NEW YORK >> The 90th annual Academy Awards were, by any definition, a moment of triumph for Latinos.
Guillermo del Toro became the third Mexican-born filmmaker to win best director, and it was his lavish Cold War fantasy “The Shape of Water” that was crowned best picture. Pixar’s box-office smash “Coco,” the biggest budget studio release to feature a largely Hispanic cast, won best animated feature and best song. Lin-Manuel Miranda reminded viewers of Puerto Rico, rebuilding from Hurricane Maria. Lupita Nyong’o advocated for the Dreamers. Rita Moreno returned, resplendently, in the dress she wore to the Oscars in 1962. And Chile’s “A Fantastic Woman” won best foreign language film.
But the Oscars were also, by any measure, an aberration. As much as Hispanics had the spotlight at Sunday’s ceremony, they are seldom granted center stage by Hollywood the rest of the year.
“It was kind of ironic,” said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “By having so many presenters, you’re presenting that this is a very diversified business when it’s not. You can appreciate that they’re there. But then you can ask yourself: Is this really the way Hollywood is? And the answer is no.”
Despite accounting for 18 percent of the U.S. population, and 23 percent of frequent moviegoers, according to the Motion Picture Association’s 2017 statistics, Hispanics are chronically underrepresented in the movies. A study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism found that only 3 percent of speaking characters in the top 100 movies of 2016 were Latinos.
There were no Latinos among the acting nominees this year, nor are there most years. Demian Bichir (“A Better Life”) was the last Latin American nominated, six years ago. Only a handful of Latino actors have ever won an Oscar, including Moreno, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quinn and Benicio del Toro.
America Ferrera, in a Deadline column in 2016, wrote: “All audiences want to see the world they live in reflected on screens big and small. At a certain point, it becomes unavoidable to notice that we’re being ignored.” Chris Rock, in a 2014 column for The Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Forget whether Hollywood is black enough. A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough?”
But while #OscarSoWhite brought renewed focus on the industry’s poor track record in diversity, Latinos have often been left out of the discussion.
The National Hispanic Media Coalition held two protests ahead the Oscars, one outside the annual academy luncheon and another in Hollywood on Saturday. But Nogales believes stronger action is necessary. He says that he’s asked each of the six major studios to meet with the watchdog group within the next ten days or the coalition will begin boycotting one studio at a time.
“It’s a take-it or leave-it proposition,” said Nogales, who advocates for more American-born Latinos in media. “We’re 50 million strong so we can hurt people’s bottom line.”
That box-office power has been especially obvious with “Coco,” a film that Pixar shifted during development to tell a more indigenously Mexican story. Adrian Molina was also added as co-director. It’s made $745 million worldwide and set new box-office records in Mexico.
“We started making ‘Coco’ six years ago and it was a very different political climate, of course, than we find ourselves in now,” director Lee Unkrich told reporters backstage Sunday. “While we were making the film, we had a change of presidency and a lot of things started to be said about Mexico and about Mexican-Americans that was unacceptable.
“We began to feel a new urgency to get the movie out into the world,” he said. “We knew how important it was.”
President Donald Trump, whose immigration policies and pledge to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico has been deeply unpopular among Latinos, followed up the Oscar broadcast by tweeting Monday that Mexico had to do “much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S.”
Del Toro, though, spoke on the Dolby Theatre stage about the power of art to “erase the lines in the sand.” The 53-year-old filmmaker, born in Guadalajara, began his first speech by saying, “I am an immigrant.”
His win joins him with his countrymen, Alejandro Inarritu (“Birdman,” ”The Revenant”) and Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”) — who are together known as the “Three Amigos” — as the three Mexican-born filmmakers to win best director, and all in the last five years. Long friends who share their scripts with one another and rely on each other for advice, they have together dominated the Oscars for half a decade like few before them.
“Every time we can demonstrate in any forum, be it sports, science, art, culture, anywhere, what we have to bring to the world discourse, to the world conversation, is extremely important,” del Toro said backstage. “And it’s extremely important when we do it to remember where we’re from, because it’s honoring your roots, honoring your country.”