The Importance of Yalitza Aparicio as a Global Feminist Icon
The list of nominees for the 2019 Oscars was announced on Tuesday, January 22nd. And Mexican film Roma by Alfonso Cuarón topped the list of candidates with 10 nominations, becoming the big favorite.
Aside from all the nominations announced for the most important awards, Yalitza Aparicio’s nomination stands out in the category of best actress. The Mexican actress was a complete stranger before Cuarón chose her to play Cleo, a maid for a wealthy Mexican family in the early 1970s.
YALITZA’S NOMINATION BRINGS TEARS TO HER EYES
She will now compete for the best female performance award alongside big names, such as Glenn Close, Lady Gaga or Melissa McCarthy. When Yalitza saw her name among the nominees in her computer screen, she cried and shared that exciting moment in her social media pages.
Those tears, some analysts posit, represent the silent sense of pride and gratification of thousands of Mexicans, which can be traced back to their history. Yalitza’s mother is of Triqui origin and her father is Mixtec, but he decided not to teach Yalitza his native language for fear that his children would suffer from discrimination.
Before starring in Roma, the 25-year-old was a preschool teacher, and according to the BBC, when she came to the casting, she was unemployed and made extra money by helping her sister make piñatas.
The character of Cleo is, to a certain extent, the embodiment of a universal figure in the worldview of Mexican society, in which there are still important class barriers. Her character is based on Liboria Rodríguez, the nanny who cared for and raised Alfonso Cuaron himself.
The award-winning filmmaker has repeatedly pointed out in recent months that Roma is basically a tribute to the woman who was quietly and discreetly with him for much of his childhood.
Aparicio recently told Variety magazine that “she reminded me of my mom. When Alfonso told me about Libo’s past and how she was part of his family, I remembered my mother’s work and how the children she cared for treasured her”.
WOMEN IN MEXICAN SOCIETY
Her story is that of many other indigenous women in Mexico who have suffered from contempt and racism, still latent in parts of Mexican society.
Yalitza Aparicio was able to confirm this, once again, the day she made the cover of the Vogue edition in Mexico. The expressions of admiration were as many as those of insult on social media due to her aspect and racial condition. For the Spanish newspaper El País, that cover was “historic”.
“In a society like Mexico, for a woman of Mixtec origin to be featured in the most influential fashion magazine is a decisive step,” it said.
Aparicio burst into a world that was not her own in a surprising way, that of cinema, even though the idea of acting in films never crossed her mind. She is a preschool teacher in Oaxaca and her encounter with Hollywood happened by chance when her sister asked her to accompany her to the auditions for Roma.
AN ACTRESS WHO ONLY WANTED TO BE A TEACHER
It happened three years ago. She went with her sister Edith to a casting that was taking place in their hometown, Tlaxiaco. Since no one knew what the project was about or who was directing it, villagers began to suspect that it could be a case of women trafficking.
In spite of it all, Yalitza, auditioned, mainly because her sister felt bad due to her advanced pregnancy. Thus, she became Cleo by an amazing string of coincidences.
Although Alfonso Cuaron is a world-known filmmaker, winner of the Oscar for Best Director in 2014 thanks to Gravity, Aparicio had no idea who he was, let alone who she was auditioning for.
In an interview with W Magazine, she explained that she had never seen any of his films and confessed: “I felt a little embarrassed when I first met him and told him that I did not know who he was or what movies he had made.”
On Entertainment Tonight she acknowledged that Cuaron was instrumental in her adaptation to an environment that was completely alien to her: “I feel that he helped me to learn to trust myself,” she explained. “He helped me understand that I can accomplish much more if I work hard and I do not conform. He helped me understand that it’s important to fight for your dreams”.
YALITZA, A GLOBAL FEMINIST ICON
Aparicio has become a global icon that reflects very well the times we live, where the empowerment of women and their claim to equality with regard to men is already an inescapable aspiration.
Mexican-Canadian writer Martha Bátiz has accurately explained it. She considers Roma, above all, to be the portrait of the women who hold together Mexican society. “Since the Colonial Era, upper-class Mexican women have cared for and nurtured new generations with the help and support of indigenous maidservants, often perpetuating gender models that make it almost impossible to eradicate the rampant chauvinistic culture that pervades every social layer”.
In this context, the nomination of Aparicio also has another strong symbolic significance: it means the return of another Latin American woman to the Oscar nominations in the category of best actress, an honor held in 2005 by Colombian actress Catalina Sandino for her role in “María full of grace”.
The Mexican actress has just posed with ten other Hollywood figures in front of the camera of three-time Academy award winner Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki for the cover of Vanity Fair’s 25th anniversary edition.
Gracing the cover are Elizabeth Debick, Rami Malek, Chadwick Boseman, Saoirse Ronan, Nocholas Hoult, Tessa Thompson, John David Washington, Henry Golding, Regina King, Timothée Chalamet and Yalitza Aparicio, whose performances in grand films have positioned them as the ‘future stars’ of Hollywood.
It is another milestone in the blazing career of Yalitza, a woman who has become a world star even though she only wanted to be a teacher.