During the 2023 Oscars, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who won the third Oscar of his career for his version of Pinocchio, offered up a little-known theory about the Oscar statue itself.
When a reporter asked him in Spanish what the statue would tell him if it were animated, del Toro laughed, told a joke, and then told the reporter, “It would tell me that he is ‘El Indio’ Fernández.”
For those who don’t understand the reference, ‘El Indio’ Fernández was a Mexican actor and filmmaker who is claimed to be the inspiration behind the design of the Oscar statue when it was first introduced in 1929.
The designer was MGM art director Cedric Gibbons, and the sculptor was Los Angeles-based artist George Stanley who created the statue of a knight holding a sword and standing on a reel of film.
“The story is that Dolores Del Rio [his wife] referred him to Emilio Fernández and said you should use Emilio for the model,” Charles Ramirez Berg, professor of film studies at the University of Texas at Austin, told NPR in 2014. “He had a very athletic build. I mean, he looked just like Oscar. All of this could have happened.”
Although there is no concrete evidence that Fernández had anything to do with the design, according to the history of the statue, University of Southern California, Laura Isabel Serna, told NPR that “it would be wonderful” if the story were true.
“It would be another bit of evidence of the involvement of Mexicans in particular, and Latinos more generally, in American cinema during its most formative years,” she said.
See the Fernández reference at the 2:00 mark of the video below.