This year two actors from non-English speaking countries, Demián Bichir from Mexico and Jean DuJardin from France, received best actor Oscar nominations. While DuJardin has received a lot of attention, Bichir's uniquely nuanced performance of a father and undocumented gardener in "A Better Life" has not received the attention it deserves. Bichir's Oscar nomination is the first nomination for a Mexican male actor in the lead acting category since Anthony Quinn was nominated for Zorba the Greek in 1964. While Bichir deserves to win, it is unlikely perhaps because Oscar voters are 94% Caucasian and Latinos are less than 2% of the Academy's voting members.
In his portrayal of "A Better Life's" main character, Carlos Galindo, Bichir gives what Rolling Stones Magazine calls "a monumental performance." Other critics have recognized his performance as "pitch perfect." Acknowledgment of Bichir's talent is long overdue. Bechir began his long journey as an actor working in theater with his family in Mexico at the age of three, and by age fourteen he was starring in Mexican television. Although a super-star who has broken box-office records in Mexico, Bichir has not received the same attention in the States. At an Awards season screening for SAG actors, he joked about the countless rejections he faced in the U.S. before getting cast in major roles, which include Fidel Castro in "Che" and the mayor of Tijuana in "Weeds." Bichir attributes stubbornness and perseverance as the reasons for his success. "I'm an Aztec warrior," he joked at a screening for SAG members.
Bichir's performance in "A Better Life" is heart-rending. He delivers one scene in which almost the entire audience I sat with started crying. As if the echoes of sniffles that were heard from every direction were not a strong enough indicator of his moving performance, the two grown men I sat in between both had to wipe tears off of their eyes. Bichir's performance is powerful in its subtlety. In portraying Carlos Galindo, a gardener whose life centers on invisibility, Bichir faces the paradoxical problem of shedding his performance-oriented instincts for a role in which invisibility, not performance, is the only option.
The failure to recognize astounding performances from actors from Spanish speaking countries has happened countless times before. Javier Bardem should have been nominated for Best Actor for 2004's "Mar Adentro" (The Sea Inside), no question. Here's hoping Bichir beats all the odds and actually wins. If anyone deserves an Oscar this year, it is Demián Bichir.