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date: 30 April 2017

Disney Health Films in Mexico

Summary and Keywords

In August 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, concerned with Nazi infiltration in the Americas and continental defense, created the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) and appointed Nelson Rockefeller coordinator. To strengthen ties between the United States and Latin America, including Mexico, Rockefeller implemented cultural programs that included Health for the Americas and Literacy for the Americas to teach illiterate rural inhabitants to read and write in Spanish, and to inform them about health, prevention, and hygiene. Both programs used educational cinema as their main teaching tool, and the OIAA hired filmmaker Walt Disney to produce the films. The health series included thirteen animated cartoons with an average duration of ten minutes, dubbed in Spanish and Portuguese. The themes were drawn in part from the guidelines set out at the XI Conferencia Sanitaria Panamericana (Eleventh Pan-American Health Organization Conference; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1942) to address health care and sanitation. A group of psychologists, cartoonists, health authorities, teachers, and OIAA representatives carried out surveys and field work in various countries before production and test screening began. In this process, Mexico differed from the other countries involved because of Walt Disney’s connections with Mexican schools. Eulalia Guzmán, representative of the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Secretary of Public Education), led in reviewing the educational films, and Disney attended classes with local teachers to discuss the use of film as a teaching tool. In 1943, through the Programa Cooperativo de Salubridad y Saneamiento (Health and Sanitation Cooperative Program) of the Secretaría de Salubridad y Asistencia (Ministry of Health and Assistance, the films were shown in health campaigns throughout Mexico.

Keywords: OIAA, film, health, prevention, education, Walt Disney, survey, Latin America, illiteracy

Health for the Americas: The Beginning

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, concerned with Nazi infiltration in the American continents, created the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) in August of 1940. Its purpose was to coordinate US government activity with regard to commercial and cultural affairs in Latin America, or “the other Americas,” as the region’s southern countries were then known. The OIAA’s publications were as important tool in strengthening the unity of the continents, including returning to the old Bolivarian ideal of unifying the republics. Continental defense was a US political priority, and the OIAA took on a specifically propagandistic role in Latin America against the Axis powers and in favor of US interests. Roosevelt appointed Nelson Rockefeller coordinator of the OIAA; Rockefeller, aware of the need to strengthen diplomatic ties between his country and Latin American nations, encouraged cooperative projects in education, health, and agriculture to promote US views through educational films. He invited John Hay Whitney to serve as director of the film section of the OIAA, and, later, Francis Alstock.

Upon its formation, the OIAA held two important meetings, both in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to discuss both the health conditions of Latin America in the context of World War II, and the position that the Americas should take in the event of an invasion. The first of these meetings was the 3a Reunión de Ministros de Relaciones Exteriores de Latinoamérica (Third Meeting of Secretaries of Foreign Affairs of Latin America; January 1942), and the second, the XI Conferencia Sanitaria Panamericana (September 1942). The association of health and war, and especially the defense of the hemisphere, were central topics. At the secretaries’ meeting, they established that the Western Hemisphere’s health and hygiene problems should be resolved through bilateral or multilateral agreements. The concept of collaboration was laid out as the most effective method to solve problems of common interest. At the Sanitaria Panamericana meeting, continental defense and public health were the central themes. Participants in both meetings concluded that defense of the hemisphere in matters of health was a priority for Latin American countries. In this fusion of politics and public health, the United States, through the OIAA, directed cultural programs in Latin America and promoted educational films in order to disseminate them.1

In this context, programs titled “Health for the Americas” and “Literacy for the Americas” were designed and implemented in Mexico and other Latin American countries throughout the 1940s. Themes of health and literacy were Rockefeller’s priority, and he chose film produced by Walt Disney to promote them because, as he said, “we had to take advantage of his worldwide prestige.” The combination of these two themes was a base for short educational films designed to combine health care and personal hygiene with agricultural work as something inherent in the population’s daily life; thus, the protagonists were rural inhabitants. The goal of both programs was to “improve the quality of life,” teaching Latin Americans to care for their health and to read and write in Spanish.

