Yalitza Aparicio made history today becoming the second Indigenous actress nominated for an Oscar.  The Academy of Arts and Science Motion Picture nominated Aparicio for Lead Actress for her portrayal of Cleo Guiterrez in Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. The film received ten nominations in all, including Best Director for Cuarón, Best Picture, and Best Foreign Language Film.  Maori actress Keisha Castle Hughes was the first, nominated at the age of thirteen for the 2002 film Whale Rider

Aparicio is of Mixtec and Triqui descent from Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico.  The Mixtec of Oaxaca and Puebla are an indigenous Mesoamerican people of Mexico as are the Triqui from western Oaxaca. Cuarón handpicked Aparicio out of thousands because of her likeness of Cuarón’s nanny Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez.

Marco Graf, Yalitza Aparicio, Daniela Demesa in Roma.

Marco Graf, Yalitza Aparicio, Daniela Demesa in Roma. Photo by Alfonso Cuarón

Roma centers on the character Cleo, a nanny and maid to a rich family in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood.  According to Variety, Cuarón based Cleo on his nanny, affectionately known as Mama Libo.  Libo is an indigenous Mixtec woman from the village of Tepelmeme in the state of Oaxaca. Cuarón searched throughout Mexico to find the right woman to be Cleo.  He found a pre-school teacher who fit the part perfectly. 

Aparicio says Cuarón’s description of Rodriguez reminded her of her mother. “When Alfonso told me about Libo’s past and how she was part of his family, I remembered my mom’s job and how the children that she took care of value her.”  She says she could relate to Cleo because of her background and how she kept going despite facing adversity.

RELATED: GGA Indigenerd Wire: Best of 2018

 Yalitza Aparicio, the protagonist of the new film by Alfonso Cuarón, Roma.

Yalitza Aparicio on the cover of Mexican Vogue. Photo: Santiago & Mauricio for Vogue Mexico and Latin America 2018.

Breaking Barriers

Prior to the announcement, Aparicio told the New York Times, being nominated would break a stereotype.  “…we’re Indigenous we can’t do certain things because of our skin color. Receiving that nomination would be a break from so many ideas. It would open doors to other people — to everyone — and deepen our conviction that we can do these things now.”

I’m so excited for Ms. Aparicio.  She gained a lot of attention when the film debuted, becoming the first Mixtec on the cover of Mexican Vogue. Her nomination proves that Indigenous people have stories to tell and these stories don’t have to be white-washed to be “Oscar-worthy.”  I honestly don’t expect her to win, but I really, really want her to.  The Academy is not that woke…yet. It’s my hope that her nomination will at least open the doors for more Indigenous actors, writers, producers, directors, and musicians for future consideration.   

Good luck Yalitza!!! Roma is available on Netflix now. 



Noetta Harjo
Follow me