By Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver/America Media
Shouts of “Viva Mexico” came from the Oscar stage Sunday night as Latinos were not only well represented at this year’s 90th Academy Awards but won Oscars in some of the most significant categories including Best Song, Best Animated Feature film and Best Picture of the year. No Latino actors were nominated in any category causing an uproar in the Latino cinematic community about the exclusion of Latino voices in American films despite the fact that Latinos make up a significant amount of the ticket buying audience.
“Remember Me,” from Disney-Pixar’s “Coco,” won the Oscar for Best Song for songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez as well as Best Animated Feature Film. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro won the Academy Award for Best Director for “The Shape of Water as well as for Best Film of the Year.
This year’s ceremonies saw one of the most diverse and inclusive awards shows in terms of nominees, presenters and audience.
Latino presenters included Lin Manuel Miranda, Creator of the Broadway sensation Hamilton. Miranda announced earlier in the evening that he will star in the upcoming Disney film “Mary Poppins Returns” due out at Christmas 2018. Eliza Gonzalez, the Mexican beauty who as small girl from Mexico dreamed her whole life of this moment, never expecting it to become true said “I cried. Always fight for your dreams and believe in yourself, even when everything looks hopeless she told reporters. Eugenio Derbez presented for Best Song. Natilia Lafourcade, Gael Garcia Bernal and Miguel all sang “Remember Me” in a spectacular rendition of the song that had Marigold petals raining down on the audience. Daniela Vega, the Chilean star from the film “A Fantastic Woman” was on the stage. Vega was one of the presenters of the night and the first transgender actress ever nominated for an Oscar. The film tells the story of a transgender woman in Chile and was nominated for Best Foreign Movie. Rita Moreno, the first Puerto Rican to be nominated and win for Best Supporting Actress for West Side Story in 1961, wore the same dress she wore to the 1962 Oscars. The 86 year-old Moreno also presented an Oscar. See a complete list of Latin American Academy Award winners and nominees over the years Here.
Gina Rodriguez is one of the loudest and brightest Latino voices in Hollywood right now. She has been instrumental in promoting more Latino talent in Hollywood. The Jane the Virgin star was also a presenter. WMagazine,com reported recently, “Rodriguez used her platform at the SAG Awards to advocate for more opportunities for Latinos, telling, Entertainment Weekly, “Women of color are needed to speak up and be a part of this movement. And for me, it means the world because we start to talk about inclusivity and there’s still a major lack of representation in the Latino community. So that is why I love to speak about Time’s Up, because I know that there is a community out there that is desiring to see themselves onscreen, and yet, we are still very sadly underrepresented. So studios, I love you guys, but we buy one of every four tickets at the box office every weekend, we hold studios up, Latinos hold studios up, we hold up movies at the box office. So cast us in your films so we can be a part of the growing demographic that so much is what we do for the studios.”
When black performers were excluded from all acting categories at the Academy Awards for a second year in a row in 2016, the shutout sparked a second year of an impassioned social-media movement: #OscarsSoWhite. You could say the campaign was a success. A week later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pledged to phase out senior members and enlist new, diverse voters who would, if all recruiting goals were met, double minority membership by 2020.
Variety Magazine reported the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) is leading the charge to pressure studios to work with Latino activists to improve representation of Latinos in the industry. The NHMC on Saturday held a demonstration just two blocks away from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood where the 90th Academy Awards took place on Sunday. It’s their second protest of the awards season
Variety reported that the number of women and people of color nominated for Academy Awards this year may have quieted the #OscarsSoWhite furor, but one group is nonetheless calling attention to the lack of Latino diversity in the movie business.
The glaring absence of Latino nominees in any of the acting categories this year is a reflection of an industry that has failed to offer more meaningful roles for Latinos, some say, a striking fact given that Los Angeles is almost nearly half Latino. According to one in-depth study, Latinos represented just 3% of speaking roles in the top 100 films of 2016, USC researchers found.
But Latino activists are focusing their energy on diversifying the ranks of executives at the major studios, arguing that in a hierarchical industry like Hollywood, the biggest opportunity for change will come from the top.
A recent Huffington Post article stated Latino actors have been historically overlooked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences despite making up nearly 18 percent of the U.S. population. In 90 years of Oscars history, Latino actors and actresses have been nominated 16 times, and only six have won. It has been 17 years since a Latino actor or actress won an Oscar and six years since one was even nominated. Asian actors, LGBTQ actors, First Nation actors and actors with disabilities fare similarly or worse.
The article continued saying, “The major studios largely declined to provide figures for the rate of executives who are Latino, making it difficult to get a comprehensive count across the six major studios. Disney, Warner Bros., Universal and Fox did not respond to requests for the number of Latinos are in prominent executive roles. Sony has a number of Latinos across its divisions in senior roles, including Alex Almogabar Zahn, a VP at Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, who is focusing on developing a slate of films with Latinx themes. (Latinx is the gender-neutral form of Latino increasingly used by academics, activists and bloggers). A Sony spokeswoman says there are a half dozen such projects in active development.”
