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Daniel Cubias

Daniel Cubias

Posted January 25, 2009 | 07:55 PM (EST)

A Great Lack of Latinos at the Academy Awards


Oscar nominations came out this week. Once again, the list is so chockablock with Latinos that we can assume the ceremony will be telecast in Spanish.

Actually, I'm being facetious. None of the twenty acting nominees is Hispanic. And with the exception of Spain's Penelope Cruz (who is European and therefore not a Latina), an accented name is hard to find on the list of anyone nominated for anything.

Now, I'm certainly not denigrating the talent of this year's Best Actress front-runner, the lovely Kate Winslet (for the last time, I am not obsessed with her, no matter what my wife says). But the dearth of Latinos, despite our standing as the biggest minority in America, is glaring. More telling than the actual scarcity of nominees is the fact that few people even notice that we're underrepresented.

To prove my point, simply browse any list of Oscar trivia, which will reveal the names Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, and Halle Berry -- all the first African Americans to win Oscars in their respective categories. It was even big news a few years ago when Denzel Washington became just the second black man to win Best Actor. When one thinks about it, that is quite the specificity.

In contrast, the first Hispanic to win an acting Oscar in any category was... well, anybody know off the top of their heads? In fact, acres of Google research are required just to find out which Latinos have been nominated.

My admittedly crude investigation uncovers that, in the eighty-one years the Academy has been handing out awards, just fourteen Hispanics have been nominated for acting Oscars. The last was Adriana Barraza in 2007 for Babel. That year was a supposed watershed for Hispanics, with over a dozen Latinos nominated for Oscars in various categories. The sublime Pan's Labyrinth, from Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro, even won a couple that year. But in the two years since then, finding a Latino at the Academy Awards is as common as seeing a low-rider bounce past while blaring Aimee Mann.

So why aren't more Hispanics getting into the winner's circle, or even receiving invitations to the party in the first place? Well, many filmmakers seem to believe that the only appropriate settings for cinematic drama are upper-middle-class suburbia or Victorian England. As such, Gael Garcia Bernal just isn't going to pop up that often. An openness to other stories, especially ones that reflect the actual twenty-first century, is an important first step to seeing more Latinos onscreen.

Still, we can't ignore the progress that has already been made. After all, we're long past the days when Charlton Heston was deemed suitable to play a Mexican (it's true; check out Touch of Evil).

By the way, the last Latino to win an acting Oscar was Benicio Del Toro in 2001 for Traffic. And since you're probably wondering, here are the first Hispanic winners in each acting category.

• Best Actor: Jose Ferrer, 1950, Cyrano de Bergerac
• Best Supporting Actor: Anthony Quinn, 1952, Viva Zapata!
• Best Supporting Actress: Rita Moreno,1961, West Side Story

No Latina has ever won Best Actress.