To create these films, Walt Disney, joined by his crew, traveled to various Latin American countries to familiarize himself with them and their environment. After his first trip, to Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, he produced the film Saludos Amigos (“Hello, Friends”; 1941), which had a propagandistic and touristic focus.2 During this period he also produced the first three short, animated 16mm films dedicated to themes of health and prevention, with a duration of about ten minutes each: The Winged Scourge, about combating malaria; Water: Friend or Enemy, which demonstrates the value of clean water in a person’s daily life; and Defense Against Invasion, which explores the importance of vaccines for the prevention of diseases. This first trilogy was guided by the American College of Surgeons and initially created for an American audience. The intended audience partially explains why, in order to make the message of prevention clearer in The Winged Scourge, directed by Bill Roberts, Disney used the seven dwarves from his popular film Snow White. These characters represent the army of saviors who combat the Anopheles mosquito, which transmits malaria, and outlines the steps of antilarval measures to avoid propagation of the disease.

Defense Against Invasion is the only one of this trilogy to combine live actors with cartoon animation. The first scene takes place in a doctor’s office; a doctor, before vaccinating a child, talks to him and three friends to explain the importance of the vaccine, illustrating this with an interesting analogy between the human body and a large, modern industrial city that functions at 100 percent efficiency. For example, the heart is the city center, and the veins and arteries, the highways and avenues. The drops of blood that travel to the heart take the shape of little men who represent the city’s construction workers and work tirelessly. One can see and hear a bustling city that survives without mishaps but is suddenly altered by an invasion: disease and microbes, represented by black stains that move and multiply at great speed until invading and darkening the city, which becomes paralyzed because it is sick. Fortunately, the human organism has a weapons factory to fight back against the disease. Hundreds of white stains appear that comprise an army of little weapon-producing men who will make up the first line of defense. From this moment on, warlike language announces the military strategy to follow, converting the defense of the city into a war without ceasefire against the illness. Of course, the city recovers its hustle and bustle. After this pleasant chat, the child and his friends willingly agree to be vaccinated. The doctor forms a V shape with his hands that signifies “vaccine” and “victory”—the triumph of medical science.

In Water: Friend or Enemy, water is the narrator, speaking in first person and constantly in motion. It is presented simultaneously as a savior and giver of life and as mankind’s worst enemy, because it is man who determines its good or bad nature, depending on the way it is used. The film dramatizes ways to avoid water contamination and promotes appreciation for the work done by scientists and sanitary engineers involved in water conservation, as well as offering a manual of disease prevention methods.

During the production process, Disney traveled to Mexico City in December 1942. He visited schools under the Secretary of Public Education and took a series of cultural outings to locations significant for Mexicans, such as the Basílica de Guadalupe.3 This first trip helped Mexican teachers meet with the filmmaker and his crew. Several months later, Disney organized the Visual Education Seminar (May–June 1943) in his studios in Burbank, California, which eight representatives from different countries of the region attended; Rockefeller was also present at the inaugural ceremony. The Mexican entourage consisted of Professor Eulalia Guzmán and a renowned cinematographer from Mexico’s Golden Age of cinema, Gabriel Figueroa, who had an important role in the 1940s as a promoter of film as an educational tool.4 At this meeting, the three films mentioned above were shown so that the Latin American attendees could express their opinions on specific aspects of their content and execution. For example, they remarked that the antilarval recommendations in The Winged Scourge were only temporary solutions and asked the filmmakers to include more permanent advice. They also felt that the seven dwarves from Snow White were distracting to the viewers and diluted the film’s educational message. With regard to Water: Friend or Enemy, they argued that coloring the contaminated water red would not have the intended visual impact on a Latin American audience because the color red was not associated with death, but rather with holidays. Instead, they advised associating the contaminated water with the color black, because aguas negras, or “black water,” was the term for the stagnant water associated with diseases such as malaria.5 The Mexican attendees Guzmán and Figueroa focused on proposing timetables for showing the films and discussing whether it was pertinent to incorporate characters from the Disney studios, such as Snow White’s seven dwarves. Figueroa lauded the strategy and recommended that other films include Disney characters, since Disney had plenty of characters that could be converted into spokespeople for lessons on health, prevention, and hygiene habits.

