This year's Oscars dark horse favorite is Roma, Netflix's third attempt at landing an Academy Award nominee in three years. The black and white film is by director Alfonso Cuaron. Set in Mexico in the early 1970s, the story is a semi-autobiographical tale about the domestic worker, Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez, who raised him from childhood. In this story, the housekeeper is Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who works for a middle-class family undergoing some rough times. Cuaron is reported to have performed an exhaustive search to find the perfect actress for the part. So who is Yalitza Aparicio?
Aparicio was a 24-year-old schoolteacher when she went out for the casting call Cuaron set out. Born in the southern town of Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca (which is the same state Rodríguez was from), this was the first film she ever starred in and her first job as a working actress.
Now she's nominated for Best Actress, in a movie streaming on Netflix for all to watch. Moreover, she's making history as the second Mexican actress to ever be nominated in this category, as well as the first indigenous actress to be nominated for an Oscar in this category. Her landing the role of Cleo, and her Academy Award nomination, is a Cinderella story for our times.
Aparicio has spoken in interviews how even the dream of being a teacher seemed like a reach growing up. In an interview with The L.A. Times, she revealed how everyone told her she would never make it.
People would tell me, 'Why do you study? One, you are a woman. Two, you don't have the right color. Three, your economic station doesn't help. You'll end up getting married and becoming a servant. I could stay in this jar where they say I belong, where they tell me, 'You can only be a servant,' that you can't aspire to more.
Instead, a month after graduating from the teachers' college she was attended, Cuaron came into town. Aparicio wasn't initially planning to audition. But when her sister, who had been planning to go, found out she was pregnant, she got Yalitza to go in her stead. Having no training as an actress, Aparicio said she drew inspiration from her mother, who has spent her life working as a domestic.
Speaking to the New York Times, Aparicio says she hopes the film will help focus on the plight of domestic workers, both in Mexico and in the United States.
In the end, this isn't so different from what I wanted to do. I realized that film can educate people of all ages, in a far-reaching way... "I do think that this role that Alfonso gave me, and his focus on my character in his film, has really turned attention to the plight of domestic workers and raised people's awareness that they need to be treated better and that they are due certain rights.
Roma is currently nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress, as well as Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay.
The 91 Academy Awards air on Sunday, Feb. 24, on ABC at 8 p.m. ET.