When something as big as the Oscars airs, it lives on two very different planes of existence. The first is obvious: the fun, genuinely entertaining one. No one drags out Awkwafina, John Mulaney, and a bunch of expensive musical performances for anything other than sparking some Marie Kondo-level joy for the audience. But then, there’s the deeper level where spectacles this large have to mean something in our increasingly charged political climate. That’s why the specter of Donald Trump hung over the telecast, down the fact that viewers couldn’t help but see the infamous coif of “Agent Orange,” as historic winner Spike Lee calls the President, in the show’s set design.
The greatest middle finger to Trump’s regressive politics and often racist rhetoric wasn’t found in a gigantic wavy set piece, though. Instead, it was in the continued, unapologetic use of Spanish throughout the evening as a subtle form of protest. At a time when the President is tweeting out images that suggest a border wall will literally stab any Latinx immigrants who attempt to scale it, simply hearing “Ya se puede hablar español en los Oscars” — which translates to “You can speak Spanish at the Oscars now” — means more than any early morning 280-character social media missive.
In a lopsided Oscars year, the parade of Spanish speakers and Latinx representation will go down as one of the most purely good trends of the 91st Academy Awards — especially when you really dig into how it unfolded.
There are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity and talent.
Diego Luna, a Mexican actor and longtime Alfonso Cuarón collaborator, was one of the most intense A-listers to wave the banner for his Latinx brethren. While introducing Cuarón’s Best Picture nominee Roma, Luna kicked off his speech with the aforementioned already inspirational “Ya se puede hablar español,” quote. However, that’s not where he stopped once co-presenter and Latinx chef José Andrés joked he would follow the Oscars “recipe,” or pre-written speech. The suggestion was that Luna and his subtitle-free Spanish weren't playing by the Academy's rules (especially since ABC cut Luna's opening remarks out of the official video later posted on YouTube).
“Ya nos abrieron la puerta y no nos sacan de aquí. El escenario es tuyo,” Luna responded with a smile, which translates to “They already opened the door for us and won't kick us out. The stage is yours.” The metaphorical “they” Luna spoke of is the Hollywood elite, and he’s reminding his friend of the power they possessed in that moment. The Oscars producers gave Luna and Andrés a platform — why not use it to share their culture with the millions of people watching around the world? After all, the Academy Award Powers That Be couldn’t push the Latinx duo off-stage until they finished introducing Roma, which would take home three awards over the course of the evening.
While Andrés didn’t decide to use his spotlight to start speaking Spanish, he still took a stand before throwing to the Roma teaser, which is built around the life of an indigenous Mexican woman and domestic worker (boundary-breaking Yalitza Aparicio). At the crescendo of Andrés and Luna’s presentation, the chef announced, “[Roma] gives a voice to the voiceless. [It] reminds us of the understanding and compassion that we all owe to the invisible people in our lives: Immigrants and women, who move humanity forward.” It was a full-throated statement of support for the specific groups so many of Trump’s policies aim to harm. The Oscars audience recognized as much, and burst into applause.
That wasn’t the first time the Dolby Theater cheered for a passionate acknowledgement of immigrants from a Spanish-speaking celebrity. Less than an hour before Luna and Andrés showed up to introduce Cuarón's Netflix masterpiece, Javier Bardem and Angela Bassett arrived to present the Best Foreign Language Film Award, which would go to Roma.
“There are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity and talent,” Bardem, a Spanish actor, said in Spanish as English subtitles translated his words. “In any region of any country of any continent, there are always great stories that move us.” It was the night’s most direct pushback against Trump’s demands for a wall between America and Mexico. Although the speech was memorable on its own, the fact ABC that provided subtitles for Bardem’s speech is what made it so very moving. That production decision proved the network and the show’s producers wanted to show their support for international stories and the immigrants who tell them. This wasn’t Diego Luna possibly, endearingly going rouge for the cause — this was a purposeful announcement from one of entertainment’s most powerful bodies.
When Bardem and Bassett handed over the Foreign Film Oscar to Cuarón, he explained that American films like Jaws, The Godfather, and Citizen Kane actually qualified as foreign films for him. It was simple and important way to remind American viewers their prospective isn’t the only perspective. When Cuarón returned to the stage later during the telecast to accept the Best Directing statue from longtime BFF Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican director who won the award last year, the Roma helmer ended his speech in Spanish. “Muchas gracia a Libo,” Cuarón said, thanking Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez, the indigenous woman who inspired Roma. “Muchas gracias a mi familia. Muchas gracias México!”
Donald Trump can claim Cuarón's beloved country is sending America “not their best” people all he wants, but the 29.6 million viewers at home (up 3.1 million from last year for a huge awards show success story) watched one of those people making Oscars history as his fellow Mexicanos and Latinx friends cheer him on from the sidelines. These are some unquestionably good hombres.