Alfonso Cuaron Talks Social Impact of 'Roma' in Mexico, U.S.

Alfonso Cuaron accepts the Best Director award for 'Roma' onstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards-Oscars 2019-Getty-H 2019
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Sen. Kamala Harris will introduce a domestic workers' rights bill later this year following a social action campaign surrounding the film.

When Alfonso Cuaron paid tribute to domestic workers in his speech accepting the best director Oscar for Roma, he didn't yet know the film would lead to a change in the laws and additional legal protections for the underrepresented group.

Speaking at Cannes Lions, Participant Media CEO David Linde said the film “really achieved legitimate policy change."

The Mexican law now passed, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) will introduce similar legislation in the U.S. later this year which will address issues such as regular scheduling and paid leave. Domestic workers are currently exempt from federal labor protections.

Cuaron also created a PSA for the cause. He said the conversation about creating an activism campaign began just after the film's world premiere in Venice, but, along with Linde, the duo were careful to hold the campaign until after the movie had received nominations so that it would not appear a cynical marketing move.

“We didn't want the social action to be treated as a selling point of the film. You don't want to use the action for your profit, you want your currency to work for the social action,” he said.

“I was a bit skeptical at first because I have worked with people who have worked in social action and sometimes there's a lack of genuineness, and here there was just a passion,” he said. “Everything we did was in sync.”

The two spoke onstage with Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Association, which has spearheaded the international campaign.

Linde said social action is core to the business of Participant Media, which has turned out other Oscar winners including Green Book and Spotlight. “We look at it from a perspective of three buckets because what we are trying to achieve is a cultural shift and trying to use the work that we do to accelerate the impact work,” he said, citing An Inconvenient Truth, and Food Inc. as additional projects that have had impact. 

He said distributors are key to this work. “You've heard of the artists, but we partner with the best distributors to get the films and TV series out into the world — no one sees your movie, there's no social change,” he said, adding: “Social impact is a team sport.”