. The distribution history that led to Y tu’s video censorship began on the festival circuit, at the Cannes Film Festival, where, in 2001, “the Mexican-made movie was shown almost furtively to distributors” (Bart 1). At that time, it was passed over by a series of “studio-based classics labels… because they feared it would get an NC-17 rating and anger their corporate parents” (Lyons 1). The MPAA members did not want the film, in other words, because they would have to submit it to CARA and accept CARA’s rating. “The acquisitions chief of one mini-major” even admitted to Variety reporter Peter Bart, “I loved the movie, but my company won't go near it because of the ratings problem” (1).

In the end, the independent distributor IFC Films picked up Y tu for just over $1 million with money that its parent company, Rainbow Media, recently acquired from a twenty percent buyout by MGM (Dioro 1, Herrick 1). IFC’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Distribution, Bob Berney, then took the film to the MPAA to see if he could secure an R-rating. However, IFC, Cuarón, and possibly even the MPAA agreed that the cuts necessary for an R-rating damaged the film’s artistry and humor, and so IFC, since it is an independent distributor and can reject ratings, rejected Y tu’s NC-17 and released the film unrated to U.S. theaters (Bart 1, O’Kasick 1, Williams 1).

When it came time to distribute Y tu mamá también on video, the movie’s video rights had already been promised to MGM as part of the studio’s stake in Rainbow Media, a deal which was announced publicly in Variety in May, 2002 (Dioro 1). However, MPAA members cannot technically release a movie on video without an MPAA rating; as “an MGM/UA spokesperson who wished to go unnamed” explained to Twin Cities CityPages reporter Jeremy O’Kasick, “If a film is unrated before release on home video, major distributors must first submit an edited version to the MPAA” (1).

Here the euphemism “edited version” implies that the studios do not want to (and will not) release an NC-17 movie that the video chains will not take. Thus Cuarón used the guidelines he received from his initial, pre-theatrical encounter with the MPAA to edit together an R-rated version of Y tu mamá también so that MGM could get the movie into Blockbuster, Kmart, and Wal-Mart (O’Kasick 1). Then, through the same MPAA loophole that allows studios to release unrated domestic DVDs, MGM also distributed the original, theatrically released Y tu mamá también as a “special edition.” The “special edition” of Y tu qualifies as previously “unrated” because it includes a short by Carlos Cuarón, a making-of documentary, and a commentary track that are not part of the movie as it was submitted to the MPAA, but it also just so happens to contain the original version of Y tu mamá también.

Incidentally, Cuarón also prepared a “PG” version of Y tu which is included a bonus on the Zone 2 and Zone 4 DVD of the movie. It is a mere ten minutes long and contains only four words of dialogue (“Alternate Versions”)

Appendix A — Top Twenty Highest Grossing MPAA-Unrated Films by Format, Production, and Language: 2001-2006









# of 35mm
in Top 20

All U.S.,











































Total # of Movies


Total # of 35mm Movies



% of Unrated 35mm


% For.-Lang.


% of Unrated 35mm
For., Eng.-Lang.


% For.,


% of Unrated 35mm
For., Any Lang


% For.,
Any Lang


% of Unrated 35mm
Domestic, Eng.-Lang.


% Domestic,


Almost 65% of the top-twenty unrated movies released theatrically in the U.S. from 2001-2006 were foreign productions in a foreign-language. Including English-language foreign productions (from Canada, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom), just over 72% of the top twenty unrated movies released theatrically in the U.S. were foreign productions. Even if you include Imax movies and do not include foreign, English-language productions, almost 57% of the unrated films released theatrically in the U.S. from 2001-2006 were foreign-language features. Therefore, the vast majority of the unrated films released to U.S. theaters are foreign-language films.

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