“Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest - I mean brightest,” joked Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris in his opening remarks at the 87th Academy Awards on Sunday night. He was mocking the Oscars’ lack of diversity, a controversy sparked by the absence of actors of colour – and of Ava DuVernay, the African American woman who directed “Selma” – from the nominees list.
But one group that represents diversity did make a break-through in Hollywood for the second year in a row.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was the first Mexican to have his film, the dark and surreal satire on the show business "Birdman", win Best Picture at the Oscars, and the second – in just the past two years - to win Best Director, after Alfonso Cuaron’s win for "Gravity".
Grabbing the award, Inarritu emotionally saluted his “Mexican compatriots” in Spanish, then dedicated his Oscar to his people, calling for better governance in Mexico and asking that the US respect Mexican immigrants.
“I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones that came before and built this incredible immigrant nation,” he said.
“Birdman” won four Oscar honours - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, which was awarded to another Mexican, Emmanuel Lubezki, for the second straight year.
This all appears to highlight a new trend: Directors who started their careers and cultivated their creativity in their native Mexico are now becoming “top exports” in the US.
“Who gave this son of a bitch a green card?” said Sean Penn, announcing Inarritu’s name to a thrilled Hollywood audience. Penn’s provocative, off-colour, and politically incorrect joke touched on US President Barack Obama’s controversial immigration reform and exploded on social media.
For the second year in a row, Mexicans sweep the Oscars. And most Americans think they just sweep the floors. Hah. Viva el cine.
Mauricio Katz co-wrote Mexican narco-drama blockbuster “Miss Bala” in 2011 – a film that was submitted but not nominated for the 2012 Oscars. Katz lauded Inarritu’s win as a triumph for the Mexican film industry.
“People should be happy. Let’s be honest, the Hollywood film is a universal film seen all over the world. It reaches more people, and this is good for all Mexican cinema, in our country and abroad.”
For Katz, this is “a very exciting time for Mexican cinema.” Now that he lives in Los Angeles, Katz admits “I do receive a certain enthusiasm for being Mexican in Hollywood.”
Inarritu's striking win sparked praise and pride around the world.
“For the second year in a row, Mexicans sweep the Oscars. And most Americans think they just sweep the floors. Hah. Viva el cine," tweeted Henry Tricks, Mexico correspondent for The Economist. Mexican Ambassador to the UK, Diego Gomez Pickering, wrote that “Birdman” exemplified “Mexican creativity at its best”.
Although indisputably an achievement of a Mexican talent, Inarritu’s win did not necessarily usher in a golden age for Mexican filmmakers, said Carlos Bonfil, the film critic for Mexican daily La Jornada.
“These are filmmakers who are getting recognition because they got the Hollywood seal. This actually sticks a finger in the wound, because it shows that to be seen, Mexican filmmakers have to go abroad, and this is creating a brain drain."
For Bonfil, “Birdman” was a “film that could have been made by anyone else in Hollywood, because it doesn’t touch on any national theme or concern. If we thought this was a good trend – that in order to be seen, you have to conform to the Hollywood hegemony - it would be a very depressing message for the Mexican filmmakers who keep working in our country.”
Mexicans in the industry were also sceptical about Inarritu’s win as a portent for the rise of Mexican cineastes.
“We have to make a distinction: These are directors who are making films in Hollywood, their success doesn’t mean much for the success of Mexican cinema. Here we’re creating talents who then have to go out of Mexico to produce their films,” said filmmaker Jose Felipe Coria Coral, the director of the UNAM Film School CUEC (University Center for Cinematography Studies) where both Lubezki and Cuaron studied film before landing in Hollywood.
“’Birdman’ is too expensive of a movie, it could never have been produced in Mexico,” Coria Coral added.