Perhaps one of the most constructive comments regarding these first films was the idea that the next films’ designs should be standardized and include characters with more defined physical features and the following characteristics: bad hygiene and health habits—that is, fit to be educated; and the ability to show that they had learned their lesson, becoming clean, healthy, and hard-working individuals. In that way, physical and emotional contrasts, as well as contrasts in daily habits, would become a fundamental element in the Disney films that followed. Indeed, in Water: Friend or Enemy, we can see an initial move toward this standardization in the well-defined rural surroundings and the people who live there, because it is there that the rivers and falls provide them with water. In this film, a woman is the main character because she learns about the importance of boiling river water and keeping it clean to sustain her family and avoid disease. This character is dressed in a white skirt and dark shawl that covers her head, which helps visually to accentuate her crestfallen look and slow gait. The use of these colors was fundamental and was made obvious with transparent strokes that alluded to some of the brighter colors, such as white and yellow, which were used to surround the healthy family. In contrast, darker tones such as black, gray, and blue covered the sick and unproductive family.

Walt Disney in Mexico: Second Stage of Health for the Americas

After this Seminar in August and September 1943, Disney and his studio workers traveled for a second time to Mexico and visited the town of Fortín de las Flores in the state of Veracruz. There, Professors Eulalia Guzmán, Guadalupe Cejudo, Estela Soni, and Juan A. Pina took them to visit several classes taught by Pina. The aim was, first, that they would learn about work dynamics in the Mexican schools where educational films were used; second, they would understand the education level of their potential audience; and third, they would hear the opinions of doctors, teachers, and health-care workers on the films’ contents during the production process. Part of this experience was summed up in “A Survey Conducted for the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs by the Walt Disney Studio on the Subject of Health and Sanitation,”6 which tells us that, in addition to Mexico, they also worked in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Ecuador before expanding to Brazil, Chile, Perú, and Uruguay, among others. Based on the experiences in these first countries, they compiled the following five recommendations: (1) design a complete and comprehensive program for the audience; (2) ensure that the films as a whole are identified as a health series; (3) have the lesson in one film relate to the following film to create a sequence; (4) design a poster or brochure with the titles and contents of the films to guide their use; and (5) create enjoyable films without losing educational quality. This survey included the following preliminary titles as a basis for the project: “The Human Body,” “What is Disease?,” “The Transmission of Disease,” “Hookworm,” “Venereal Disease,” “The Fly,” “Environmental Sanitation,” “Eating for Health,” “Soy Bean,” and “Potentialities of the Earth.” The majority of these titles were picked up for the final series.

After the survey and recommendations, production of eight films began, and by the beginning of 1944, four films had been produced on health and four on literacy. These were shown in a testing period that allowed the Latin American audience for whom the films were created to interact with them. The films were dubbed in Spanish and Portuguese and were also tested in the northeastern United States, New Mexico, and Santa Ana, California, with the help of the psychologist Mildred Wise, director of the Works Projects Administration (WPA). In Latin America, testing began in Mexico, Honduras, and Ecuador; the testing group was headed by Eleanor Clark, a representative of the OIAA, accompanied by Ryland Madison, Disney cartoonist Dan MacManus, Dr. Antonio Rebolledo Chief from the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Las Vegas, and Dr. Ismael Rodríguez Bou, Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Puerto Rico, with the aid of local teachers. In July of that year, copies of the eight films arrived in Mexico via the United States Embassy and were distributed to the Secretary of Public Education (SEP) and the Ministry of Health and Assistance (SSA) for evaluation. At the SSA, Dr. Manuel González Rivera, Director of the Department of Hygiene Education, showed them to Dr. Gustavo Baz and Dr. Manuel Martínez Báez, Secretary and Subsecretary of the SSA, respectively. Like other doctors there, they accepted the films unanimously and approved them for experimental use as an educational resource in headquarters and sanitation campaigns.

What were these first four health films produced for the testing phase, and how did doctors and teachers work with them? From the list defined in the initial survey, The Human Body was filmed because it was decided that before explaining causes of diseases, it was essential to introduce viewers to knowledge about the human body and the care it required to avoid illness:

Without an understanding of basic anatomy and physiology, it is impossible to intelligently understand disease process. With this picture we propose to give a rudimentary knowledge of how the body is constructed, what makes it grow, the functions of the various organs, etc. Once this has been done, it will be easy to explain the relationship between certain diseases and the organs involved. This film constitutes one of our “basic awareness” pictures.7

