15 Latino Contenders Oscar Voters Shouldn’t Overlook, from Sonia Braga to ‘La Llorona’

Latin Americans and American Latinos are routinely shut out of the awards conversation. It's not too late for Oscar voters to change that.
Latino Oscar Contenders 2021, From Sonia Braga to Colman Domingo
"I Carry You with Me"
Sony Pictures Classics

It’s no secret that Latino artists are rarely nominated for mainstream accolades. Unless there’s a streaming behemoth supporting a famed director, like “Roma” back in 2018, Latin Americans and American Latinos are routinely shut out of the awards conversation.

Of course, that’s not because there’s a lack of worthy contenders. Among the many factors that keep the projects that do make it to screens in the United States from getting recognition, a crucial one is clear economic disparity in relation to titles with deep-pocketed distributors.

Most of these movies don’t have sizable budgets for marketing campaigns, which makes it difficult for them to get on the radar of awards pundits, the press in general, and, more importantly, Academy voters. Nevertheless, this season, once again, there are plenty of works by or about Latinos that Academy members can and should consider.

Some great documentaries — such as “Mucho Mucho Amor,” “Landfall,” and “Through the Night” — as well as international features like Peru’s “Song Without a Name” no longer stand a chance at nominations, after missing out on the Oscar shortlists in their respective races. At the same time, several Latino films continue to qualify in major categories, and have been submitted for them. Academy members should consider these options as they prepare their ballots.

“I Carry You with Me” — Best Picture

Seasoned documentarian Heidi Ewing stepped into a hybrid narrative to map a moving romance between two gay men from Puebla, Mexico. As they migrate to New York City in search of the elusive American Dream, heartbreak and hardship faced with resilience ensue. Interweaving a fictionalized story with footage from the real-life, undocumented men the film is based on, the director yields commendable authenticity from this bi-national production. Topical and formally audacious in its immersive approach, “I Carry You with Me” is a Best Picture contender for our times if there ever was one.

Fernando Frias de la Parra — Best Director for “I’m No Longer Here”

Mexico’s shortlisted entry for Best International Feature Film puts forward a refreshing cinematic voice: writer-director Fernando Frias de la Parra. Exploring the Kolombia subculture among marginalized communities in the northern city of Monterrey, he cast non-professional actors and shot a substantial portion of this gem in New York City. Frias de la Parra imbues all his choices with a grounded lyricism that reflects the movie’s theme of leaving home to find where you belong. His sophomore effort has already garnered the support of his Oscar-winning compatriots Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro.

Armando Espitia — Best Actor for “I Carry You with Me”

As the emotional core of “I Carry You with Me,” Mexican actor Armando Espitia continues to demonstrate his young career is marked by intentionality. From his onscreen debut in Amat Escalante’s Cannes-winning “Heli” to the Guatemalan-Belgian drama “Our Mothers,” nearly all projects he’s been a part of thus far grapple with relevant social issues. With gentle strength, he embodies a real person risking it all to pursue his culinary dreams and love freely. In this stirring portrayal of the immigrant experience, Espitia takes on grave responsibility and does the true story justice with nuance.

Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño — Best Actor for “I’m No Longer Here”

im no longer here
“I’m No Longer Here”

First-time thespian Daniel Garcia astounds in “I’m No Longer Here” in the role of Ulises, the leader of a small teen gang, Terkos, with an affinity for slowed-down cumbia music. Violence, however, forces him to depart from all he’s ever known, and, not unlike the hero in “The Odyssey,” to embark on a quiet reassessment of his identity while living in hostile NYC. Garcia, who learned to dance for the part and donned the singular attire and hairstyle associated with the Kolombia counterculture, gives a stoic but resolute performance. We believe both his loyalty for and disillusionment with the place he calls home.

Sonia Braga — Best Supporting Actress for “Bacurau”

In her second collaboration with brilliant director Kleber Mendonça Filho, following the lauded “Aquarius,” veteran Brazilian star Sonia Braga once again plays a fierce woman unwilling to let the powers that be walk over her. For the dystopian neo-Western “Bacuaru,” Braga transforms into Doctor Domingas, a grumpy and skeptical physician in the small town under foreign attack that gives the movie its title. Her eccentric character, particularly in a dual with Udo Kier, reminds us why Braga remains an unforgettable actress who’s lit up the screen in Hollywood and Latin America alike.

Maria Mercedes Coroy — Best Supporting Actress for “La Llorona”

Guatemalan auteur Jayro Bustamante has diligently centered Indigenous talent in his work. The lead in his debut feature “Ixanul,” young newcomer María Mercedes Coroy, returns as the title character in the acclaimed political genre film “La Llorona.” Coroy, who also recently starred opposite Julianne Moore in “Bel Canto,” becomes the ghostly figure of a woman who in the original tale wept for her dead children. Here, the apparition acts as an avenger for thousands of Mayans murdered during the Ríos Montt dictatorship. It’s a nearly silent role that relies on her ability to exude a simultaneously captivating and unnerving presence.

