Oscar: a reluctant Latin lover

In 85 years only 21 Ibero-American filmmakers have won an Academy Award

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity.
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity.

In 85 years, Hollywood has awarded an Oscar 21 times to a Latin American. Ten of the coveted statuettes have gone to Mexicans, way above the six Argentineans, the three Puerto Ricans, the one Chilean and the one Uruguayan who have received them. This year is no exception and the Mexicans, once again dominant, could add more trophies to their haul at Sunday’s Oscars ceremony. Alfonso Cuarón has three of the 10 nominations received by Gravity — Best Director, Best Editing and Best Film — and his fellow countryman Emmanuel Lubezki has been selected for his impressive space cinematography on the film. Lupita Nyong’o, who was born in Mexico but grew up in Kenya, could make off with Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave — if she can defeat Julia Roberts’ splendid performance in August: Osage County.

Neither Cuarón nor Lubezki has won an Oscar before, but both are veterans in the awards race. Cuarón has twice been nominated as a screenwriter — for Children of Men (2006) and, together with his brother Carlos, for Y tu mama también (2002) — while Lubezki has been nominated five times, for films such as Sleepy Hollow and The Tree of Life. If he wins, Cuarón will become the first Latin American to be crowned Best Director, an award that Brazilians Héctor Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1985), Fernando Meirelles (City of God, 2003) and Cuarón’s fellow Mexican Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 2006) all failed to win before him.

The Mexicans could add more trophies to their haul at Sunday’s Oscars

The first Oscars ceremony was held in 1929 but no Latin American received a statuette until 1950 when Puerto Rican José Ferrer took home the Best Actor Award for Cyrano de Bergerac. The next Spanish-American winner was Mexican Anthony Quinn who won two Best Supporting Actor awards in 1952 and 1956 for Viva Zapata! and Lust for Life, though he missed out in the Best Actor category in 1957 and 1964.

The Puerto Ricans returned in 1961 thanks to the charismatic Rita Moreno’s Best Supporting Actress award for West Side Story in which she sang America, but then did not feature again until Benicio del Toro won in 2000 for Traffic. No Latin American performer has ever won a Best Actress Award and only three have come close: Fernanda Montenegro for Central Station (1998), Catalina Sandino Moreno for Maria Full of Grace (2004) and Salma Hayek for her portrayal of tormented painter Frida Kahlo in 2002. Her fellow Mexican Adriana Barraza was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2007.

Nor has the Best Foreign Language Film category been the preserve of Latin American cinema. There is no representative from the continent among this year’s nominations, despite the fact that Chile’s Gloria was a big favorite. Only six Spanish-language films have won this Oscar: four of them are Spanish — Begin the Beguine, Belle Époque, All About My Mother and The Sea Inside — and the other two are Argentinean — Luis Puenzo’s 1985 drama The Official Story and Juan José Campanella’s tense thriller The Secret In Their Eyes (2009).

The first Oscars was in 1929 but no Latin American received a statuette until 1950

Argentina is also the only Latin American country to have had two composers nominated for Best Original Score. Lalo Schifrin was nominated five times but never won, while Gustavo Santaolalla won two years in a row for his scores for Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Babel (2006). Fellow Argentinean Luis Bacalov missed out after he was nominated for his music for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew (1966) but got his revenge 30 years later when he won for Il Postino. Uruguay’s only Oscar came courtesy of Jorge Drexler, who won Best Original Song in 2005 for Al otro lado del río from The Motorcycle Diaries. Mexican Guillermo Navarro won Best Cinematography for his work on Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and Claudio Miranda picked up Chile’s only Academy Award when he won for his photography on Life of Pi (2012).

Argentinean Pablo Herman is the only Latin American to have been nominated for Best Visual Effects, for Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and War of the Worlds (2005). No Latin American has ever won a screenplay Oscar, though a number have been nominated: Luis Puenzo and Aida Bortnik for The Official Story (1985), the Cuarón brothers for Y tu mamá también and Alfonso Cuarón alone for Children of Men and in the same year, 2006, two other Mexicans: Guillermo del Toro for Pan’s Labyrinth and Guillermo Arriaga for Babel.

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