Puerto Rico Disqualified from Foreign Language Film Category at Oscars

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Well this is an odd piece of news. According to Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Diathe Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has disqualified Puerto Rican films from consideration in the Best Foreign Language Film category – even though they are overwhelmingly in Spanish – because of the citizenship status of Puerto Ricans.

“Como sabe, la Academia no permite que películas realizadas por cineastas estadounidenses compitan por el premio de película de lengua extranjera, aún cuando el idioma predominante no sea el inglés”, escribió el año pasado Bruce Davis, entonces director ejecutivo de la Academia en una carta dirigida a Pérez Serrano.

Apparently, this was due to charges of favoritism on the Academy’s behalf – Puerto Ricans being American citizens – even though the last film to be nominated from Puerto Rico was Santiago, the Story of his New Life in 1989…and it didn’t win. Executive director Bruce Davis said:

“Puerto Rican Filmmakers remain eligible to compete en the Academy’s 20-odd other categories.”

Mariella Pérez Serrano, director of the Corporación de Cine de Puerto Rico, put a more positive spin on that statement:

“En vez de participar como categoría extranjera, ahora nos permiten participar en las otras 20 categorías, incluyendo cortos.”

But that’s misleading: shorts nominees and winners are already regularly foreign, so this new decision changes nothing on that front. What’s more, being eligible for all the same categories as other American movies puts small, low budget, low distribution Puerto Rican films at a disadvantage.

“En una conversación que tuve con Davis se me indicó que hay una población bastante grande de mexicano-americanos produciendo filmes en Texas que se estaban manifestando ‘¿por qué las películas de Puerto Rico pueden competir así y las nuestras no?’ ” indicó Pérez Serrano.

Nice try, Serrano, but the reason would appear to be that Texas is still 100% more of a state than Puerto Rico. (Okay, maybe a little less than 100%.)

That being said, the Puerto Rican film industry is stepping up its game recently with the project 200 Cartas, starring Dayonara Torres and Lin Manuel Miranda, as well as a few other initiatives (including economic incentives for filming there) which will bring attention and – hopefully – respect to the island’s filmmakers. If the Academy is firm and resolute in its decision, then Puerto Rico’s only recourse is to make more and better movies.