Opinion | In Mexico, ‘Roma’ Lit a Fire for Workers’ Rights


This is the essay is part of The Big Ideas, a special section of The Times’s philosophy series, The Stone, in which more than a dozen artists, writers and thinkers answer the question, “Why does art matter?” The entire series can be found here.

I never thought that a movie alone could prompt social awareness and change. But when the director Alfonso Cuarón released his film “Roma” in 2018, with me in the lead role, that’s exactly what happened. Suddenly people in my home country of Mexico were talking about issues that have long been taboo here — racism, discrimination toward Indigenous communities and especially the rights of domestic workers, a group that has been historically disenfranchised in Mexican society.

In fact, it was my involvement in this film that led me to better appreciate the importance of art.

Art sheds light on the urgent, necessary and at times painful issues that are not always easy to approach because we as a society have not been able to figure them out. Art lays bare our brutal reality — a reality that is complex, diverse and often unfair — but it also presents us with the amazing opportunity to give voice to the unheard, and visibility to the unseen.

Four years ago, when a casting call for “Roma” was issued in my city, Tlaxiaco, in the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, I almost didn’t go to the audition. The film industry was alien to me. As a child, I couldn’t relate to the people I saw on movie screens; the actors and actresses were nothing like the people I knew, and their stories centered on worlds far away from my own. As an adult, I studied to be a teacher, and had no thoughts of becoming an actress.

Fortunately, I did answer the call, and things changed very quickly for me. I was cast in the role of Cleo in “Roma,” and eventually was able to bring to screens around the world a character who represented people who had gone unseen: Mixtec women who worked as maids.

The movie intimately recounts the day-to-day life of a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City. At that time, Mexico was experiencing political and social upheaval. National turmoil brought to the fore problems that still persist to this day, namely the normalization of classism, racism and denigration, along with other forms of segregation and belittlement based on skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation or social class.

By Yalitza Aparicio

2020-05-23 11:00:08

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