Why Yalitza Aparicio Needs to Win That Oscar

Throughout the past decade, little can be said about the progress and renovation the film entertainment industry has made towards the representation of overlooked minorities. According to a report from the Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg at USC, 71.7 percent of people on screen are White. That same report - which tested inclusion in entertainment - also discovered that African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and Middle Eastern individuals represent a mere 28.5 percent of all speaking characters on screen, despite making up 37.9 percent of the U.S. population.

Hollywood’s constant tendency to white-wash characters that are originally meant for underrepresented characters, as well as their lack of recognizing and rewarding notable performances from actors and actresses of color, has proven their failure towards taking greater strides for equal representation on the big screen. However, it's imperative to understand that compared to older generations of the Hollywood film era - an era that not only lacked actors/actresses of color in lead roles, but also misrepresented cultures and glorified racist stereotypical characters - the industry is slowly taking small, but notable, steps towards the inclusion of neglected communities. One such example is Yalitza Aparicio’s recent Academy Award nomination for her performance in Roma (2018).Image via Mexico News Daily

Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, is a semi-autobiographical story based in the early 1970s. The black-and-white film follows the life of a live-in housekeeper for a middle class family in Mexico City. Aparicio, who has sparked immense recognition and praise for her performance of "Cleo" Gutiérrez, has now made Oscar history for being the first indigenous woman to be nominated for a leading role. In fact, according to Entertainment Tonight the historic nomination also marks the first time a Latina has been nominated for the Best Actress category in 14 years, making such a remarkable recognition long overdue. Aparicio, who was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, had no acting experience prior to the production of Roma. In fact, she’s explained throughout several interviews, that she graduated college with a teaching degree and only took on the role in hopes of shedding a light on indigenous communities.

Image via The Cut ​

Thinking about how Aparicio’s first ever acting gig landed her a historic Oscar nomination is something that inflicts a sense of pride amongst the indigenous community, especially the younger generations who don’t usually see indigenous actors on the big screen, let alone nominated for such a prestigious award. Not only was her performance in the film phenomenal, but the film itself touches on subjects such as inequality, ethnicity, and socioeconomic division, that are critical to acknowledge and understand, especially with our current political and social climate. Not only has she shown her impact through her film performance, but she's also been recently featured on the cover of Vogue Mexico, in which she was able to express her optimism and gratitude for being on the cover of a magazine that's known for being favorable to more light-skinned women. Upon release of the cover, social media blew up with praise and pride for Aparicio who hoped her accomplishment would be an inspiration for dark-skinned women everywhere.

Aparicio’s Oscar nomination is just one example of why representation in film matters. People of all cultures deserve to see their lives reflected in the movies they watch. A win for Aparicio would inspire a community that's been far too neglected and rarely portrayed on screen. It would prove that yes, a woman of color, not a white-washed version of a character, is in fact capable of success. And even if Aparicio doesn’t win the award, it won’t lessen her talent or take away from the success of such an imperative character and monumental film. We can only hope that Aparicio is just the beginning of a new era in film and entertainment that aims to advocate for diversity and representation of voiceless communities.