Five Out of Last Six Oscars for Best Director Have Been Earned by Mexican Filmmakers

Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón took home his second Academy Award for Best Director this year for Roma, the semi-autobiographical Netflix feature-length film that has swept the category this season.

“I want to thank the academy for recognizing a film centered around an indigenous woman, one of the 70 million domestic workers in the world without work rights — a character that has historically been relegated to the background in cinema,” he said in his acceptance speech. Cuarón’s win is the fifth time in the past six years that a Mexican director has taken home an Oscar for their film, including Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant and Birdman, and Cuarón’s Gravity. Roma received two other awards at the ceremony: one for Best Cinematography, which Cuarón shot himself, and another for Best Foreign Language film.

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The dominance of Mexican talent over the past handful of years is just one reflection of a growing plurality  of narratives Hollywood. There’s still a ways to go with addressing inequity in Hollywood — after all, said Christy Haubegger in a recent interview with the New York Times, “How do you fix centuries of patriarchy in 12 months, right?” Then, of course there was the Academy’s choice for Best Picture, which demonstrated that Hollywood still doesn’t quite “get it.” With Green Book taking home the top prize as well as the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, the “white savior” movie narrative still holds sway over the gatekeepers in the industry.

Other wins from the awards ceremony, though, hinted at progress toward inclusivity and representation in the stories that make it to the big screen.

Spike Lee earned an Academy Award for BlacKkKlansman, which took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. His co-writers for the film were David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, and Kevin Willmott, who worked with Lee on several other films that center around Black-American narratives. This was Lee’s first Oscar win, though he received an honorary Oscar in late 2015. “We can talk, you know, yabba, yabba, yabba, but we need to have some serious discussion about diversity, and get some flave up in this!” he said to the audience, after receiving the honorary award. “It’s easier to be president of the United States as a black person than be head of a studio. Honest.”

Ruth Carter Black Panther Mexican
Photo Credit AP

Black Panther launched two African-American women into the pantheon of Oscars history, with Ruth E. Carter winning the award for Best Costume Design and Hannah Beachler the award for Best Production Design. Both were the first black women to win in these two categories, key players in bringing Wakanda to life by integrating the rich history of African culture.

Hannah Beachler Black Panther Mexican
Photo Credit Getty Images

In her acceptance speech, Beachler thanked director Ryan Coogler for believing in her talent. ”I stand here because this man offered me a different perspective of life. He offered me a safe space, was patient and gave me air, humanity and brotherhood.” Carter explained to CNN last week her Afrofuturist vision for the film: “I would have to represent images of beauty, forms of beauty, from the African tribal traditions so that African-Americans could understand it; so that (non-black) Americans could understand African-Americans better; so we could start erasing a homogenized version of Africa.”

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