'Roma' Should Win Best Picture, but It Probably Won't

Only ten foreign language films have ever been nominated for the Oscars's top prize.

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Jan 22 2019, 11:21pm

Image by Alfonso Cuarón, via Netflix

The Academy announced its nominees for the 2019 Oscars this morning, and Roma cleaned up, along with The Favourite, earning ten nominations apiece. The recognition for these two smart, fresh cinematic gems feels validating, especially during an awards season when Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody—two nostalgic, revisionist films that seem hell-bent on sanitizing the messier bits of the late-20th century—have dominated industry accolades so far.

Alfonso Cuarón’s tale about a family’s beloved domestic worker in early 1970s Mexico City is gorgeous, from the way its slice-of-life narrative gently unfolds to its stunning black and white cinematography. The story of Cleo, played with beautiful solemness by first-time actor Yalitza Aparicio, is specific to the time, place, and historical context in which Roma is set, though it mirrors the experiences of domestic workers to this day. It’s also relatable to anyone who’s been forced to reckon with the hierarchies of an unjust world or suffer loss while the world spins on in defiance of your pain.

After seeing Roma, my first impulse was to tweet that it deserved to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. By my estimation, it ticks all the boxes: an affecting story, check. Deft writing, spanning several languages, check. Standout performances from the entire cast, with particular emphasis on Aparicio’s graceful stillness, check. Beautiful cinematography evoking the dreamy nature of childhood memories, check.

In a lot of ways, Roma has already broken ground for diversity in film. It’s tied with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon for the most Oscar nominations for a foreign film. Aparicio is the first Indigenous woman to be nominated for Best Actress. Roma is also only the tenth foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture. If it won, it’d be the first foreign language film to do so in the 91 years the Academy has been handing out awards.

More likely, the Oscars will reward Roma in other ways. Cuarón has dominated the Best Director category so far this season, picking up statues at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards. It won’t be surprising if he takes home his second Academy Award in that category for Roma. It also wouldn’t be surprising for the film to win Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, but considering that this is the first time a foreign language film has had a serious shot at winning the top award, relegating it to the Foreign Film category feels like a consolation prize.

It’s hard not to feel like the only thing holding Roma back is the fact that it’s not in English. In a decade when Hollywood is embroiled in scandal, criticized for turning a blind eye towards sexual harassment and lambasted for being “so white,” crowning Roma the year’s Best Picture would be a radical act. The Academy should reward this example of masterful filmmaking by a Mexican director, who chose to tell the story of a woman disenfranchised by the dual aspects of colonialism and capitalism.

Frankly, we need more movies like Roma to win, and we need more people and studios to support movies like it. What the Academy thinks appeals to audiences isn’t necessarily representative of what truly moves them. Roma is an exceptional example of meaningful moviemaking for how it invites viewers into its distinct world, then spits them out again, hopefully imbuing them with a new appreciation for the ways people differ and the way we’re all, actually, pretty similar.

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