The producers then explained what disease is, the causes of some diseases, and most importantly, ways to prevent it. For this reason, the following three films were What is Disease?, Malaria, and Tuberculosis. A second priority was to invalidate Latin American “superstition” surrounding disease: “These false beliefs must be eradicated and replaced by the simple, elemental truths about disease if a health program is to be placed on a firm foundation.” The first of these three films explained what microorganisms are, and how they live, reproduce, and enter the body to attack different organs. According to its creators, this would simplify understanding of the subsequent films. The following two covered particular aspects of two diseases. Notably, these four films included elements that demonstrate the producers’ efforts to standardize information for audiences completely unfamiliar with scientific language regarding disease. For example, the animation was made with the use of a paint brush whose strokes give shape to landscapes, characters and, with X-ray effects, showed internal organs and microscopic germs. To reinforce its position and educational value, almost all of the stories began with an opening book which represented the beginning of the lesson.

The Mexican city of Guadalajara and some of its neighboring towns, such as Tonalá, were the first to participate in this phase of testing. The lessons began on August 28, 1944, in schools chosen by local education authorities. They brought in 600 people from urban and rural areas and divided them into ten groups of sixty each. Half of these groups worked with the teacher and the movies; the other half worked only with the teacher. The intention was to evaluate whether those who saw the movie during their lesson achieved a better understanding of the themes studied than did those who did not see it. The age ranges of the viewer groups were 15–24 and 25–49 years, totaling 109, and the comments received and the learning process were highly favorable.8

In addition to recording the results of the classes with and without films, a questionnaire was administered with concrete questions that included correct responses that would help the teacher in his or her evaluation. It is noteworthy that the answers consisted of only one or two words, which spoke to the necessity of simplifying the lessons to clear pieces of advice. Several examples include: “How does tuberculosis go from one man to another? (coughing)”; “Where do mosquitoes come from? (larvae)”; “What carries malaria to man? (mosquitoes)”; “What changes bad water into good water? (boiling)”; and “What is something that grows in water and makes us sick? (bacteria).”9 It was believed that this evaluation tool and lesson review would reinforce the acquired knowledge. In the broader context of this test phase, we have the assessment from surveyors who worked in nine countries in Central and South America with an equally heterogeneous audience made up of 25,000 people including ministers of health, schoolteachers, civil servants, students, laborers, farmers, and “pure Indian types in the Highland of Perú.” According to the reports, the Latin American audience reacted “excellently,” both in the teaching-learning process and in their emotional responses while viewing the cartoons. This confirmed that the simplicity of standardized techniques in these films brought better results than those obtained, for example, with The Winged Scourge, which was more entertaining to the audience because of the appearance of Snow White’s seven dwarves, but distracted them from the essential issue. It was thus shown that including characters related to Disney Studios’ commercial productions distracted from the educational intent of the health film series. Another aspect considered was the behavior of the viewers that was observed after they saw the films. According to the researchers, who spent a following two weeks with the audience members, there were changes in the physical appearance of some people, who began to look cleaner. It was also striking that, after the classes that showed the film, conversations among the viewers revolved around what they had watched; for the producers, this was synonymous with a process of gradual and systematic assimilation with the films’ educational messages:10

There is no question that these Health films actually teach and that they can and will improve living conditions. Additionally, they are invaluable agents of good will and do much to further better Inter-American relationships by actually helping not talking.11

During this testing period, the health films were shown in parallel with the four films dedicated to the Literacy for the Americas program: José Eats Well, José is Healthy, Ramón’s Story, and Ramón is Sick. Together, these eight shorts met the requirement to lend continuity to the protagonists’ actions related to promoting hygienic habits, a healthy diet, and disease prevention. The Mexican professors who used them in class noted that the lessons in the films that taught reading and writing in Spanish were dependent on health topics, because the stories of the protagonists (José and Ramón) made obvious the differences in their surroundings and daily habits. José’s story is the antithesis of Ramón’s. The former is a clean, healthy man who eats well; as a result, he can work his field like a responsible farmer. On the other hand, Ramón lacks all of the aforementioned qualities and appears as a lazy, dirty, irresponsible, distracted, and sickly man who does not take care of his health or his job. Toward the end of the films, he learns his lesson and puts all of the advice he has gained into practice. The final survey from this phase of testing showed that the educational health films had higher ratings among audiences than did the literacy films.12