Colman Domingo — Best Supporting Actor for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Ma Rainey’s Black BottomYouTube/screenshot

Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman devour the screen in this musical period piece adapted from the stage. Deservingly, the leading pair has already received recognition this season, but Afro-Latino actor Colman Domingo shouldn’t go unnoticed. Playing Cutler, he provides a serene bounce board to both of those performances. The character understands the songstress’ rationale for how she conducts business in an exploitative industry (and country) and acts as stern voice of reason to Bosemans’s vivacious Levee. A truly memorable turn in Domingo’s already storied filmography.

“Bacuaru” — Best Original Screenplay

Outspoken Brazilian storyteller Kleber Mendonça Filho partnered with Juliano Dornelles, who had served as production designer in his previous films, to co-write and co-direct “Bacurau.” Their bold vision of a not-so-distant and not-so–implausible future focuses on a tight-knit rural community that represents a people united against authoritarianism. Threatened by a murderous campaign to uproot them for the financial benefit of the local government and international parties, the diverse group fights back. Not only is the plot relevant to the South American country’s current political moment, but the co-creators manage to channel genre tropes with humor, brutality, and incisiveness in equal measures.

“La Llorona” — Best Original Screenplay

Prior to working on “La Llorona,” filmmaker Jayro Bustamante hadn’t thought of dabbling in the horror genre. The decision to use an otherworldly Latin American legend to discuss the atrocities committed against the Indigenous population of Guatemala came from the desire to connect with a wider audience. The result packs an indelible punch and has landed on the shortlist for Best International Feature Film. There’s an undeniably unsettling atmosphere that works with the conventions of the genre, but ultimately operates with an underlying sociopolitical core. As the female specter roams the house of an aging dictator, Bustamante shows the villain isn’t this vengeful entity but human evil perpetuated by injustice.

Damián García — Best Cinematography for “I’m No Longer Here”

Already sought-after within the Mexican film industry thanks to titles like “Güeros” and “Desierto,” cinematographer Damián García is expanding his reach. He recently shot the American production “Jungleland” and the most recent reason of Netflix’s “Narcos.” In “I’m No Longer Here” he captures the harsh urban landscapes and hilly vistas of Monterrey, and contrasts them with the crowded streets and dazzling lights of the Big Apple. Wide compositions that highlight the characters’ movements in all their glory during the momentous dance sequences testify to his acute visual sensibilities. García ensured every image furthers our understanding of the protagonist’s journey.

“The Mole Agent” — Best Documentary Feature

A still from The Mole Agent by Maite Alberdi, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Alvaro Reyes.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.
The Mole AgentGravitas Ventures

Get ready for Sergio Chamy to steal your heart. The industrious spy that breathes life into Chilean director Maite Alberdi’s endearing documentary is an elderly heartthrob. Hired by a private investigator, his job is infiltrate a nursing home and relay information of its inner workings. Chamy takes it very seriously but sometimes falls short as he befriends the women at the facility. Through his escapades, Alberdi confronts us with the reality of growing old. Sometimes the twilight of life is marked by loneliness, but there are also hopes and desires that don’t die with age. This adorable movie also made the Best International Feature Film shortlist.

“Boys State” — Best Documentary Feature

Directed by Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, this often-harrowing non-fiction effort follows a handful of high school students partaking in the American Legion’s annual Boys State. The event allows them to recreate the political process, flaws and all, over the course of a week. Among the key subjects are two Latino teens, Steven Garza, and Rene Otero: the heroes of this story. While some of the views expressed and tactics employed are symptomatic of the divisive climate the country faces, young progressive voices like Garza and Otero’s — with personal stakes in issues around immigration and racial equity — provide a glimmer of hope.

“All In: The Fight for Democracy” — Best Documentary Feature

Afro-Latina documentarian Lisa Cortés and co-director Liz Garbus joined forced with former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. In the aftermath of her 2018 campaign, the revolutionary figure decided cinema could be a great tool to educate people on voting rights. “All In” tracks her race and the voter suppression practices that influenced the results in her opponent’s favor. Providing historical context, Cortés and Garbus evince how the system works to prevent BIPOC from exercising their decision-making power and in turn undermine democracy. Abrams’ insight and unwavering strength make for a galvanizing viewing experience.

“The Letter Room” — Best Live Action Short

“The Letter Room”Topic

This poignant dramedy from Elvira Lind stars Oscar Isaac (the director’s husband) as a lonely, and heavily mustachioed, corrections officer assigned to read the inmates’ correspondence. The more he learns about the stories of the men behind bars, the more invested he becomes in asserting their humanity. Isaac plays him with believable sincerity, even when the screenplay does question his character’s role in the criminal justice system. Via subtle but discernible details, the short fully embraces the Guatemalan-American actor’s Latino identity.

“Call Center Blues” — Best Documentary Short

When undocumented men and women raised in the U.S. are deported to Mexico, a country they don’t know, they must adjust to a new reality away from their loved ones. Director Geeta Gandbhir follows some of them, including veterans, who’ve found employment at call centers in Tijuana. Their English-language skills, ironically, allow them to interact with American consumers on the other side of the line. To navigate this landscape of crossed borders and conflicted identities, Gandbhir enlisted local field producer Abraham Avila. In humanistic terms, the short shows another side of the contentious immigration issues.

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