There Are Only Three Latin American Artists Nominated for Academy Awards This Year, and Zero US Latinos

Posted by on March 01, 2018

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Among non-Latinos and those unfamiliar with details beyond the headlines, any mention of the lack of Latino representation at the Academy Awards, or other major ceremonies triggers almost an instant reaction. Opponents of this argument often regard  the recent achievements of Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G. Iñárritu as a way to invalidate any complaints. Ever since these two outstanding directors earned their statuettes, an illusion was created regarding the inclusion of Latinos at cinema’s most renowned awards show.


But while Latin Americans and US-born Latinos are undeniably proud of their compatriots’ successes, this notion paints a narrow view that dismisses numerous issues pertaining to both the entertainment industry and diversity. And with Guillermo del Toro poised to become a winner, this myth might be perpetuated.

Del Toro deserves all the hardware for his visionary romance, The Shape of Water, but he is only one of a handful Latinos who have ever been nominated for the ‘Best Director’ award. More alarmingly, if we focus only on US Latinos, the reality is grimmer: No US-born Latino has ever been nominated in the category. Unfortunately, this is not surprising considering that in the Academy’s 90 years, only three American female directors and four African American directors have received a nomination.

Pioneering in the Best Original Screenplay Award, Gregory Nava’s seminal film El Norte made him the first US Latino nominated in the writing categories. Alongside Iñárritu and two other Latin American scribes, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. became the first US-born Latino winner for Birdman.

This year, there are no US Latinos nominated for any Academy Awards, and only three Latin American artists are in the running: Del Toro (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay), Sebastián Lelio (Best Foreign Language Film), and Carlos Saldanha (Best Animated Feature).  

Overall, Latin American filmmakers have a better track record at the Academy Awards than US-born Latinos, but still not substantial enough. For example, in the Best Foreign Language Film category, which is designed to highlight cinema from around the world, Argentina is the only Latin American country to ever win the Academy Award. Two Argentine films have taken the statuette, The Official Story 1986 and The Secret in Their Eyes in 2010. The country was also nominated recently with Damián Szifron’s Wild Tales.

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A Fantastic Woman by Sebastián Lelio is among the five finalists this year marking the second nomination for Chile in the category. The first one was for Pablo Larraín’s No. Mexico has been nominated eight times, but has never won, with Iñárritu’s Biutiful being the most recent contender. Brazil follows with four mentions, the last one, Central Station in 1999, and five other countries have claimed one nomination each: Colombia (Embrace of the Serpent), Cuba (Strawberry and Chocolate), Nicaragua (Alsino and the Condor), Peru (The Milk of Sorrow), and Puerto Rico (Santiago, the Story of His New Life).

If Lelio’s drama, highlighting the struggles of the LGBT community, win, then Chile would become the second country from the Latin American region to have a Foreign Language Oscar to its name.

Over in the Best Animated Feature Film category, Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha is nominated for Ferdinand. He was previously nominated in the Best Animated Short Film category for Gone Nutty back in 2003. In 20I6, fellow Brazilian, Ale Abreu, became the first Latin American to earn a mention in this race with hand-drawn stunner Boy and the World. As for US Latinos here, Jonas Rivera is the only winner so far, as producer of Inside Out.

This year there is also Coco, but even though Adrian Molina, the writer and co-director, was an integral part of this landmark Pixar feature celebrating Mexican culture,  the US-born Latino did not receive a nomination because according to the Academy’s rules, “The designated recipient(s) must be the key creative individual(s) most clearly responsible for the overall achievement. A maximum of two persons may be designated as nominees, one of whom must be the credited director and the other of whom must have a producer credit.” The nominees are director Lee Unkrich and producer Dana K Anderson. Coco is a near surefire frontrunner, but if it wins, Molina won’t receive the golden statue.

Since actors are the most prominent element concerning movies, the precarious situation regarding inclusion can be most appreciated in the races rewarding performances at the Oscars. The last US Latino performer to be nominated in any the acting categories was Rosie Perez for Fearless in 1994. It’s been over two decades since the last time a US-born Latino was nominated. Again, Latin Americans have done slightly better here as well, but not in any significant way. From 2000 to 2017 only five Latin American actors have been nominated: Benicio del Toro (Traffic), Salma Hayek (Frida), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace), Adriana Barraza (Babel), and Demian Bichir (A Better Life). The only one to win the Oscar in the 21st century thus far is Del Toro.

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Slowly, more studios are catching on to the need for inclusion in their projects and casting is reflecting that with more US Latino and Latin American stars joining important franchises like Star Wars, but behind the camera opportunities utilizing Latino stories are still limited.  

Out of the 100 highest grossing movies of 2017 according to Box Office Mojo, not a single one of them was directed by a US Latino. How to Be a Latin Lover, in the 78 spot, an English-language comedy starring Eugenio Derbez and Salma Hayek, is the closest work to a mainstream US Latino film, but was directed by Ken Marino and the only American actor of Latino origin featured is Raquel Welch. Representing the independent space, Miguel Arteta’s Beatriz at Dinner was critically acclaimed and had a solid theatrical run. Latin American directors had more of a presence with IT, directed by Argentine, Andy Muschietti, as the seventh highest grossing film of the year, Saldanha’s Ferdinand at number 38, and Del Toro’s Shape of Water at 78 (based on what they earned at the end of 2017).

This year, movies like El Chicano, Monsters and Men, Blindspotting, We the Animals, Alita: Battle Angel, the documentary The Sentence, and plenty of other releases including Latino talent will offer a great batch of narratives in all genres. On a brighter note, the Academy too has recently been more proactive in highlighting Latin Americans and US Latinos’ contributions to the art form with efforts such as last year’s From Latin America to Hollywood screening series and the recent announcement of Gina Rodriguez, Oscar Isaac, and Daniela Vega as presenters for the 90th Academy Awards. Vega will become the first transgender performer to present at the ceremony.

Talent has always been plentiful in the Latino community; it’s the limelight and access that has been denied. As more high-profile films with Latino involvement in all fronts becomes increasingly more prominent, there are few excuses left for the absence of recognition.Soon, the beloved Three Amigos will be bright stars in a list of many, and not the only the go-to answer for justifying limited inclusion.



Originally from Mexico City, Carlos Aguilar was chosen as one of six young film critics to participate in the first Roger Ebert Fellowship organized by the Sundance Institute and IndieWire in 2014. Aguilar's work has appeared in publications such as IndieWire, MovieMaker Magazine, Filmmaker Magazine, Variety Latino, Americas Quarterly, Remezcla, among others. Besides his work in journalism, Aguilar regularly works as a screener for the Sundance Film Festival and a screenplay reader for Sundance's Screenwriters Lab. In the spring of 2016, Aguilar was selected as one of the participants in Hola Mexico Film Festival's firstTomorrow's Filmmakers Today program, which focused on exposing young Latino talent to industry professionals and mentors. He was invited to serve on the jury at the 2017 Palm Springs International Film Festival in the Cine Latino section. Aguilar currently co-hosts "One Week Only," a weekly podcast highlighting independent and international cinema. Aguilar participated in the NALIP 2017 Latino Media Fest as a moderator and panelist. At the event, he shared his insights as a critic in helping highlight Latino voices in media.