'Roma' Actress Feared Audition Might Be Human-Trafficking Scam

Alfonso Cuaron
Yalitza Aparicio

Yalitza Aparicio, who plays a live-in nanny in Alfonso Cuaron's praised memoir film, knew little about the movie during casting.

Imagine going to your first audition with the frightening concern that the casting call could be a ploy for a human-trafficking ring.

That's how things went down for Oscar hopeful Yalitza Aparicio, who hails from Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, a small Mexican city that had never seen a prominent casting event previously. Aparicio, a preschool teacher and nonprofessional actress, says she was totally unfamiliar with the casting process and received minimal information about Roma, raising even more doubts about what she might be getting herself into.

"My family was against the idea of me going to the casting," she said at the recent Morelia film fest. "There was a certain level of fear because the only thing I was told was that it was going to be a film shot in [Mexico City] and that they were not concerned about the age or physical appearance of the women who were auditioning, so it was all very strange."

Unfortunately, human trafficking is a very real concern in some Mexican communities and in Aparicio's case, she wasn't able to rest easy until she attended a callback (accompanied by her mother) in state capital Oaxaca. Later, she would travel to Mexico City for a screen test with Nancy Garcia, her hometown friend and Mixtec language teacher, who also landed a part playing Cuaron's housekeeper in the semi-autobiographical film.

Production details were kept so under wraps that the actresses did not fully grasp that they would be working with one of Hollywood's most acclaimed directors until they finally met Cuaron in person in Mexico City.

"During the casting, I think they had briefly mentioned the director's name and I had already seen Gravity but I never really knew who directed it," Garcia said. "But not knowing who he was actually helped me a lot."

Aparicio, 24, said she started figuring things out after talking with producer Gabriela Rodriguez in Mexico City.

"She told us the name of the director and I remember searching for an image of him, but I didn't research it well," Aparicio said. "But when I finally got to meet him he had a calming effect on me, as if he were an old friend."

Roma hit art house theaters Wednesday in three major Mexican cities, including Cuaron's hometown, Mexico City. Netflix, the film's distributor, issued an open invitation this week to Cinepolis and Cinemex, Mexico's leading theater chains, to screen the picture but they have not budged, as most circuits will not carry a Netflix film because the company won't abide by a three-month theatrical window.

Cuaron took to Twitter this week to express his disappointment that his film, often described as a love letter to his native Mexico, has such a limited release in his country.

"I want more screenings in Mexico," the filmmaker said. "Sadly, we've only been able to secure 40 theaters there. To put things in perspective, in Poland it's being released in 57 theaters and in South Korea, 50."