Mexico City-born actor-writer-director-producer Eugenio Derbez, a longtime star in his native country, has become an international name with movie credits including Instructions Not Included, How to Be a Latin Lover and recently Overboard with Anna Faris and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, with a role in the live-action Dora the Explorer on the way. He wrote an open letter about his fellow countryman Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, which is up for 10 Oscars later today.
This weekend, my fellow countryman, Alfonso Cuarón, may or may not win one or more Oscars (he should win many in my opinion).
And I want to tell you what it means to all of us Mexicans. If you look at the geography of our countries, we are always looking upwards to the U.S. Hollywood is such a distant place for so many of us even if it is right next door. We watch the movies that come out of this dream factory with awe and respect. We spend our hard earned pesos and increase the international box office of Hollywood movies in significant ways. But we feel so far away.
So when an artist like Alfonso, one of the greatest living directors, expresses his love for his people and his country by making the journey back to Mexico with his art, it doesn’t just make us proud, it reminds us of who we are.
Roma is so many things. As a piece of art it is impeccable. When you are in the hands of Alfonso you know that every pregnant pause, every subtle movement of camera, every gesture, is the conscious choice of a master builder who is creating a connection directly to our hearts and minds.
But it also does something much more important: it gives a voice to those who are invisible. Because Alfonso didn’t just tell the story of any Mexican character, he told the story of someone who often goes unperceived and unappreciated. This is what great art does, it makes us see the world through other people’s eyes. At its best it is “una maquina de empatía” — an empathy machine. Roma has that power. Roma is a black-and-white movie that makes us see the world in vivid new colors.
Diversity is a hot word now in Hollywood. But it’s not just how we cast our movies, it’s where the camera casts its gaze and from whose point of view. I am happy as an actor and director of color and a producer of diverse content that this “trend” has started but we all need to learn lessons from Alfonso about what it means to be committed to telling diverse stories. We must dig deeper. We must include more voices. My heart breaks every day when I see the news on television but it is mended when I see movies like Roma. Roma is not just about Mexico, it resonates in any country where there are large gaps between the rich and poor. And no one should miss the parallels with the hard working immigrants of the United States.
Alfonso might not remember this but he actually offered me a leading role in one of his first projects, a small independent Mexican art house picture. I was a struggling actor with a young child. As luck would have it, I was offered a contract with a Mexican television network at the same time. I was not in a place where I could afford to choose art over commerce. But I have had the honor and pride of watching Alfonso’s ascent as a director and have taken many amazing journeys with his art.
It doesn’t matter if he wins an Oscar on Sunday, to us Mexicans, Alfonso has already won our hearts.
Gracias Alfonso, te queremos.