Thanks to Yalitza Aparicio, the lead actress in Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-winning film Roma, a conversation about inequality has started in Mexico. The 25-year-old actress was the first Indigenous woman to appear on the cover of Vogue’s Latin American edition and thus has inspired a dialogue, sometimes vicious in its racism and classism, about who should be let into the upper echelons of society in a country where Indigenous people are rarely seen in the media and less on red carpets.
Born in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Aparicio had just earned a teaching degree when she auditioned for Roma. In the film she plays Cleo, a housekeeper and nanny, and is being heralded around the globe not only for her performance, but for being a role model for Indigenous people. When Vogue México decided to feature her on its cover it was a huge milestone for women of Indigenous descent.
Aparicio told The New York Times that she isn’t satisfied to be an exception and that she wants to use her emerging star power to create a more inclusive future for her country. “It shouldn’t matter what you’re into, how you look — you can achieve whatever you aspire to,” she said.
Karla Martinez de Salas, the editor in chief of Vogue México and Vogue Latinoamérica said she witnessed the negative reactions to photos of Aparicio in Vanity Fair, and worried that the Vogue images would meet a similar response. They didn’t. In fact it was celebrated with the largest response the magazine has ever received on social media she told The New York Times. In a television interview on Mexican television Martinez de Salas explained that their choice in choosing Aparicio for the cover of the 20th anniversary edition of Vogue Mexico cover was to present a woman who represents what Mexico is to the world. “We wanted someone strong not the stereotypical model that we always see.” Aparicio said that while she did receive racist attacks online that initially upset her, she focused on the scores who have called her a role model and sent fan art.
And now her image is breaking paradigms again featured in the “Vogue like a Painting” exhibition that is now being shown at Mexico City’s historic Franz Mayer Museum from now until September 15, 2019. Aparicio’s image is one of 65 images of the greatest photographs to manifest in Vogue during its past 20 years as a publication. Aparicio’s photo comes from a spread that was published in January 2019. Her photo was taken by the Mexican photographers Santiago & Mauricio and is a cross between Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and one of Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits. The image is powerful and so is she.