Monday, January 29, 2007

CINE LATINO—Banner Year For Latinos At Oscars

Twitch team mate Felix has written a fine write-up on the Latino nominees for the 79th Academy Awards and has granted permission to cross-publish here on The Evening Class. Thanks, Felix!

As a brief preface to Felix's piece, I'm reminded of the little bit of Oscar trivia that perhaps only a Chicano like myself can fully appreciate and which is all the more relevant in this year rich with Mexican nominees. Emilio Fernández ("El Indio")—responsible for such great Mexican classics as Flor Silvestre, Maria Candelaria, Enamorada, La Perla and so many others—was a good friend of actress Dolores Del Rio. Her husband at the time was Cedric Gibbons, arguably the most important and influential art director in the history of American film. Gibbons had been commissioned to design the statuette for the Academy Awards and—after being introduced to El Indio through his wife—convinced Fernández to pose nude. So by all accounts, that's a naked Mexican all those grinning winners are gleefully clasping and taking home! Though you won't find any mention of that at the Oscar website's official history of the statuette. Filmbud Sergio de la Mora cautions that it might possibly have been El Indio himself who started circulating the story as Fernández had a history of telling all kinds of incredible tales (tall, short and in between). For now, take it with a granito de sal.

* * *

The Oscars has entered into an interesting year honoring many Hispanic artists with esteemed nominations. Actors, Directors, and cinematographers are reveling in the acknowledgment of Hispanic artists in 2007.

I'm not really one to hang my race high. I'm Puerto Rican born from two pure Puerto Ricans, and yet I'm not always interested in wearing my culture on my sleeve, for the simple fact that labels are easy to have, and that sets limitations for me. May not be a philosophy many agree with, but it's just what gets me by.

But, there's no denying that this year at the Oscars, whether you examine the occasion or not, has been an interesting year for Hispanics in the film industry. Actors, Directors, and Producers have all been granted some sort of accolade for their work in the film medium.

True, some were deserved and some not, but where as years ago, the Oscars paid a certain homage to African-Americans in the business, this year has been an interesting one for Hispanics.

What with Penelope Cruz (Spain) nominated for her acclaimed turn in Volver, and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarrítu's (Mexico) directorial turn in Babel, as well as Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaròn, Adriana Barraza and Guillermo Arriaga all grabbing highly esteemed nominations, it's interesting to see this tide turn.

As many film buffs know, the Oscars are notorious for being blatantly dismissive of minorities. Though, African-Americans are noted as being the primary race dismissed for their artistic contributions, Hispanics and Asians have suffered almost the same kicks.

Over the last six years, the Oscar academy has steadily backpedaled the bad press by paying homage to excellent minority entertainers that have gone almost virtually unnoticed, nominated old and new comers in the industry, and one of the most publicized contenders for Best Director was Ang Lee who directed Brokeback Mountain.

If you've ever seen The Bronze Screen, it's pretty clear that minorities in general have suffered this dismissal, as well as President George W. Bush practically outlawing the Spanish language as an alternative for the Star Spangled Banner, yet in 2006, we saw quite a few masters propel their films into Oscar competition.

Most notably nominated was Alfonso Cuaròn for his utterly amazing Children of Men, a film that earned, sadly, only technical nominations, and Guillermo Del Toro's fantastic Pan's Labyrinth for Best Foreign Language Film, both films have been tied as my #2 favorites of 2006.

Penelope Cruz, a favorite of Pedro Almodovar explains, "It has been a long time coming, especially since millions of people speak Spanish as their main language in this country. It's great that it's finally being reflected in movies." This ceremony marks the first time Cruz has ever been nominated, as well as Iñarrítu for his acclaimed Babel.

Adriana Barraza of Babel (earning seven nominations, Pan's at six) who is competing with fellow co-star Rinko Kikuchi (my vote), views this nomination as a chance for audiences to view a rare sub-plot: "With my character, an immigrant worker, audiences get to see the feelings, the needs, the real reasons why they are here in the United States, people like my character, they are contributing to this society, and it's important for people to see that."

Agree or not, Barraza's turn as an illegal immigrant nanny of two children, who finds herself in a rather perilous situation after she's caught drunk at the border, is excellent.

"I think what it means is that there is finally a very, very strong all-inclusive presence of Spanish-language culture in the mainstream," Guillermo Del Toro explains, "And by this I mean it's not an isolated case of an actor or a star, but I'm talking about technicians, artists, cinematographers, art directors, makeup artists."

This year marks one of the few times Hispanics have peppered most of the categories, which Cruz attributes to a more globalized film industry. But Gonzalez Iñarrítu, honored to be nominated, has warned of defining people with labels.

"The film Babel is not about 'I am Mexican, and you are American,' the point is we are human, and we are born naked before someone puts stupid passports on us and raises a flag."

I concur.

Cross-published at Twitch.

02/07/07 UPDATE: Alfonso Cuaròn voices his allegiance to filmmaking without borders in The Guardian Unlimited, stating: "What I resent … is the notion that the Oscars are somehow bestowing legitimacy on Mexican cinema. We don't need this legitimacy."

Further: "I have a huge appreciation of backgrounds. What I have a problem with is borders. The language of cinema is cinema itself: it doesn't matter whether it is filmed in Spanish or English or French or Japanese. The same goes for the people who make it. Yes, I'm a film-maker from Mexico. But I also belong to the world."

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