Alfonso Cuarón became the first person to win a cinematography Oscar for a film that he also directed on Sunday at the 91st Academy Awards.
Cuarón was honored for his black-and-white rendering of Roma, which he also produced and wrote, drawing on his own recollections of his childhood and the women who raised him, in a dramatic moment that almost didn’t air live on the broadcast because cinematography was one of the categories that the Academy originally proposed to present during commercial breaks.
Before he presented the award, Tyler Perry took a jab at the Academy, noting he was pleased to be presenting the category live on air instead of during a commercial break.
Accepting the award, Cuarón said, “To create a single frame of film, as you well know, requires the work of a lot of people, very hard work. So I want to thank Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira before anybody else. The amazing cast and crew, Gabriela Rodríguez and Nicolás Celis as producers, Participant and Netflix, Technicolor and Arri.
“If this film was created by my own memories, the film was crafted through the memories of what this great master of cinematography has given to us,” he continued. “It is well-known that in Billy Wilder’s office there was a sign that said, ‘What would Lubitsch have done?’ And for me, it was, ‘What would [cinematographer and longtime Cuarón collaborator] Chivo Lubezki have done?’ So this is for you, too, Chivo.”
Roma follows Cleo (Aparicio), a young domestic worker for a family in a middle-class neighborhood in Mexico City.
This is the first time a black-and-white film has won the cinematography Oscar since Janusz Kaminski claimed the trophy in 1994 for Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama Schindler’s List.
Cuarón topped a cinematography field that also included Lukasz Zal for Cold War, Robbie Ryan for The Favourite, Caleb Deschanel for Never Look Away and Matty Libatique for A Star Is Born.
Cuarón stepped in as DP of Roma after Lubezki had to pull out due to the long 109-day shooting schedule. “I wrote it thinking of Chivo,” Cuarón said. “Chivo said, ‘Alfonso, you have to do it.’”