For those readers who may have spent the last few weeks sleeping in a cave with no wifi or television, we have the honor to inform you that this weekend is the 87th annual Academy Awards! (We assume the rest of you already knew that.) And why there’s plenty of reason for us Latinos to be pumped — namely the fact that Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s magical realist romp, Birdman, is poised to solidify its place in movie history with 9 nominations — there’s also a healthy dose of controversy surrounding this year’s awards.
Indeed, this year’s nominations in the acting categories have been characterized by a stunning lack of diversity, reminding us all that despite the multicultural reality of global millennials, Hollywood is still an old boy’s club. So for this week’s Throwback Thursday, we take a look back at the Oscar ceremony from 10 years ago, when Uruguayan songman Jorge Drexler made history by picking up the first ever Best Original Song award for a Spanish language composition.
Written for The Motorcycle Diaries, Walter Salles’ epic biopic of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, “Al otro lado del río” seemingly came out of nowhere to beat out more typical Oscar fare like Shrek 2’s “Accidentally in Love,” or “Believe” from The Polar Express. The jazzy, guitar driven number features some bossa nova overtones and optimistic, vaguely revolutionary lyrics about trudging forward in the face of adversity.
Drexler himself was not allowed to perform the song at the ceremony for fear that an “unknown” Latin American artist would be detrimental to the all-powerful Nielson Ratings, so instead the song was performed by Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana. I guess it could have been worse. But in a clear gesture of defiance, Drexler’s acceptance speech was simply an a cappella rendition of one of the song’s verses followed by a terse, “Chao.”
Yet, while all this was going down at the Kodak Theater, folks watching from home were treated to a rather brazenly tone-deaf telecast that even caught the attention of one of the whitest people in the world: Conan O’Brien.
Yes, some genius in the broadcast booth decided it would be a great idea to cut to reactions from Spanish-speaking attendees from across continents as though they were somehow involved in the production of “Al otro lado del río.” Conan, of course, took this to another level in his hilarious recut of the broadcast, intercutting a donkey alongside a poncho’ed charro and ending on a reaction shot of a taco occupying one of the seats.
Sure, it’s absurd and slightly exaggerated… but only slightly. We tip our hats to Conan for using his comedy skills to drive home a point about the condescension and absurdity of some of our most beloved, but hopelessly whitewashed cultural institutions. Now let’s see who they cut to when Birdman wins big on Sunday. 🙂