The Final Film Series for Health for the Americas

After the trial period, the health film series was completed and the US Institute of Health and Sanitation became involved, along with Dr. Harrison and Dr. Dunham, in order to advise on the contents of the next nine short films. The supervisors prioritized basic advice on hygiene and ways to prevent different diseases, and confirmed that their audience would be the rural population of Latin America. With the exception of minor changes in some titles (such as How Disease Spreads for How Does Disease Travel?) and the incorporation of new films (such as Infant Care, Cleanliness Brings Health, and Planning for Good Eating) in place of others, the complete series was made up of the following thirteen educational shorts: The Human Body, What is Disease?, How Does Disease Travel?, Insects as Carriers of Disease, Cleanliness Brings Health, Environmental Sanitation, Water: Friend or Enemy, Defense Against Invasion, The Winged Scourge, Tuberculosis, Hookworm, Planning for Good Eating, and Infant Care.

The doctors, nurses, social workers, and teachers who worked with them were asked to define which pedagogical criteria to use before and or after showing the films. How would they manage to make the content more comprehensible to an audience comprised of people who not only could not read or write, but who also did not practice the hygiene habits that were promoted in the films? In order to reinforce their pedagogical value and promote their appropriate use, the OIAA published a brochure titled A Guide to Health for the Americas: A Series of Instructional Films. From this guide, we know that the series began with general information about the human body’s function, continued with the diseases that could attack it, and, finally, illustrated specific treatments for some of them. The guide, designed in an austere style and illustrated with red and sepia panels, explained that film was an educational medium with a broad reach, and that the OIAA hoped that the distribution of these shorts would correlate with a change in the hygiene habits of the individuals who watched them. They acknowledged that their effectiveness would depend completely on the way they were used, and trusted that the animation, colors, music, and rural protagonists would be an advantage in facilitating understanding of the health and hygiene recommendations offered. As a strategy to ensure its impact and diffusion within Latin American countries, beginning in September 1943 the OIAA also employed, mobile units with projectors: twenty-two in Brazil, fifteen in Mexico, nine in Chile and Cuba, and seven in Colombia, for instance.13

The complete series arrived in Mexico between 1945 and 1946, transmitted to both the Secretary of Health and Assistance and the Secretary of Public Education, although its diffusion depended principally on the former. The previous testing phase had cleared the way to continue working in the country’s rural zones, where incorporating the stock of films into campaigns organized by the SSA was the best way to circulate them. The Health and Sanitation Cooperative Program, signed by the Secretary and the Instituto de Asuntos Interamericanos (Institute of Inter-American Matters) in July 1943, was the necessary backing for the films’ use. The program included the following three headings established by the United States: the construction of sanitation buildings in several of the Mexican states through which the Pan-American Highway runs (Nuevo León, Chihuahua, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Estado de México, Distrito Federal, Morelos, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Chiapas), the amplification of sanitary and preventative works for the control of transmissible diseases, and the development of public facilities to improve the country’s sanitary conditions. Regarding hygiene education, Dr. Harold Himan, American representative for the campaign in Mexico, explained that the films were designed for the general public, but especially for those of “modest backgrounds” because “it was necessary to bring to their attention the anti-hygienic conditions in which they lived, and show them what the health departments do to correct them.”14

The route of the film screenings for the Cuenca de Tepalcatepec zone, for example, spanned an area of 21,058 km2 and twenty-one towns in the state of Michoacán, six in Jalisco, and numerous others in Guanajuato. Upon beginning to screen in 1949, the program had registered 233,144 people living in the region, and the goal of the campaign was to “make the basin region healthy” by vaccinating against smallpox, but also treating other illnesses.15 Seth Fein has reconstructed the cinematic propaganda tours in Veracruz, Hidalgo, and Estado de México. In Veracruz, the campaign was led by the current governor, Ángel Carvajal, accompanied by public officials, the dean of the University of Veracruz, and the state representatives of education and health. To advertise the films, posters were distributed and local music groups livened the event. They visited sixty-one rural communities where the films were screened. Fein’s photographs allow us to view the rural scene: we can see its inhabitants in front of the movie screen that the mobile units, sent by the US Embassy, had brought to the communities.16 This did not hinder the film from also being shown in schools in Mexico City and in the Museo Nacional de Higiene, which had opened in mid- 1944 and included the screening of these shorts in its schedule of activities.

