The 2018 Oscars cemented Mexico’s place in US culture

Mexican voices, literally.
Mexican voices, literally.
Image: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
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Mexicans are no longer outsiders in Hollywood. The Shape of Water, from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, and Coco, Pixar’s love letter to Mexico and its Day of the Dead traditions, picked up six Oscars combined at the 90th Academy Awards on March 4.

The recognition included wins in several marquee categories: best picture, best director, and best animated feature.

In addition to the awards, traditional Mexican charros and colorful Day of the Dead skulls took center stage during the performance of Remember Me, the song nominated from Coco. It was sung in English, by an American singer of Mexican descent, and in Spanish by a Mexican singer.

It was a big night for Mexico, but not altogether atypical. Over the past five years, four of the best-director awards went to Mexican filmmakers. Mexican actors have been walking the red carpet to the event for years, and Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is practically the Meryl Streep of his discipline: He’s been nominated eight times and won three in a row, in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

This year, Del Toro’s The Shape of Water had 13 nominations, one shy of the record for a feature film ever. (La La Land, Titanic, and All About Eve each had 14 nominations.) Though far from a box office hit, The Shape of Water, a film about the love affair between a mute custodian and a sea creature, has earned $57 million—that’s more than the four best-picture winners that preceded it.

Coco, by comparison, is a box-office juggernaut, grossing more than $700 million to date. Its ticket sales were all the more remarkable because the film makes few concessions to an audience unfamiliar with the traditions it celebrates. It’s thoroughly Mexican, without any justification or excuses.

The acclaim and popularity that Mexicans—and Mexican culture—have mustered in Hollywood begs the question: At what time do we stop singling them out for their background? After all, nobody keeps a tally of how many awards have gone to Americans, or to white men.