Best Song “Remember Me, was the second Oscar win for Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez the New York-based tunesmiths, having previously taken home the statue for the massive hit “Let It Go” for another Disney film, 2013’s “Frozen.” They are now two-for-two in Oscar competition.
“Remember Me” was widely favored to win for Best Song, as it plays a key role in the narrative about a Mexican boy who travels to the Land of the Dead to learn the truth about a famous musician who may be his ancestor.
The original song is heard in four different contexts in the film: First as played in grand style by Ernesto de la Cruz, that now-dead musician; then in lullaby form by Hector, another dead songwriter who fears being forgotten by his family; by the little boy, to his great-great grandmother in an emotional finale; and by Miguel with Natalie Lafourcade in a pop version under the end titles.
Miguel said “Remember Me,” the emotional and Best Original Oscar winning song from Coco, that the importance of the moment is not lost on him, as he let E! News’ Ryan Seacrest know ahead of time on the red carpet. “For a movie like this, knowing that it’s representing the Latin population, and being of Mexican descent, it’s incredibly meaningful, man,” he said. “So yes, I do know how much it means and I want to represent for all the Latinos out there. I really, really do. I’m honored.
The Lopezes researched Mexican music from the mid-20th-century and penned a song in the bolero-ranchero style that could work as a quiet ballad or in a more boisterous style; then added a lyric that spoke, as the film does, about family and intimate connections.
Coco, the colorful adventure into the land of the dead from Walt Disney Co’s Pixar Animation Studios, won the Oscar on Sunday for best animated feature film. The story of family, memory and legacy follows a boy named Miguel who finds himself in the land of the dead during the Mexican celebration of the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
“With Coco we tried to take a step forward toward a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look and talk and live like they do,” Lee Unkrich, one of the film’s directors, said in accepting the award. “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.” It was Pixar’s ninth Oscar in the animated feature category.
In the film, the boy named Miguel meets his ancestors and learns how the memories of the living help keep the legacies of the dead alive. The film was co-directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, who said they were careful to reflect Mexican culture and beliefs “in a story free of cliche and stereotype,” and drew on the experiences of their Latino and Mexican colleagues.
Coco was a box office smash for Disney-Pixar, raking in more than $700 million worldwide.
Guillermo del Toro won the Academy Award for Best Director for “The Shape of Water,” marking the first Oscar win for the prolific and beloved Mexican filmmaker. Del Toro was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay with co-writer Vanessa Taylor, and “The Shape of Water” is nominated for Best Picture. Del Toro was up against one of the most eligible bunch of auteur filmmakers in years, beating out fellow nominees Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”).
“I am an immigrant,” said del Toro accepting the award. “The greatest thing our art does and our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that.”
Del Toro has been nominated for two Oscars prior to 2018, when “The Shape of Water” became the most recognized film of the year — receiving 13 nominations. His two nominations came in 2007 for the dark fantasy film “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. In the run up to the 2018 Oscars, Del Toro previously won the BAFTA and the Golden Globe for Best Director.
Set in the 1960s Cold War era, “The Shape of Water” stars Sally Hawkins as a mute woman who falls in love with a mysterious amphibian man locked up at the secret government lab where she works as a janitor. With the help of her neighbor (Richard Jenkins) and co-worker (Octavia Spencer), she devises a plan to help her love escape.
Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar win puts him in celebrated company. The Mexican-born movie maker took home the best director for “The Shape of Water” Sunday night, continuing a recent string of Mexican directors winning the award. Alejandro González Iñárritu became the first Mexican to be nominated for best director in 2006 for “Babel,” but lost to Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.” In 2013, Alfonso Cuarón won for “Gravity,” making him both the first Mexican and first Latino to take home the award.
The win follows industry victories at the Producers and Directors Guild Awards for the film, which led the field overall with 13 nominations this year. Del Toro’s film also took home prizes for original score, production design, and director Sunday night.
“Growing up in Mexico as a kid, I was a big admirer of foreign films, like ‘E.T.,’” del Toro said on stage. “And a few weeks ago, Steven Spielberg said, if you you find yourself there, if you find yourself on the podium, remember that you are part of a legacy, that you are part of a world of filmmakers and be proud of it and I’m very, very proud.”
“I want to dedicate this to every young filmmaker, the youth that is showing us how things are done,” he went on. “Really, they are. In every country in the world. And I was a kid enamored with movies, growing up in Mexico, I thought this could never happen. It happens. And I want to tell you, everyone that is dreaming of using fantasy to tell the stories about the things that are real in the world today, you can do it. This is the door. Kick it open and come in.
The film, distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, grossed $113.7 million worldwide. It was produced for just under $20 million.
The other best-picture nominees were “Call Me by Your Name,” “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Phantom Thread,” “The Post,” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Iñárritu won for “Birdman” in 2014 and “The Revenant” a year later, making him the first Mexican to be nominated for Best Director three times.
Del Toro beat out Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”), Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) for his award.