Mon | Apr 6, 2020

Spanish – a language of inclusion

Published:Sunday | December 1, 2019 | 6:48 AMMaite Villoria Nolla - Contributor
This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Antonio Banderas in a scene from ‘Pain and Glory’. AARP has released nominations for its annual Movies for Grownups awards, which is designed to reward films that resonate with older viewers and fight industry ageism. Banderas was nominated for best actor.
Mexican actor Diego Luna joins women who participate in a candlelight vigil during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Mexico City, Monday, November 25, 2019.

While there are those who obstinately insist on building walls to divide people and societies, culture remains firm in showing the union between peoples and valuing artists for their work regardless of their place of origin.

The film industry has the potential – and obligation – to reinforce unions portraying local and global issues and giving visibility to the mixture of cultures and races present in their big family. This was made all too obvious during this year’s 70th Academy Awards Ceremony in Hollywood.

As the Spanish actor and Oscar winner Javier Bardem said during his speech that same night: “No hay fronteras ni muros que frenen el ingenio y el talento. En cada región hay historias que nos conmueven, y esta noche, celebramos la excelencia y la importancia del idioma de diferentes países.” [There are no borders and walls that can restrain ingenuity and talent. In each region there are stories that move us, and tonight, we celebrate the excellence and importance of languages around the world].

Bardem gave his speech fully in Spanish, and he was later followed by the Mexican actor, director, and producer Diego Luna, who confidently said: “Ya se puede hablar en español. Ya nos abrieron la puerta y no nos sacarán de aquí.” [We have been given the chance to speak Spanish here. The door has been opened for us and they won’t kick us out of here.]

Diego presented Roma, a film produced and directed by the Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, which crosses all boundaries, not only for being in Spanish and Mixteco – indigenous language spoken in Mexico – but also for its 10 nominations, including Best Film, Best Photography, Best Direction, and Best Actress.

The film is an emotive story that provides a voice for the invisible peoples in every ­country; people who go unnoticed in societies that have become increasingly individualistic and xenophobic. Roma is a work of art with amazing photography and powerful imagery, which draws from the director’s own childhood memories.

Roma’s achievement has taken 70 long years to take place. Up to this year, films in Spanish were merely opting for Best Foreign Film – eight winners out of 44 nominations. Volver a Empezar (1982) by José Luís Garci was the first Spanish film to win in the category and The Official History (1985) – a risky film unveiling a critical time in Argentinian history – was the first Latin American film to win in the same category three years later.

Main shift

Anthony Quinn – born in Mexico as Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca – although naturalised in the United States, was the first Latino to win the Best Supporting Actor award in 1952 in Viva Zapata by Elia Kazan. Since then, other Spanish and Latin American actors and actresses have been nominated for leading and supporting roles in English and Foreign films. Rita Moreno won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1965 for her work in West Side Story, and in 2009, Penélope Cruz won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Vicky Cristina Barcelona by Woody Allen.

However, the main shift came in 1985 when Hector Babenco (Argentinian-Brazilian director) was nominated for Best Director for the film The Kiss of the Spider Woman. This success was repeated in 2006 when the film Babel by the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu was nominated for the Best Film in English category.

The Latin American ­alternative to Hollywood Cinema was taking off, and Guillermo del Toro, Iñárritu, and Cuarón, ‘Los tres amigos’, were taking positions in the global film industry, becoming the most successful threesome in global cinematography. This is probably their most powerful way to respond to discrimination and immigration policies.

The race was just about to start because in 2013, Cuarón won the Best Director Award for the film Gravity; in 2014, Iñárritu won the Best Director Award for the film Birdman; in 2015, Iñárritu was celebrated again for his film The Revenant together with Emmanuel Lubezki as Best Cinematographer; in 2017, del Toro won the same category for The Shape of Water, a film that explores the mutual enchantment of a woman and a mysterious aquatic being; and finally, in 2019, Cuarón took over again with his brilliant film Roma, the story of an indigenous helper and her relationship with her surrounding world. The films do not have much in common besides the fact that through the use of superb artistic photography, they deeply interrogate human nature, exploring emotions and probing the depths of intimate relationships.

However, the real winner of the last Academy Awards was cultural and social diversity. The prizes were won by 15 women, a record in the history of the ceremony. There were seven African American winners, in six different categories, and for the fifth time, a Mexican director got the Oscar for Best Director. Multiculturalism is overcoming the obstacles that obstinate politicians are setting upon us.

Next year, 2020, also holds out high expectations for the Spanish cinema and language as another Spanish film is going strong. Pain and Glory, by one of the best Spanish directors of all times, Pedro Almodóvar, has been selected nationally to represent Spain at the Oscars Ceremony for Best International Feature Film. The film expects to also be nominated for Best Actor, Antonio Banderas, and Best Original Screenplay. This is another example of how Spanish is becoming a language of inclusion and a language to be included in every field in life.


Dr Maite Villoria Nolla is a lecturer in Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, The faculty of humanities and Education, UWI, Mona. This article is one in a series that seeks to promote and highlight the impact of the Arts and Humanities on the individual’s personal development and career path. Please send feedback to