There are several notable traits shared by Health for the Americas’ educational films produced by Disney Studios during the 1940s. Disney and his team of directors, artists, and researchers characterized the surroundings of rural Latin America and its inhabitants for whom the films were created. In general, their content synthesized the main priorities of the health authorities of the time: to form new generations of healthy children who were familiar with the hygienic habits shown on screen, to do away with the old, ingrained habits and customs of the population by showing them their disadvantages, and to insist on instilling the ideas of hygiene, health, and a proper diet as the basis for personal and collective growth that would contribute to the modernization of the country. Thus, each short promoted the idea that a clean and healthy individual was prosperous, happy, and contributed to progress on a national level. The components of a rural family appeared as subjects to be hygienically educated, and women played a fundamental role as the basis of a new hygiene-health structure. Finally, with the intent of showing rural dwellers the difference between being clean and dirty, or between productive and lazy, each short described daily life events of the rural population with the medical and sanitary problems of the time period.

Health for the Americas must also be understood as a program to promote audiovisual education inside and outside the classroom, and one that represented an important precedent for Mexican cinematography, which began to take off in the following decade. Beginning in 1950, the Ministry of Health and Assistance ventured into the world of film and began producing its own shorts with a message and style different from the cartoons produced by Disney Studios. Of the lessons on hygiene and prevention, the national films were dedicated to showing the achievements that the Mexican state and its institutions had realized in the arena of public health.

Discussion of the Literature

The use of film as a source for the history of health and prevention had been, until recent years, a theme scarcely discussed by historians of health and medicine. One reason was the difficulty of locating well-preserved films. Another was the skepticism generated by the use of moving images as historical artifacts. Marc Ferro observed that film, less than a hundred years after its invention, had ceased to be considered a valid source of history, owing to the inaccurate or unreliable nature of its content.17 It is thus relevant to ask, “What role has film played as an educational tool in the public health sphere?” One groundbreaking work, a compilation of medical filmography produced in the United States from the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th, is the unfinished manuscript A History of Motion Pictures in Medicine (1947) by Alfred Nichtenhauser, which was not published because the author died in 1953. Martin Pernick wrote a detailed analysis of the American film The Black Stork (1915), which sparked important medical and political debates on the topics of eugenics and euthanasia at the beginning of the 20th century.18 The films created to educate about the prevention of venereal diseases attracted the attention of American researchers, such as Allan Brandt, who studied the social causes and consequences of syphilis and other diseases that have affected the American population since 1860 and dedicated a cinematic, social, and educational analysis to two films of the era, Fit to Win (1919) and The End of the Road (1919).19 Meanwhile, Stacie Colwell investigated the reception of the movie The End of the Road when it was screened in different cities in the United States between 1919 and 1922.20 Both authors analyze the content and societal impact of these anti-venereal films, produced in the United States during 1919–1950, through social, cultural, and genre lenses. The fight against malaria also inspired numerous educational shorts that have been classified, for the most part, by the historian Marianne Fedunkiw. Starting with the short film Malaria, produced by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1925, this author recounts British and American filmography and divides the films according to the technical procedures that they use to combat malaria: antilarval and/or eradication.21 In contrast, Lisa Cartwright tackled the medical-scientific films in the studio, analyzing their contribution to the history of film and their pedagogical value for teaching medicine. Cartwright centers her analysis on cinematic representations of the human body from a medical perspective.22

The educational film series for Health for the Americas and the shorts produced by Disney have been studied by various authors as part of general studies of Walt Disney. One of them is Richard Shale, who, with a basis in primary sources, re-creates Disney Studios’ activities.23 Years later, Eric Smoodin and Julian Burton-Carvajal tackled the subject of American filmography between the 1940s and 50s and included Disney’s productions for the program.24 The work of Seth Fein refers to Disney’s films as part of the film-based proposal of the OIAA, important to the Mexican context because an important contribution of Fein’s research is that the primary sources consulted in the National Archives (NARA-DC) allowed him to reconstruct the screening routes in the state of Veracruz, Mexico.25 Linda Cartwright also analyzes content from Disney’s shorts and emphasizes the implicit political interests within the project that produced them.26 The Spanish theorist Rodolfo Vidal González analyzes the works of Disney as a propagandistic activity during World War II and surveys the filmography created during this historic moment. He includes the shorts realized for the Health and Literacy for the Americas programs in Latin America. The research of Julie Prieto offers evidence of the films’ production process as a result of the Visual Education Seminar promoted by Disney in his studios.27 For Mexico, we have Juan Manuel Aurrecoechea’s research contributing to re-creating the context in which Walt Disney visited Mexico City for the first time in 1942.28 In a doctoral thesis dedicated to analyzing film as a hygiene education tool in different health campaigns between 1925 and 1960, María Rosa Gudiño Cejudo dedicates 4 to placing in an international context the public health program Health for the Americas and its implementation in Mexico and analyzes six of the thirteen films in the series.29 In the same line of research, but without exploring the continental health-medicine context or the films’ reception, there is Gudiño’s book chapter “Salud para las Américas y Walt Disney: Cine y campañas de salud en México, 1943–1946”.30

