The summer before 8th grade, I was in the car with my best friend and her parents. When you’re 13, high school basically means the rest of your life. And with that stage only a few months away, we were talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. At that moment, I had not even the slightest inclination of what I wanted to do. But for some reason, I remember casually saying how one day, in some form or another, I wanted to work for the Oscars.
I remember this moment clearly because my friend’s mom laughed and said, “You won’t work for the Oscars. You’ll be receiving an Oscar!” (I was known for being quite dramatic when I was young…) I responded that I would just like nothing better than to have movies sent to me, spend weeks watching them, and then give an award to my favorite ones. It seemed to me the perfect life choice and I wondered why my parents were so caught up in the lawyer and doctor business when the best choice was clear as day.
I wrote this about five years ago, following the 2013 Oscars ceremony, which I watched in the middle of the night, all by myself, in the shared kitchen of my dormitory in London. Though I had grown up watching the Oscars and loving movies, it’s the first year I really remember the fanaticism of the awards season take over my life in a serious way. Just a few months prior, I had wrapped up my summer in Los Angeles, working two jobs at Twentieth Century Fox and the Oscars, and decided definitively this was the direction in which I wanted to take my life.
The point of all this is to say, that as far back as I can remember, I have sat down in front of a television and watched, open-mouthed and starry-eyed, Hollywood’s biggest night. And in all those years of watching and dreaming and predicting and celebrating, not once had I ever seen myself in that world. Not once had that ever seemed like a possibility.
Until this year.
Much can be said about this year’s Oscars season and resulting ceremony. Another wonderful year with incredible movies that pushed the envelope, highlighting auteurs that have long gone unnoticed, embracing and welcoming new talent from all levels in front and behind the camera. There were surprises and snubs and films that should have been more recognized and some that maybe were too recognized. Some lamented the “predictability” of this year’s winners, wishing for a more exciting or nail-biting race. Others appreciated the relative calmness after the chaos of last year.
But for me, at the end of the night, after all was said and done, once my head stopped swimming with the results and tallies and analyses already being furiously uploaded online — what stayed with me was this feeling of inclusion.
Much has been written and researched and documented about the disparity of Latinos working in Hollywood. And while recent years have seen incredible directorial achievements from the big three (Alejandro, Alfonso, Guillermo), there is still so much work to be done to elevate these voices and stories and talent in all levels of the industry. From film to television to theater to music. From directors to actors to producers to writers.
This year felt different. From Guillermo and Shape of Water to Coco and “Remember Me” to Chile and A Fantastic Woman — for the first time in my life, I felt seen. I saw my story win Best Animated Picture. I heard my language spoken on Hollywood’s biggest stage. And not as a joke or a stereotype. But in praise. In exuberant joy. “Viva Latinoamerica!” shouted Oscar Isaac. I had tears in my eyes.
I know I sound like a broken record but representation truly is so important. Had I grown up seeing people like me telling stories like mine being praised and recognized in movies and television — there are no words to describe what that would have meant. I had the fortune of growing up in South Florida, which is more Latino than not, but yet never understanding why my world was not reflected in the media I would consume. It’s why today I emphatically and passionately commend TV shows like Jane the Virgin and One Day At A Time (blog post to come I’m sure, because I have SO many feelings about these).
To an immigrant kid with big dreams and wide eyes, these things would have made a world of difference.
So yes I absolutely loved this year’s ceremony. I’ve spent years wondering how I would ever be able to contribute to this industry. What does it matter that I have another language, another culture, another perspective if no one wants to see or hear it? We have a long way to go, there is no doubt about that. But the past few months gave me hope that maybe, this year, someone might. And on March 4, as Guillermo and Coco and Chile took home their golden statues, someone did.
Viva Latinoamerica indeed.