“Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?” said Sean Penn handing an Oscar for best picture to Mexican-born Film Director Alejandro González Iñárritu at the recent film Academy Awards.
Talent. His talent gave him a green card.
What was meant as an inside joke sparked outrage in immigrants all over the country. Penn’s comment reminds us that in this day and age we should not be looking at an artist’s passport but at the art they are creating.
In 2006, Hollywood turned its head to three promising filmmakers that hailed from a country south of the border where food is picante, a woman is hermosa, the flag has three vivid colors and making quality cinema was tough to accomplish.
“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”
“Los Tres Amigos” met back in Mexico in the late 1980’s early 1990’s, Iñárritu was a famous disc jockey who later became station manager for the number one rock radio station in Mexico City, WFM. At the same time, Cuarón and Del Toro met while working for Televisa, in a short lived TV Show called La Hora Marcada. This groundbreaking and phantasmagoric show was Mexico’s version of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.
The TV show would become the playground where the three filmmakers met, either directing or producing episodes. Talented filmmaker and cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, joined the fiesta. He started working as a director of photography and producer for the show.
Their talent carried them across the U.S. -Mexico border in the early 2000’s and all three eventually broke into the Hollywood mainstream with successful films that brought them worldwide acclaim. Cuarón’s film Y tu mamá también, starring Gael García and Diego Luna, was released in 2001. The road-trip movie would eventually land him a gig directing one of the biggest film franchises in history with Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban, regarded critically as the best film of the series.
Iñárritu’s massive hit was Amores Perros in 2001. This film, produced in Mexico, became a critical darling and allowed him to move on to bigger projects. For Iñárritu those projects were Babel and Biutiful. These would turn him into a powerhouse independent filmmaker, and would land him a couple of Oscar nominations.
In the genre of weird and fantastic, Guillermo Del Toro is considered a master. The success of his film Cronos, about a girl whose grandfather turns into a zombie/vampire, led him to direct his own projects like Pan’s Labyrinth, considered his magnum opus, and Pacific Rim, his foray into blockbuster territory. His love for the fantastic and his ability to create entire worlds of monsters and creatures out of his imagination would eventually lead him to be attached to direct The Hobbit, a series of prequel films to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, because he prefers working on his own projects he stepped out of the director’s chair and participated as a producer.
Lubezki or “Chivo,” as he is known in Hollywood because he looks like a goat, is perhaps the most versatile and flexible one of the group. He started working with Cuarón in Mexico, in films like Solo con tu Pareja. The duo became known world-wide for their collaboration in the fantastic big-screen adaptation of Frances Hodgson novel The Little Princess. This film gave Chivo his first Oscar nomination—the first of seven and the most for a Mexican filmmaker. Having worked with film directors like Tim Burton, Michael Mann, and Terrence Malick, among others, Chivo is critically regarded as second only to British cinematographer Roger Deakins.
Recognition from the Academy of Motion Pictures
The promise of a great film career became a reality in 2014 when Cuarón received the Academy Award for outstanding work in the direction of Gravity. Joining him was fellow Mexican cinematographer Chivo, awarded an Oscar for best cinematography for the same film.
In recent years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, had been accused of whitewashing by minority groups because of their very obvious lack of ethnic diversity among nominees in every award category.
For two years in a row, Mexican filmmakers have beaten the odds and the Academy has awarded two of their most prestigious prizes to members of “The Three Amigos.” This year’s best director award was given to Iñárritu for his inventive film Birdman. And cinematography was a back-to-back win for Chivo Lubezki also for the same film.
The pride of a nation
Understandably, many Mexicans are quick to feel pride because of the accomplishments of these filmmakers, myself included. But it is important to remember that their award-winning work was made outside their home country. Although their personal talent originated in Mexico, their movies are produced and filmed almost in their entirety either in Great Britain, United States, or elsewhere.
Cuarón, Del Toro, Iñárritu and Lubezki are great examples of genuine artists who transcend their national border. When an artist’s work transcends birthplace, it is elevated to its highest form; it becomes true, honest and inspiring.
How refreshing that audiences worldwide can now enjoy enthralling and inspiring films by independent filmmakers from all over the globe. Here’s hoping we never run out of great movies and great filmmakers, wherever they come from.