Some years, the Oscars give the impression that Latinos are finally breaking through in the entertainment industry with winners such as Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, Pixar’s Coco, and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Of course, those deserving works only represent a very narrow view that rarely includes U.S.-born Latinos, Afro Latinos, or Indigenous people. Then there are years in which Latino presence is close to non-existent with very few exceptions. That’s the case with the 93rd Academy Awards, where only a handful of Latinos were nominated, despite a large number of eligible titles including I Carry You With Me, Mucho Mucho Amor, La Llorona, or I’m No Longer Here. In general, and considering that this was an incredibly long and challenging awards season marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, the group of nominees is among the most diverse ever, both in front and behind the camera. That’s, at the very least, indicative of a shift—hopefully. With the upcoming releases of In the Heights, Disney’s Encanto, and the new West Side Story later this year, the landscape for Latino talent could significantly change next awards season. For now, these are some highlights for the 2021 edition of Hollywood’s most glamorous, yet always problematic, affair.
Mexican Sound Artists Integral to the Success of Sound of Metal
Oscar only went home with three Latinos last night, the Mexican re-recording mixers behind the Best Picture contender Sound of Metal. Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, and Carlos Cortés Navarrete were among the five people recognized for their work in the uniquely sensorial drama about a drummer losing his hearing. The use of sound as an integral tool to get the audience to experience the world from the point of view of the protagonist impressed the industry. The entire sound mixing process for the film was done in Mexico at Splendor Omnia, a studio owned by filmmaker Carlos Reygadas. Though this is the highest international honor they’d received, the trio have successful careers in Mexican cinema. Among Baksht and Couttolenc’s many credits is Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth for which they received a BAFTA nomination. Talking to the press in the interview room, the Mexican team, visibly excited and proud, also acknowledged the international team that was part of their success, including Venezuelan sound editor Maria Carolina Santana Caraballo-Gramcko.
Afro-Latino Created Judas and the Black Messiah Wins Two Oscars
Director Shaka King, who is of Panamanian and Barbadian descent, earned two nominations, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, for producing and co-writing Judas and the Black Messiah, his searing thriller about the FBI’s surveillance of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. And while King didn’t take a statuette bearing his name, his phenomenal film earned two Academy Awards, one for Daniel Kaluuya as Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his magnetic portrayal of Hampton, and another for Best Original Song thanks to H.E.R.’s “Fight for You.” Judas is King’s second feature, a follow-up to 2013’s Newlyweeds, and received widespread critical acclaim.
Rita Moreno Presents the Biggest Award of the Night (Sort Of)
Keeping in theme with the trailer debut for Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story during one of the ceremony’s commercial breaks, the legendary Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for the role of Anita in the 1961 original, presented the night’s biggest award, Best Picture. During her introduction, Moreno, who will appear in the musical’s new iteration, jokingly highlighted her win 60 years ago as the movie’s most significant accomplishment. Eventually she announced Nomadland as the chosen title. However, going against tradition, likely under the assumption that the late Chadwick Boseman would be recognized, the show’s producers left the Best Actress and Best Actor categories for last. The move backfired when veteran thespian Anthony Hopkins pulled an upset winning for his part in The Father. Hopkins wasn’t in attendance to accept his second trophy, thus the night ended on an anticlimactic and unsatisfying note.
Colman Domingo Dazzles the Red Carpet
Wearing a hot pink Versace suit, actor Colman Domingo illuminating the red carpet at the Oscars and instantly earned recognition as one of the best-dressed attendees. Such a statement piece, at once elegant and distinctively fabulous, will certainly be remembered for years to come. Memorable feels like an understatement. Domingo was part of the outstanding cast of the period drama Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which won awards for Makeup and Hairstyling and Costumes, about the dynamics between the eponymous singer and her band during a recording session in the 1920s. Following the ceremony, Domingo also served as co-host of the Oscars: After Dark post-show interviewing many of the night’s winners. He will next be seen in the Sundance hit Zola opening in theaters on June 30.
The Mole Agent Comes to Hollywood
Latin America’s greatest hope was the endearing Chilean documentary El agente topo (The Mole Agent). But though it wasn’t the victor, the nomination brought its charming protagonist, Sergio Chamy, to Hollywood. Directed by Maite Alberdi, the heartrending film follows Chamy as he is hired to become an elderly spy on a mission inside a retirement home. In the week leading up to the Academy Awards, the movie’s official Twitter account documented Chamy’s road to Los Angeles. To attend, the 87-year-old got an airplane for the first time in his life. Though fully vaccinated against COVID-19, he spent several days in quarantine right up to Sunday’s event. Through his Instagram account, which he created in the wake of the film’s success at home and abroad, Chamy also shared his excitement for this once-in-a-lifetime trip.