The study of this program from a Latin American point of view seems to be an unresolved matter. So far, the only article that has been found to analyze the presence of the OIAA in Chile is an article by Fernando Purcel, who points out several of Disney’s films, but without delving into their educational nature.31

Primary Sources

The Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in Tarrytown, New York, is the main archive for investigating the Office of Inter-American Affairs’ cultural project and the Health for the Americas and Literacy for the Americas programs in the broad context of Latin America. In documentary collections such as the Rockefeller (Nelson A.) or The Rockefeller Family Archives, there is protected documentation from the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) for Latin America. For example, there exist copies of the surveys carried out for both programs, reports from the films’ testing phase in specific countries such as Mexico, Ecuador, and Honduras, graphs, attendance charts, and, of course, the conclusions of those who produced them. These documents allow the researcher to move closer to the educational films’ reception process in their testing phase and to understand how the thirteen-part series on health and prevention was realized. The RAC also conserves oral archives of Nelson A. Rockefeller (FA344), including interviews he gave between September 1951 and January 1952 that reconstruct certain fragments of his management at OIAA. In relation to these interviews, it is important to mention that the Butler Library at Columbia University also has five folders with the corresponding typed transcriptions.

The National Archives Record Administration in Washington, DC, is another benchmark data resource. There, the documentary collections Records of the Office of Inter-American Affairs are preserved, which include the contracts drawn up between Nelson Rockefeller and Walt Disney for the design and production of the films, the itinerary of the trip that Disney took with his crew to Mexico, and administrative documents on the distribution of mobile units and other materials that permitted screening of the films.

The National Library of Medicine (Washington, DC) has a copy of the manuscript by Alfred Nichtenhauser (1953), written at the request of the Audiovisual Training Section, the Professional Training Division, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, and the US Navy. A copy of A Guide to Health for the Americas: A Series of Instructional Films is also preserved there.

In Mexico City, the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Salud (AHSS) keeps documents for the study of the history of Mexican public health and includes primary sources on the reception of Health for the Americas’ complete series and its use in specific health campaigns. The documents found here allow us to establish that the educational films were shown not only in rural areas, but also in Mexico City as well as in spaces such as the National Museum of Hygiene, opened in 1944. Additionally, the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Educación Pública (AHSEP), found in Gallery 8 of the Archivo General de la Nación, includes documents and several photographs of Walt Disney’s visit to Mexico City and to various public schools.

Newspaper resources are of great importance in tracking the opinions of professors such as Eulalia Guzmán or journalists of the era who wrote about the educational films by Disney and published their pieces in different newspapers in Mexico City. The Fondo Reservado of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) retains important correspondence from Eulalia Guzmán, including a letter reporting to Walt Disney during the production process.

The study of these educational films requires them to be available. The RAC is the archive that safeguards the most complete collection of copies (now in DVD format). The NARA and the National Library of Medicine (Washington, DC) also hold several copies. In Mexico, a copy of the film Infant Care was recently located, dubbed in Spanish, and can be found in the Mexican National Film Archive at UNAM.

Further Reading

Aurrecoechea, Juan Manuel. El episodio perdido: Historia del cine mexicano de animación. Mexico City: Cineteca Nacional, 2004.Find this resource:

Birn, Anne Emanuelle. Local Health and Foreign Wealth: The Rockefeller Foundation’s Public Health Programs in Mexico, 1924–1951. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Fein, Seth. “Hollywood and US-Mexico Relations in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.” PhD diss., University of Texas, 1996.Find this resource:

Fein, Seth. “El cine y las relaciones culturales entre México y Estados Unidos durante la década de 1930.” Secuencia 34 (1996): 155–195.Find this resource:

Fonte, Jorge, and Olga Matay. Walt Disney: El universo de los largometrajes 1937–1967. Madrid: TB Editores, 2000.Find this resource:

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(1.) María Rosa Gudiño, “Campañas de salud y Educación Higiénica en México, 1925–1960; Del papel a la pantalla grande” (PhD diss., El Colegio de México, 2009).

