Guillermo del Toro – in his Oscar acceptance speech for best director and best picture (‘The Shape of Water’) – not only dedicated his Oscar to the youths who are “showing us how things are done. Really they are, in every country of the world,” but also told them to use his win as a door of opportunities.
Del Toro said growing up in México winning an Oscar could never happened, but it did.
“This is a door. Kick it open and come in,” said del Toro.
And del Toro’s win, as well as Disney-Pixar’s Mexico-themed ‘Coco’ film as best animated feature, could be that door to bringing more Latino representation to Hollywood.
Last weekend, the 53-year-old director announced at the Guadalajara International Film Festival an annual $60,000 scholarship for an inspiring Mexican filmmaker.
The Oscar is enough to get young filmmakers excited.
“One of my favorite thinkers, Jean Baudrillard, wrote about representation as reality. He referred in large part to advertising and technology, but it has always stayed with me -the idea that our own realities take on the attributes of what is represented to us and what represents us,” said Óscar Hernández, who has been working in film for about 10 years.
“When a young person grows up seeing somebody from their own culture doing something they would like to do, such as filmmaking, it definitely inspires them to pursue these dreams,” said the 33-year-old Hernández who was born in Oakland.
Raised in East Oakland, Hernández was also raised on a farm in the Central Valley.
Hernández lived in the Bay Area as a young child, then moved to Orosi when he was 6 years old. He graduated from Orosi High School.
“There’s just something in our hardwiring as humans that facilitates extra motivation when we have role models to reassure us that our dreams are attainable,” Hernández said. “Having Latino role models like del Toro receiving Oscars will encourage more young people of Latin descent to pursue their own artistic passions by way of normalizing our participation in the mainstream filmmaking industry.”
“With respect to ‘Coco,’ it is also a more obvious vehicle for cultural pride on the story and visual level, since the film draws from Mexican cultural tradition,” said Hernández, “We naturally want to project ourselves onto the characters we love, and it fosters cultural pride and continuation of tradition.”
“I don’t recall any similar examples from my childhood, having grown up in California as a Mexican-American,” said Hernández, whose work has screened at the Tribeca, LA Film Fest, Cinequest, and Montreal festivals.
“I watched Disney films and was greatly inspired by those, but my source of cultural pride usually drew more from literature and ancient history -the Maya and Aztec civilizations, etc,.”
Adrián Molina, co-director and writer of ‘Coco,’ said in a previous interview with Vida en el Valle that as a story artist for the movie, he worked with a story team to sketch sequences of a film. A process that often involves working through alternative options until the best story is developed.
“‘Coco’ is a film about a young Mexican boy name Miguel who has this passion for music,” Molina said when he was honored by the Califonria Latino caucus in 2017. “And on Día de los Muertos, he has the opportunity to pursue his passion with the help of his ancestors.”
Molina said it was very important for him “to portrait a family that has their struggles but also comes together to help each other. And I can draw from my own personal experience to kind of infuse this film with that.”
Molina found inspiration in making home movies with his three siblings when he was growing up.
Some encouraging words Molina provided to Latino children and young adults on pursuing their dreams included “ think about what you love to do, think about that thing that fills you with passion, that fills you with the desire to work hard and something that you want to pursue and know that if your heart is in it, if you have the work ethic to do it, it’s going to be something that will be valuable.”
Hernández said that “much of my own inspiration as a Mexican-American kid from California came from fields other than film, and not always from Latino/a role models, though usually from artists who represent diversity in some way.”
“I loved Michael Jordan for inspiring people to pursue larger-than-life goals. The fact that he is not white made me believe I could do something great, too,” said Hernández, who after studying ancient architecture at Harvard and graduating with highest honors in his field, moved to Los Angeles to pursue film producing.
Hernández subsequently enrolled at NYU’s graduate film program to study writing and directing.
“I also drew inspiration from Oscar de la Hoya, especially because I was often called by his name as a joke,” he said. “There was a guy I could really relate to, a Mexican-American fighter from the ’hood. He actually went to high school with my cousins in East L.A. The fact that he could be great led me to believe there was no reason I couldn’t be as well. Anybody that knows me also knows I love Madonna, how she has always boldly incorporated many cultural traditions in her work, and has always flipped the finger in defense of people from all walks of life.”
“I remember she always said her favorite artist of all time is Frida – a Mexican woman whose art represents Mexican culture so vividly. These were my role models as a kid,” said Hernández, who is currently in post-production as the main producer of the feature film ‘Nigerian Prince,’ recipient of AT&T’s inaugural ‘Untold Stories’ $1 million fund.
The film was shot in Nigeria, with Spike Lee as executive producing and will premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.
“My mom always encouraged my flights of fancy and she subscribed to magazines like Vogue and GQ, which allowed me to imagine a reality for myself in the world of entertainment,” Hernández said.
Hernández is also currently developing other films as a producer and also as a writer and director.