The Oscars Proved That Even When Latinos Win Film’s Highest Honors, Someone Will Ask For Your Papers

Will the 2015 Oscars be remembered as the year the Academy turned its back on diversity or as a continuation of last year‘s Mexican reconquista of Hollywood? Much of the commentary written before the ceremony was fixated on the complete shutout of people of color from the acting categories. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was prompted by the fact that — for only the second time in 20 years — every single actor nominated was white.

In a reminder that the United States is a country fixated on black vs. white, while bloggers incensed by Ava DuVernay’s snub in the Best Director category for the MLK biopic Selma were calling for a boycott of the ceremony, it somehow went unnoticed that Latino filmmakers were nominated in almost every major Oscar category. Yes, this year’s nominees were overwhelmingly white and male and the Academy’s members are also overwhelmingly white and male, but why can’t we simultaneously demand a more diverse voting body and celebrate the ten Latinos who got nominated for their behind-the-camera talents?

I would guess that’s because our mainstream media, and even the liberal bloggers calling Oscars out for being “so white” are colorblind. And by colorblind I mean, they only see in black and white. Go back and look at the coverage — you’ll find lots of articles about how Selma was snubbed, about how actors of color were looked over, but did any mainstream English-language U.S.-based news sites write about how Gabriel Serra was the first Nicaraguan to ever be nominated for an Oscar for La Parka, a short documentary he made while he was in film school? Or that a Nuyorican got a nod for screenwriting? Nope. Latinos, it seems, don’t fit in the black/white paradigm that Americans use to frame issues of race and diversity.

Gabriel Serra (L), director of ‘La Parka’
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“Even if you are a rich guy from Mexico City receiving film’s highest honor, you’re still seen as a brown guy who just hopped the border.”

Even our own community was split. Should we celebrate the achievements of the Latin American nominees born outside of the United States? Of the ten Latino nominees, only two are not foreign-born: Alexander Dinelaris and Frank Montaño. Dinelaris, a Washington Heights-bred Nuyorican got a screenwriting nomination for Birdman and Montaño for Sound Mixing. Some argued that the nominees from Latin America (hailing from Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Nicaragua) were likely from a privileged class and don’t face the same obstacles that children of immigrants have to overcome. While this is very true, Sean Penn reminded us with his green card joke, how much we all have in common.

When the biggest winner of the night, Alejandro González Iñárritu, was presented with his third Oscar, his good friend Sean Penn quipped, “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?” It didn’t take long for twitter to light up. While many on social media opined that Penn’s comments were bigoted, Iñárritu commented in a backstage interview that he thought it was “hilarious.” Despite if you think it was funny or not, Sean Penn did in fact highlight what lots of us know to be true, that in the United States, “race” (or nationality) always trumps class. That even if you are a rich guy from Mexico City receiving film’s highest honor from your very good friend, you’re still seen as a brown guy with a funny accent who just hopped the border.

Even coming from a bleeding heart liberal like Penn, who stumps for lots of progressive causes, it doesn’t soften the blow. Let’s be clear, no one made green card jokes about the British guy who won, or the Polish one, or the Italian lady. Not one mention about their legal status. Why? Because it was a joke that uses a widely held RACIST belief as its premise — that immigration is a Latino issue.

And to those Latinos that think Iñárritu’s wins should be discounted because of his privileged status — let’s at least acknowledge that his speech was directed at our entire community, to those living inside and outside the U.S. “I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country, who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”

I think we can all agree that Iñárritu, as the second Mexican in a row to win Best Director, and the first Latino to take home a Best Picture Oscar can serve as an inspiration to a young brown kid out there watching who maybe thought, “If he can do it, so can I.”

Here’s a recap of the rest of the night’s events…

When Patricia Arquette accepted her award for Best Supporting Actress she proclaimed her commitment to women’s rights, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights in the United States of America.” Meryl Streep and J-Lo lost their shit, in the best way possible.

Actress Elizabeth Peña was included in the “In Memoriam” section.

So was Gabo, whose many novels have been made into movies.

Emmanuel Lubezki (a.k.a. el chivo) won his second Oscar in a row for Best Cinematography for his technical feats in Birdman.

Birdman scribes Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo won for Best Original Screenplay.

Alejandro González Iñárritu won Best Director for Birdman.

The producers of Birdman, including Iñárritu, won Best Picture, bringing his total awards for the night to three. He is now the Mexican national who holds the most Academy Awards.

The night’s host, Neil Patrick Harris, ended the ceremony with,”Buenas noches, everyone.” [insert eye roll here]