There's Still Work to Do, But Led by Guillermo del Toro, Latinx Representation Was Out in Force During the Oscars
The 90th Academy Awards were still mostly white and still mostly male (justice for Dee Rees!), and it’s arguable how much this year—with all of its historic nominations and some of its most exciting wins, like those for Jordan Peele and Get Out—will really matter in the long run. But there was one thing that was very noticeable during the ceremony, and it brought me endless joy: the Mexican and Latin American nominees were having the best time.
In the past five years, the Best Director award has gone to three Mexican directors four times:
At the 86th Academy Awards in 2014, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, Alfonso Cuarón was recognized for Gravity, which picked up six other awards:
At the 87th Academy Awards in 2015, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, Alejandro G. Iñárritu picked up the award for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which won three other awards, including Best Picture. (Please, let us glory in the awfulness of Sean Penn for a moment):
At the 88th Academy Awards in 2016, hosted by Chris Rock, Alejandro G. Iñárritu won again, this time for directing The Revenant, which also snagged Leonardo DiCaprio his first Best Actor award:
And as we know, at the 90th Academy Awards this past weekend, Guillermo del Toro picked up Best Director for The Shape of Water, which also won Best Picture, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design:
Is there any filmmaker friendship more well-known than that of Cuarón, Iñárritu, and del Toro? I mean, they always talk about it. The Three Amigos name drop each other in interviews constantly, like this Los Angeles Times piece in 2015:
“Guillermo is the master of cursing,” said Inarritu. “But with just one bad word, he can convey more to me than most people can in an entire conversation.”
“I’ll tell him if it’s [garbage],” said Del Toro. “That’s what friends do.”
“There’s no film I do that doesn’t go through them, their eyes and their hands,” Cuaron said.
And they appeared on Charlie Rose together in 2006, as the “Mexican Filmmakers Panel,” before the journalist’s fall from grace:
And there is this 2015 feature in Vanity Fair, which also included the phenomenal cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who has worked with Cuarón and Iñárritu (and won Academy Awards for Gravity, Birdman, and The Revenant):
Listening to Cuarón with his compatriots del Toro, Iñárritu, and the cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki is like being at a family reunion where the tales have become legends. As Jonás Cuarón, Alfonso’s son, whose own film, Desierto, premiered this fall, puts it, “I grew up seeing them as uncles.” Impressively, the group has maintained its closeness and thrived together, from Mexico to Hollywood (a land of notoriously fair-weather friends). Cuarón and Lubezki both won Oscars for 2013’s Gravity, while Iñárritu won best director for last year’s Birdman (and Lubezki won again for best cinematography). Iñárritu and Lubezki are putting finishing touches on The Revenant, out in December, while del Toro’s new goth thriller, Crimson Peak, was tweaked over marathon Skype sessions with Cuarón. “Every time we see each other,” says Lubezki, “it’s like an explosion of creativity.”
Plus, there’s this photo timeline of their careers over at Univision and this recent interview at El País, where Iñárritu joked after del Toro’s wins, “!Vamos a hacer un muro de puros Oscars!” or “We’ll build a wall made entirely out of Oscars!”
… So yeah, del Toro and his compatriots were feeling it at the 90th Academy Awards, during a ceremony that was clearly influenced by Mexican and Latin American creators and their films. When del Toro won his Best Director award, first he hugged his girlfriend, writer Kim Gordon, and then he immediately embraced fellow Mexican Gael García Bernal, with whom he’s been friends for years:
And then his speech began with “I am an immigrant, like Alfonso and Alejandro, my compadres, like Gael, like Salma, and like many, many of you … In the last 25 years I’ve been living in a country all of our own, part of it is here, part of it is in Europe, part of it is everywhere. Because I think that the greatest thing our art does, the greatest thing our industry does, is erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that when the world tells us to make them deeper.”
As he mentioned in his acceptance speech, his friendships with fellow Mexican actors like García Bernal, Hayek, and Diego Luna have been decades long, whether they’re celebrating at the Oscars or partying at Cannes last year, where Hayek flew out a mariachi band:
Back at the Oscars, that Mexican and Latin American solidarity continued with Oscar Isaac announcing Coco as the Best Animated Feature Film with a delighted “Viva Latin America! Coco!” and a hug onstage with García Bernal:
It was a love-fest, and one that demonstrated that representation matters, much like Coco director Lee Unkrich said in his acceptance speech. There were other noticeable steps forward, too, like Hayek’s appearance onstage preceding the Time’s Up/#MeToo segment and Gina Rodriguez and Rita Moreno as presenters. And then there’s this quote from double EGOT Robert Lopez, who is Filipino-American and who with his wife Kristin Anderson-Lopez won Best Original Song for “Remember Me”: “I want to encourage every brown kid to pursue their dream.” (Oh, and the performance by Miguel and Natalia LaFourcade of the song was great, too, even if García Bernal couldn’t reach all those notes.)
There is obviously still work to be done. Hayek’s interaction with Jessica Williams at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival displayed her ignorance regarding intersectional feminism. The list of Latinx and Latin American nominees in the Academy Award acting categories is embarrassingly short. And it’s essential that the successes of del Toro, Iñárritu, and Cuarón translate into more opportunities—not just for the Three Amigos, but for others inspired by their work and their success.
Until then, though, let Barry Jenkins (who should have presented the Best Picture Oscar this year, by the way) have the last word:
Wow wow wow: imagine if, within five years, you and your two best homeboys or homegirls or any mix of the two+ whatever else forms your bond… all win THE most prestigious award in the craft you love and have dedicated your life to. Like… that’s HEAVEN— Barry Jenkins (@BarryJenkins) March 5, 2018
[Header photo from Getty Images]