With the exception of Biutiful’s two nominations—one for Best Leading Actor (Javier Bardem) and another for Best Foreign Language Film—Latinos were ignored by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences in 2011. And we’re not just talking about the actors—of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture this year, not one was produced by a Latino, and clearly, our position behind the camera is as important (if not more so) as it is in front of the camera. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Oscar has overlooked our talents. Here’s a look at some of the biggest Oscar snubs in history, as they relate to Latinos in Hollywood.
Jennifer Lopez, Selena
Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla was murdered in 1995, but Jennifer Lopez brought her back to life in the biopic, Selena (1997). Considered by fans to be the breakthrough role of her career, J.Lo’s performance was also loved by the nation’s top critics, including The L.A. Times’ Kenneth Turan, who wrote that the movie, “turns out to be a celebration not only of the singer but also (as What’s Love Got to do With It was for Angela Bassett) of the actress who plays her, Jennifer Lopez.” But despite the praise—and in spite of her Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical—Lopez wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Some said that part of the reason she was overlooked had to do with the fact that she lip-synched to original recordings of Selena’s music—but that’s a weak argument: Jamie Foxx easily won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray (2004)—and he didn’t do the singing, either.
Hector Elizondo, Pretty Woman
Hector Elizondo’s immensely likeable performance in the classic rom-com, Pretty Woman (1990) totaled just 10 minutes, but it was so endearing that it earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Unfortunately his memorable performance as Barney Thompson, the uptight hotel manager with a heart of gold, didn’t make the cut that year at the Oscars. Some argued that Elizondo didn’t have enough screen time to be nominated, but a quick examination of Oscar history proves otherwise. Judi Dench won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her eight-minute performance in Shakespeare in Love (1998), while Beatrice Straight’s six minutes in Network (1976) and Anthony Quinn’s nine-minute turn in Lust for Life (1956), won them both Oscars. And then there was the legendary Ruby Dee, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for her four minutes in American Gangster. Certainly there was room for Elizondo!
Zoe Saldana’s performance in the biggest motion picture of all-time (James Cameron’s Avatar, 2009), is the kind of thing that makes your heart hurt. As the nature-loving Neytiri, Saldana delivered a riveting and memorable performance that was easily the film’s best, yet it didn’t get her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that Zoe wasn’t nominated—after all, AMPAS has never nominated an actor for a performance aided by technology—whether that technology is motion capture (as in the case of Avatar) or animation. Andy Serkis (the Lord of the Rings trilogy) knows this all too well. Serkis, who stunned audiences with his scene-stealing performances as Gollum in three Lord of the Rings movies was passed up three times for an Oscar nomination. We would’ve loved to see Zoe become the first Dominican woman to be nominated for Best Actress—mo-capped or not.
Alfred Molina, Frida
The Academy usually loves actors who play eccentric artists. Countless examples come to mind: Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote (2005), Ed Harris in Pollock (2000), Sean Penn in Sweet and Lowdown (1999). But when part-Spanish actor Alfred Molina gave a ballsy performance as the muralist Diego “Panzón” Rivera opposite Salma Hayek in the biopic Frida—a role that earned him critical acclaim as well as a well-deserved BAFTA and SAG nominations—he was, quite simply, snubbed.
Cameron Diaz, Being John Malkovich
When a beautiful actress de-glams for a role and plays down her looks, she’s often rewarded with an Oscar nom. Charlize Theron uglied herself up for her award-winning performance in Monster, Nicole Kidman wore a prosthetic nose for The Hours (and won), and Halle Berry became the first African American woman to win Best Actress when she toned down her looks for Monster’s Ball. But it didn’t work as well for Cameron Diaz, who transformed herself into a sexless, pet-obsessed homebody in Being John Malkovich (2000). She looked so different when the makeup team was done with her that Diaz thought “people weren’t going to recognize me.” The role won Diaz critical raves, as well as a SAG and a Golden Globe nomination, but it failed to get her an Oscar nod.
Edward James Olmos, Stand & Deliver
In Stand and Deliver (1988), Edward James Olmos portrayed Jaime Escalante—a real-life, Bolivian-born American high school teacher, who became well known for teaching students Calculus (and manners) from 1974-1991 at Garfield High School in East L.A. The performance was so full of passion that it should’ve won Olmos an Oscar—especially since the Academy loves it when actors play real people. This year alone, two actors (James Franco and Jesse Eisenberg) are nominated for their portrayal of real-life men, with countless actors preceding them, including Oscar winners Ben Kingsley (Ghandi), Sean Penn (Milk) and Adrien Brody (The Pianist).
Salma Hayek, Frida
The “real person factor” is also true for the Best Actress category. Helen Mirren won the Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in The Queen (2006), Reese Witherspoon won for her role as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line (2005), and Marion Cotillard won for her interpretation of Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. Most recently, Sandra Bullock pulled off a surprise win for her turn as real-life philanthropist Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side (2010). Unfortunately, the year that Salma Hayek was nominated for her brilliant portrayal of artist, Frida Kahlo in Frida (2002), Hayek was up against Nicole Kidman, who played Virginia Woolf in The Hours. Both were powerful, but in the end, Kidman won by a nose.