By Vesna Vukoja


Yalitza Aparicio, first indigenous woman nominated for an Oscar for the Best Actress.

Alfonso Cuarón’s film “Roma” (2018) recently won three Oscars at 91st Academy Awards, for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film. “Roma” was also nominated for seven other awards, including for Yalitza Aparicio as Best Actress. Nonetheless, Yalitza was first indigenous woman nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, and though she didn’t win, she’s still a winner in the eyes of her fans and she continues breaking barriers.

Yalitza Aparicio, starred as Cloe, a domestic housekeeper for a Mexico City middle-class family living in a neighborhood where director Alfonso Cuarón was raised. Aparicio speaks in the Mixtec language[1] and in Spanish, and navigates through different worlds for her own survival. In other worlds, Aparicio is playing different roles; she is an indigenous housekeeper in a rich white middle class family, migrant worker, and single pregnant female looking for better future.

After Oscar nominations were announced, Sergio Goyri, a Mexican telenovela[2] actor, criticized Aparicio’s Oscar nomination. While having a private chat with his friends, Goyri appears calling Aparicio “pinche india” [3] in a live Instagram video, who, in his opinion, throughout the whole movie keeps saying, ‘Yes, ma’am, no, ma’am’.

This caused social media reaction, where Mexican-American Aparicio’s fans started sharing #todossomosyalitza[4] tweets and Instagram posts, accusing Goyri for being racist and commenting online their excitement about Aparicio’s Oscar nomination.


This careless social media stream against Aparicio’s Oscar nomination coming from a non-indigenous man does not only represent Mexico’s long history of discrimination against the indigenous population, but reveals something deeper: the reality behind closed doors in America.

However, it is interesting to note that Aparicio, among Mexican-American women is receiving strong support while in Mexico she’s being backlashed because of her indigenous roots.

While in theory of film industry there is demand for better representation of marginalized “other”, in praxis reality looks completely different. Although, Aparicio does not represent all indigenous individuals, in white world she will get these responsibilities as it happens to many non-white people in similar situations. Hence, her role is very significant as she is challenging and breaking the borders of discrimination, both in Mexico and globally.

Mexico has a long history of discrimination against the indigenous population. Its route can be traced back in the period of Spanish colonization where white was defined as beautiful, and dark skin relegated to invisible. Today, Mexican media follows similar patern, having primary focus on white/lighter-skinned Mexican TV presenters, actors and actresses, while marginalizing indigenous people and focusing on promoting outdated stereotypes. Aparicio’s Oscar nomination can be seen as signal of shift in Oscar’s nomination, especially after #oscarssowhite tweets in recent years, but sadly Aparicio in “Roma” plays indigenous housekeeper of the rich white family just as it is very often seen in Mexican telenovelas.


There is a gradual increase in representation of indigenous people in Mexico´s media. Aparicios efforts to represent those who look like her is visible on the cover of the Vogue Mexico, where she received positive response from her fans but also some negative just as she received from her colleague Goyri. Just as there is positive example, another negative comes: one of the Mexico´s most popular fashion magazine Hola! decided to light-up Aparicio´s skin tone on the main photo cover.

Although Aparicio didn´t win the Oscar she is a symbol of hope for indigenous people, what indigenous representation could potentially be. The fight for equal representation of marginalized communities will continue and Aparicio is one among many forces for indigenous Mexican rights.

[1] Mixtec is an ancient Indigenous language composed of a variety of dialects that are spoken in villages in an area known as “La Mixteca” in southern Mexico.

[2] Soap opera

[3] Damn indigenous

[4] We are all Yalitza

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  1. Natalia Hernández Gómez

    I was fortunate to work in Mexico for almost three years and see in person some of the statements you make. It is curious that it is a country that opens its arms to “foreigners” but that, nevertheless, bases its society on very marked social classes where the “indigenous”, the “racial”, is not well seen among the social classes. . I remember the time to go buy a cream for the face and see the wide range of creams that “lightened” the tone of the skin, when in European countries, the tan is a symbol of beauty and we do not waste a second in toasting ourselves Sun.

    There is much to be done but without a doubt, Yalitza has opened a conversation that was very necessary and the repercussion of her role as an indigenous woman has already made her the winner of the best prize.

    I encourage you to visit our blog where we have discussed some of the mobilizations related to women.


    • Zandra Nilsson

      Thanks for your comment Nathalia. You make some interesting points and we will have a look at your blog.

  2. I found the topic of this blog really interesting as I’d been considering writing a post about Participant Media, the company that financed and produced Roma alongside Netflix. As this NYT article outlines, Participant Media “was founded to create positive social change.” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/22/business/media/participant-media-oscars.html
    Its seems a sad irony that a film created to convey a positive message has also resulted in its stars facing discrimination at home. Thanks again for focusing on this topic. Laura

    • Thank you Laura for your comment. I’m glad you liked it. Another interesting fact is that Netflix spent over $30 million on its Oscars campaign for Roma. That’s double what the movie production cost and it would be interesting to explore this side of movie Roma.
      Thanks again.

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