(2.) Rodolfo Vidal González, La actividad propagandística de Walt Disney durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial (Salamanca: Publicaciones Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca, 2010), 119–128.

(3.) Juan Manuel Aurrecoechea, “Paquete de sorpresas: Disney, México y Los Tres Caballeros,” Revista de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México 620 (2003): 129–133.

(4.) Juan Manuel Aurrecoechea, “Figueroa, educador visual,” Luna Córnea 32 (2008): 115–125.

(5.) Vidal, La actividad, 130–131.

(6.) A Survey Conducted for the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs by the Walt Disney Studio on the Subject of Literacy, s/f. RAC, NR papers, series O, Box, 7, folder 56a (1944).

(10.) Subjective Report on Health and Literacy Film Testing Trip, July 16-November 17 1944. General plan. RAC, NR Projects, series L FA348, Box 66, folder 632.

(12.) Gudiño Cejudo Maria Rosa, “Eulalia Guzmán and Walt Disney Educational Films. A Pedagogical Proposal for Literacy for the Americas in Mexico, (1942–1944),” Journal of Educational Media. Memory and Society 8.1 (Spring 2016).

(13.) Gudiño, “Campañas de salud,” 192.

(14.) “Carta de Wyman R. Stone Jefe de la Misión al Dr. Gustavo Baz,” 25 julio 1946. In AHSSA. Fondo SSA. SubSya, caj 9. Exp. 1.

(15.) Gudiño, “Campañas de salud,” 218.

(16.) Seth Fein, “Everyday Forms of Transnational Collaboration. US Film Propaganda in Cold War,” in Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico, edited by G. M. Joseph and Daniel Nugent (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 400–450.

(17.) Marc Ferro, Historia contemporánea y cine (Barcelona: Ariel, 2000), 39.

(18.) Martin Pernick, The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of “Defective” Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures since 1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

(19.) Allan Brandt, No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States since 1880 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).

(20.) Stacie Colwell, “The End of the Road: Gender, the Dissemination of Knowledge, and the American Campaign against Venereal Disease during WWI,” Camera Obscura 10 (1992): 91–125.

(21.) Marian Fedunkiw, “Malaria Films: Motion Picture as a Public Health Tool,” American Journal of Public Health 93.7 (2003): 1046–1056.

(22.) Lisa Cartwright, Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine’s Visual Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995).

(23.) Richard Shale, Donald Duck Joins up: The Walt Disney Studio during World War II (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1982).

(24.) Julianne Burton Carvajal, “Surprise Package: Looking Southward with Disney,” in Disney Discourse: Producing the Magic Kingdom, edited by Eric Smoodin (London: Routledge, 1994), 131–147.

(25.) Fein, “Everyday Forms,” 400–450.

(26.) Lisa Cartwright, “Cultural Contagion: On Disney´s Health Education Films for Latin America,” in Disney Discourse: Producing the Magic Kingdom, edited by Eric Smoodin (London: Routledge, 1994), 169–180.

(27.) Julie Prieto, “Making a Modern Man: Disney´s Literacy and Health Education Campaign in Latin and South America during WWII,” in The Pedagogy of Pop: Theoretical and Practical Strategies for Success, edited by Janak Edward and Denise Blum (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2013), 29–44.

(28.) Aurrecoechea, “Paquete de sorpresas,” 129–133.

(29.) Gudiño, “Campañas de salud,” 201–205.

(30.) María Rosa Gudiño, “Salud para las Américas y Walt Disney: Cine y campañas de salud en México, 1943–1946,” in La mirada mirada: Transculturalidad e imaginarios del México revolucionario, 1910–1945, edited by Alicia Azuela and Guillermo Palacios (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 2009), 179–203.

(31.) Fernando Purcel, “Cine propaganda y el mundo de Disney en Chile durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial,” Historia 43 (2010): 487–522.