- Yalitza Aparicio is nominated for best actress for her role in “Roma.”
- “Roma” got 10 nominations.
- Aparicio is a first-time actress.
- She is the first indigenous woman to be nominated for best actress.
Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” received 10 Academy Award nominations this year, making it the most Oscar-recognised foreign language film in history, as well as one of the most-nominated movies of the year (it tied with “The Favourite”). “Roma” also introduced the world to Yalitza Aparicio, an indigenous Mexican actress who has now made history through her role in the film.
In “Roma,” Aparicio plays Cleo, a nanny and housekeeper for an upper-middle-class family in Mexico City. The role, which was her very first acting role, earned her a best actress nomination at this year’s Oscars. Here is her interesting story of going from an unknown school teacher to a Hollywood star:
“Roma” was the first acting job Aparicio had ever taken on.
Before Cuarón selected Aparicio to play Cleo, she was intending on becoming a preschool teacher. According to the New York Times, Aparicio, who is now 25 years old, had just finished her teaching degree and was leaving in a small Mexican city. She told Variety that she had never thought about acting before “Roma,” saying, “I never imagined being a part of a project like this.”
Aparicio only tried out for the role because her sister pushed her to.
According to The Guardian, Aparicio’s sister was the one who wanted to audition for the film – but because she was pregnant and wasn’t in the state to do so, she pushed Aparicio to do it in her place. She told W, “I was curious, and my sister actually forced me to audition, and then it became an adventure.”
She didn’t even know who Cuarón was.
Cuarón may be a famous director, but Aparicio had no idea who he even was, let alone who she was auditioning for. In an interview with W, she explained that she had never seen any of his films, saying, “I was even a little bit embarrassed when I first met him, to tell him that no, in fact, I didn’t know who he was or what movies he had made.”
As it turns out, though, Cuarón liked this about her and asked her not to watch any of his films so she wouldn’t “poison her mind” with images or ideas.
Even though Cuarón knew he wanted to cast Aparicio almost immediately, she almost didn’t take the role.
Cuarón told The Guardian that casting for the role of Cleo took almost a year because he couldn’t find the right person. He was searching for someone who embodied his childhood nanny, Libo (who Cleo was modelled after), and he couldn’t find anyone who looked and acted like her. When he met Aparicio, he said it was “an immediate impression.”
But Aparicio didn’t really feel the same way. When Cuarón offered her the role, she wasn’t sure, since she had just finished her teaching degree and hadn’t yet worked as a teacher. She also said that she didn’t know if she’d “be able to achieve what [she’d] been asked to do by Alfonso.” Cuarón told the New York Times that she ended up calling back, saying, “She says, ‘Well, I think I can do it. I have nothing better to do.'”
One of the reasons Aparicio took the role was to pay tribute to her mother.
Aparicio based some of her character on her own mother’s experiences as a domestic worker. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, she explained that one of the reasons she first took the role was because it was “an opportunity to pay tribute to my mother for her work.”
Eventually, the actress realised that the film was a great way to bring awareness to the importance of all domestic workers. She told The Guardian, “The film is like a tribute to women in general – the invisible women are always there in the home, taking care of the children.”
On top of that, Aparicio plans on using the money to help her mother get out of poverty, saying, “I don’t want my mum to be a domestic worker any more because it is so exhausting.” She explained that if she had any money left over, she would “maybe” buy something for herself.
She also felt that she could relate to the role of Cleo.
Aparicio has said that she sees a lot of similarities between herself and Cleo, explaining that they led similar lives: They both grew up in poverty and both wanted to go to Mexico City to help improve their family’s lives. Aside from their similar backgrounds, she said she related to how Cleo “managed to keep going despite adversity.”
Aparicio’s role as Cleo led to her making history as the first indigenous woman to be nominated for an Oscar for best actress.
As part of Mexico’s large indigenous community – according to Broadly, it is estimated to be 12.6% of the wider population – Aparicio’s nomination has made history.
When asked how she would feel about being nominated, Aparicio told the New York Times, “I’d be breaking the stereotype that because we’re indigenous we can’t do certain things because of our skin colour. 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.”
In a statement, she echoed these sentiments, saying, “I am proud this movie will help those of us who feel invisible be seen.”
She is also the first Mexican actress to be nominated for best actress in 14 years.
According to the LA Times, Aparicio is the second Mexican actress to be nominated for lead actress – the first was Salma Hayek for her role in “Frida.” Only six other Mexican actors and actresses have received acting nominations from the Academy.
She was also the first indigenous Mexican actress to appear on the cover of Vogue Mexico.
In December 2018, Aparicio appeared on the cover of Vogue Mexico in a Gucci dress, next to the title “In tiu’n ntav’i,” which means “a star is born” in the indigenous Mixtec language. The majority of people featured in Mexican magazines are white or light-skinned, and Aparicio said that she was thrilled to show that not “only people with a certain profile can be actresses or be on the cover of magazines,” saying it made her happy and proud.
Aparicio did not speak Mixtec before the film.
While Aparicio grew up as an indigenous woman, she did not speak the Mixtec that her character speaks throughout much of “Roma.” She said that while she had grown up hearing it, she had never learned how to speak it until the film.
Her best friend in real life also plays her best friend in the film.
In the film, Cleo’s best friend is Adela, the cook. Adela is played by Nancy García García, who is also Aparicio’s best friend in real life. This worked in their favour, as Cuarón said he was amazed at how well they played Cleo and Adela together.
She was not given a script for “Roma.”
The way Cuarón set up the film was a bit different: actors and actresses weren’t given scripts or even a story for the film, and instead just had to react to developments as they happened. He did film in chronological order, though, which Aparicio said helped with the process. She also said that she would become so invested in the role that she suffered almost as if it was really happening.
Her appearance in the film has also taken on political meaning.
Although “Roma” was never meant to be a political film, it has kind of taken that on. According to the New York Times, “it has started a national conversation about inequality, the treatment of domestic workers and who is welcome on the red carpet in a country where indigenous women are rarely seen in magazines, much less at Hollywood awards shows.”
Aparicio herself became the victim of racist attacks online, which caused her to say, “I am not the face of Mexico.” The country is already moving towards change, as Mexico’s Supreme Court recently ruled that domestic workers must have access to the country’s social security system.
Cuarón has called Aparicio the “heart” of “Roma.”
Cuarón has made it clear that “Roma” wouldn’t be the way it is if it weren’t for Aparicio. He told Entertainment Tonight, “Without the presence of Yalitza and the performance of Yalitza, it wouldn’t work.”
She is hesitant to call herself an actress or take on more roles.
Aparicio seems unsure about her future in the acting world. She has said that she would possibly like to make more movies, but she’s afraid to work with any other directors. She also doesn’t call herself an actress, saying, “I don’t think I am an actor because I haven’t studied to be an actress.” She told Variety that she’d like to take some acting classes.
Still, Aparicio seems to appreciate the similarities she sees between being a teacher and being an actor. Through “Roma,” she has realised that films can help relay important and powerful messages, something she believes teachers do as well. She said, “In the end, this isn’t so different from what I wanted to do.”
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