With Alfonso Cuarón’s win at last night’s Academy Awards for Roma, Mexican filmmakers have now claimed the Best Director Oscar five out of the last six years. Though Cuarón did take the Best Director prize for the second time in his career, his Roma was ultimately defeated for Best Picture by Peter Farrelly’s feel-good drama Green Book.
The 57-year-old Cuarón got his start in filmmaking on Mexican television in the 1990s, often working alongside his friend Guillermo Del Toro (the two filmmakers and their other friend Alejandro González Iñárritu would later be known as The Three Amigos). Cuarón’s early work was impressive enough to score him a pair of American directing gigs in the mid-90s with A Little Princess and Great Expectations, which he would later follow-up with a major studio job directing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. But Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men was the one that truly put him on the map as a formidable director of art films. He scored his first Oscar nomination and win for directing the 2013 hit sci-fi film Gravity. His 2018 film Roma made Oscar history by being the first Netflix movie to earn a nomination for Best Picture, after the streamer poured millions of dollars into a campaign for the film.
Though Roma ultimately lost out to Green Book for Best Picture, Cuarón’s film still had a big night at the Oscars, with Cuarón himself claiming the prize for Best Director. With the win, Cuarón has now snagged two Best Director Oscars in his career. In the last six years, members of The Three Amigos have won the prize five times, with Alejandro González Iñárritu winning twice (Birdman and The Revenant) and del Toro winning once (The Shape of Water). Only Damien Chazelle has managed to slow down Mexico's Academy Awards dominance, winning Best Director in 2017 for La La Land.
Indeed, extending farther backward, Chazelle is the only American-born filmmaker to win the Best Director Oscar since Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker. England’s Tom Hooper claimed the prize in 2011 for The King’s Speech, France’s Michel Hazanavicius won in 2012 for The Artist and Taiwan’s Ang Lee won in 2013 for Life of Pi. Diversity at least in terms of nationality seems to have taken hold when it comes to the Oscars’ annual Best Director race, though there is still a major issue with gender diversity, as women continue to be largely shut out of the category. No woman has won the prize since Bigelow in 2010, and indeed only one woman (Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird) has even been nominated since then.
An autobiographical work about a Mexican family and their housekeeper set during the 1970s, Cuarón's Roma also snagged the filmmaker an Oscar for Best Cinematography. The movie also picked up the prize for Best Foreign Language film, becoming Mexico's first ever winner in that category. In addition to further validating the dominance of Mexican filmmakers on the current movie scene, Roma's wins were a major victory for Netflix, which continues to battle with the Hollywood powers-that-be over their distribution model and indeed over whether streaming movies should even be eligible for movie awards. With Roma’s big night at the Oscars, its seems Netflix has truly arrived as a major player when it comes to producing prestige pictures.