If certain segments of the country want to build a wall, you wouldn’t know it from the Oscars. Latin American artists and stories reigned supreme Sunday night, with the biggest awards of the evening — best picture and best director — going to Mexican-born auteur Guillermo del Toro for “The Shape of Water.”
“I am an immigrant,” he said while accepting the directing award and noting that the audience was filled with many like him. “The greatest thing our art does and our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that when the world tells us to make them deeper.”
Del Toro isn’t the first Mexican director to win; he’s not even the first in recent years. He follows Alfonso Cuarón, who won for “Gravity” in 2014, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who won in 2015 and 2016 for “Birdman” and “The Revenant.”
But this year, winners from Latin America were a running theme. The best foreign language film was the Chilean drama “A Fantastic Woman,” and the star of that movie, Daniela Vega, made history by becoming the first transgender actor to present onstage. The animated film winner, meanwhile, was the Pixar movie “Coco,” which takes place in Mexico on the Day of the Dead and became the highest-grossing film in Mexican history when it was released there last fall.
Oscars 2018: ‘The Shape of Water’ wins best picture at awards show laced with social and political statements
Before its premiere, the movie seemed like it might strike out with Mexican audiences after Disney tried to trademark the name of the holiday “Día de los Muertos” for merchandising. The company withdrew the trademark application following widespread criticism, and then made up for the misstep: It invited some of its most outspoken critics to be consultants on the film. Pixar was rewarded with big ticket sales, critical praise on both sides of the border and not one but two Oscars.
“‘Coco’ would not exist without your endlessly beautiful culture and traditions,” co-director Lee Unkrich said in his acceptance speech, referring to Mexico. “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.”
The film also won best song for “Remember Me,” composed by the married songwriters behind “Frozen,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Like all the nominees in that category, the song was performed during the ceremony, in this case by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal and musicians Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade, who sang some of the lyrics in Spanish.
During another song performance, for “Stand Up for Something” from the movie “Marshall,” performers Common and Andra Day invited activists to join them onstage. One was Spanish chef and philanthropist José Andrés, who unfurled a Puerto Rican flag as the song ended — a reminder that one of his causes was to feed the people of Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by hurricanes last year.
He wasn’t the only one representing Puerto Rico. One of the buzziest presenters of the night was 86-year-old spitfire Rita Moreno, in part because she showed up wearing the same dress she donned when she won her best supporting actress Oscar in 1962. When she took home that award, for “West Side Story,” she became the first Latina actress to win an acting Oscar — and the only other woman to do the same is Lupita Nyong’o who was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents. (After the countries feuded over which got to claim her, she publicly and diplomatically gave allegiance to both nations, saying “I’m Mexican and Kenyan at the same time.”)
Speaking of which, host Jimmy Kimmel singled out Nyong’o during his opening monologue for her heritage.
“She was born in Mexico and raised in Kenya,” Kimmel said. “Let the tweetstorm from the president’s toilet begin.”