Latinos Don’t Win Oscars

BeingLatinopng-300x67By Adriana Villavicencio, Being Latino

Latinos don’t win Oscars. They star in movies, make movies, write movies, design costumes and write scores for movies, but very few have taken the coveted statuette home.

In the history of the Academy Awards, only 15 Latinos have been nominated in acting categories and only 5 have won.

OscarWinners: The first winner was Jose Ferrer, a Puerto Rican stage actor who played Cyrano de Bergerac in 1950. Others winners include the beautiful Rita Moreno for West Side Story and the formidable Anthony Quinn for Viva Zapata! U.S.-born Cuban Mercedes Ruehl won Best Supporting actress for The Fisher King in 1991, and charismatic Benicio Del Toro (twice nominated for Best Supporting Actor) won in 2000 for his role in Traffic.

NomineesEdward James Olmos was nominated for his unforgettable role inStand and Deliver and Andy Garcia for Godfather III (though he doesn’t like to consider himself a Latino actor anyways). Proud Latinas, Rosie Perez and Selma Hayek, were also nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress respectively.European winners we like to claim: Both Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem have been nominated more than once and won one each in Best Supporting categories. They may be one of the most attractive couples who speak Spanish, but they’re technically Hispanic not Latino. Sadly, no Latina has ever won an Oscar for Best Actress.

We might have had some false hope in 2006 when 18 Latinos were nominated for various categories including Best Film (Babel), Best Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu), and Best Foreign Film (Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Laberyinth). None took it home and the next few years saw an even greater dearth of nominees.

The problem is bigger than the Oscars.

Partially to blame for the Oscar drought is the limited opportunities for Latinos in film. You can’t win an Oscar if you don’t get a chance to play an Oscar-worthy role. By and large, though, Latino roles are limited to archetypes and clichés – the poor maid, the gang member, the Latin Lover, the spicy temptress. And sometimes, when there are juicy roles for Latinos, it is a non-Latino who gets the opportunity to play them (see Al Pacino inScarface).

Hispanics and Latinos –  they are usually lumped together in the U.S. – make up more than 15% of the U.S. population, but they remain just as underrepresented in the film industry as they were decades ago (as are Asians and African Americans). This year in particular was heralded as “Hollywood’s Whiteout” by the New York Times film critics, who pointed out that the 2010 films nominated for best picture are even whiter than those nominated in 1940.

How many more decades will we be shut out and overlooked. When will the talent and vision of Latino filmmakers and actors be allowed to shine as brightly as the Oscars they undoubtedly deserve?

For a look at Latinos doing their thing in film, check out our series on Being Latino at the Sundance Film Festival.

This article was first published in Being Latino.

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries.

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