“Roma” is trying to do something no foreign-language film has ever achieved in Hollywood

“Roma” is trying to do something no foreign-language film has ever achieved in Hollywood
Image: Netflix
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Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is the first Netflix film to be nominated for Hollywood’s top honor—best picture at the Oscars. If the movie wins on Sunday (Feb. 24), it would make history in more ways than one.

In the 90-year history of the Academy Awards, no foreign-language film has ever won the Oscar for best picture. Only nine foreign-language films have even been nominated for the award, according the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (pdf), which hands out the awards.

Foreign-language films nominated for a best picture Oscar

Data: Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences data through the 90th Awards, held in March 2018. 

Roma, nominated for the 91st annual Academy Awards, makes ten. The film tells the story of a domestic worker in a middle-class household in 1970s Mexico City. It was a personal tale for Caurón, who was inspired in part by his own childhood and the nanny who helped raise him and his siblings.

The Academy Awards, based in the US, primarily honors films released domestically. Since the fifth awards, honoring films from 1931-32, movies needed to be released in a commercial theater in Los Angeles to qualify for the main feature film awards including best picture, then called “outstanding production.” In 1947, the Academy began giving honorary awards to foreign-language films during select years. A separate category for foreign-language films was later added in 1956 to recognize more non-English speaking works.

Roma, which spent about three weeks in select US theaters last year before being released on Netflix globally, is nominated in both the foreign-language film and best picture categories for the 2019 awards, honoring movies released in 2018. Winning the best picture award would be a seminal moment not only for Caurón, but for Netflix, which has staked its future on telling global stories, like Roma. Netflix, which spent $12 billion on content in 2018, has also reportedly spent more than $25 million on the Oscars campaign for the movie.

The film is also nominated for eight other Oscars including best director, best cinematography, best original screenplay, best actress, best actress in a supporting role, best sound mixing, best sound editing, and best production design.