Mexicans Celebrate 'Roma' Oscar Victories

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Alfonso Cuaron

Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron made history at Sunday's Academy Awards, becoming Mexico's first director to take home an Oscar for best foreign-language picture.

Alfonso Cuaron's acclaimed memoir film Roma failed to win a best picture Oscar Sunday night but it walked away with three key awards, and perhaps more importantly, the movie has sparked a long overdue conversation in Mexico about classism and racism.

Roma, a semi-autobiographical black-and-white movie that centers on the struggles of Cuaron's indigenous live-in nanny during the 1970s in Mexico City, won Oscars Sunday for best director, cinematography and foreign-language picture.

Going into the ceremony, Roma was seen as one of the presumptive frontrunners for best picture, but the evening's most coveted award went to Green Book instead, a Peter Farrelly picture based on the true-life tale of a pianist's interracial relationship with his driver.

Many were surprised to see Green Book crowned best picture, including BlacKkKlansman filmmaker Spike Lee, who later commented that "The ref made a bad call."

In Mexico City, hundreds of people gathered in public spaces (including a free music event dubbed Romafest) to watch the ceremony on big screens. The atmoshphere was festive after Mexico City-born Cuaron won best foreign-language film and best director but the mood soured after Roma's Yalitza Aparicio lost to The Favourite's Olivia Colman for best actress and later when Green Book edged out Roma for best picture.

Many in Mexico believed that Roma, which enjoyed a highly successful awards season run, had a great shot at taking home the Oscar's top prize. A popular meme circulating on Twitter shows a man falling back off his chair when Green Book is proclaimed the night's big winner.

Still, Roma garnered some impressive prizes: Mexico's first-ever award in the foreign-language category; a cinematography prize for Cuaron, who adeptly shot the film himself; and best director, meaning five of the last six directing Oscars have gone to a Mexican filmmaker. Also, the nomination for lead actress Aparicio marks the first time that a Mexican actor of indigenous descent is nominated for an Academy Award.

Actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who worked alongside Cuaron on his road movie Y Tu Mama Tambien, called the foreign-language picture victory "a badass" accomplishment, while Mexico's newly elected President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador acknowledged in a morning news conference on Monday that the film deals with the important issue of racism.

"Unfortunately, there is a lot of racism in Mexico," he said.

The good news is that Roma has opened up a conversation about the country's problematic social class divide and it's giving a much-needed voice to indigenous and working-class people. Mexico's Supreme Court recently ruled that domestic workers, ones like the film's protagonist Cleo, now have a right to receive social security benefits. That is part of what Cuaron was aiming to do.

"This is not what you would call Oscars bait," said Cuaron in a post-awards news conference. "Most important is that audiences around the world and the Academy are embracing a character who is a domestic worker from an indigenous background."