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Mexico Takes a Leading Role in the Oscars (Again!)

Guillermo del Toro during the 2013 WonderCon in Anaheim, California. Photograph by Flickr user Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0

Once again, the US-based Academy Awards will have a Mexican among its list of most important nominees. This time, it is Guillermo del Toro, writer and director of feature film “The Shape of Water,” which tells the story of a janitor and her relationship with an amphibious creature in a 1960s government laboratory.

The movie has won him 13 Oscar nominations, which year after year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents to the best of the film industry. Mexican movie news site Cinepremiere offered some context:

La forma del agua, la galardonada película de Guillermo del Toro se convirtió en la cinta más nominada de la entrega número 90 de los Premios Oscar. Luego del exitoso viaje que esta historia de amor ha tenido desde Venecia –donde el cineasta mexicano se llevó el León de OroThe Shape of Water obtuvo 13 nominaciones.

The award-winning film “The Shape of Water” by Guillermo del Toro has become the most nominated film in the 90th edition of the Oscars. After the successful run the love story had at the Venice Film Festival, where the Mexican filmmaker received the Golden Lion, “The Shape of Water” received 13 nominations.

The nominations include Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture.

For years, the award ceremony has been dominated by Mexican filmmakers. This continues, despite the dreary outlook that Mexican migrants, and Latin Americans in general, are facing as a result of the anti-Mexican rhetoric and the crackdown on immigration undertaken by current US President Donald Trump and his administration.

In 2015 and 2016, director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki were awarded for their work on “Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” and on “The Revenant.”

Also in 2014, Lubezki (Best Cinematography) along with Mexican Alfonso Cuarón (Best Film Editing, shared with Mark Sanger, and Best Director) received awards for the movie “Gravity.”

This year's good news of Del Toro's work being nominated was celebrated on social media, especially on Twitter, where the hashtag #PorqueSoyMexicano (Because I'm Mexican) was used to share memes of Del Toro. The hashtag echoes a response that the director gave to a question from the press asking how he balances the darkness and terror that are so present in his films and his joyful, loving nature. The answer: “Because I'm Mexican”.

The meme ended up being shared by the United States Embassy in Mexico:

Why do I have 13 nominations for an Oscar?#BecauseI'mMexican #MexicanTalent

Twitter users broadened the use of the meme to encompass all manner of statements that in their perspective characterize what it is to be Mexican:

- Why do you put lemon on everything?
– #BecauseI'mMexican

Álvaro Cano described a typical behaviour seen in cafes and entertainment venues where Mexicans usually prolong their stay and eat or drink more:

Why do you always say “one last one and then we'll go” but it never is the last one, and you actually never go?
– #BecauseI'mMexican

More reactions and memes can be found in this article written by Darinka Rodríguez.

On the other hand, one user with the Twitter name “no sabe/no responde” (“don't know/don't answer”) pointed out that other works by Del Toro have not received such acclaim in the US because the dialogue was not in English, as in the case of “Pan's Labyrinth”:

While “The Shape of Water” is pretty, it doesn't go beyond that. Del Toro could have made something a lot better at this stage. But since Americans didn't see the beauty that is Pan's Labyrinth because they are too lazy to read subtitles, they will now give him loads of awards.

Alvaro Ortiz pointed out that American viewers (or “gringos”, as they are called by many Mexicans) could be ignorant of Del Toro's nationality:

Well to me it seems that most “gringos” have no idea that Guillermo del Toro is Mexican. They simply went to watch a popular movie, during the awards period.

In Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada, Carlos Bonfil wrote a review of the feature film in question, making reference to its message that, in his opinion, speaks in favor of minorities and groups that are usually suppressed:

La forma del agua es, más allá de su evidente tributo al cine de horror de los años 50, y del deleite de revivir, de un modo gozoso, el encanto para muchos ya obsoleto de las comedias musicales de esa misma época, un vigoroso alegato en favor de la tolerancia y del respeto a las minorías (étnicas y sexuales, y también a las mujeres, esa inmensa minoría social –la mitad de la población global– todavía hoy agraviada por una prepotencia masculina).

The Shape of Water is, beyond its clear tribute to 1950s horror and the delight it offers in reliving in such an enjoyable way many people's love for musical comedies of the same era, a vigorous plea for tolerance and for the respect of minorities (ethnic and sexual, including women, this immense social minority — half of the world population — still harmed today by an overly powerful male society).

And around this message, in the context of growing xenophobia in the US, Bonfil wrote:

Cuando la cinta de Del Toro llegue a la ceremonia de entrega de los Óscares, de modo muy destacado y en un clima de fuertes cuestionamientos a una intolerancia social dominante, se entenderá, tal vez, más allá de su jubiloso candor y su poesía visual, la imprescindible urgencia de su mensaje solidario.

When Del Toro's movie gets to the Oscars, in a climate where we are facing some hard questions surrounding the dominance of intolerance in society, we will perhaps understand, beyond the film's joyful candor and visual poetry, the essential urgency of its message for solidarity.

The 90th Academy Awards ceremony will take place on 4 March 2018 in California, US.

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