“Roma” should have won Best Picture

The 91st Academy Awards left audiences and filmmakers disappointed.

Jasmyne Bell, Freelance Writer

(This story was originally published in print on Feb. 28, 2019).

Shock and confusion filled the Dolby Theater on Sunday night when the Academy Award for Best Picture went to “Green Book.” Spike Lee, who was also in the running for the Oscar for his BlacKkKlansman, was even seen trying to storm out of the building. The Academy does not vote based on the popularity of a film, but on what they want to communicate to Hollywood and the rest of the world about their society. If they wanted to make a statement about race, a controversial subject in the Academy in recent years, why did they choose “Green Book?”

The specific type of narrative about racism that the film explores is far over. Telling a story of reconciliation through the eyes of a white man is not only ignorant, but also writes off the voices of people of color in America. It is a band-aid solution to a much more complex topic. The implications of “Green Book” winning the most prestigious Oscar award tell the world that, according to the Academy, a film with a “we all have something to learn” message was more acceptable than that of “Roma”—which was the rightful winner of this award.


The narrative of “Roma” reflects not only Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood—the heroine, Cleo, is meant to portray of his childhood nanny—but also the political climate of Mexico in the 1970s. Earlier that night, the picture took home the Oscars for Cinematography, Foreign Film and Best Directing, the last of which Cuarón accepted minutes before losing to “Green Book.” This turn of events was equally disappointing and infuriating to many cinephiles.

“Roma” not only had breathtaking cinematography and a compelling storyline, but the lead performance from Yalitza Aparicio was superb, even more so when considering that “Roma” was Aparicio’s acting debut. In fact, the only trained actress on set was Marina de Tavira, who portrayed a reflection of Cuarón’s mother. The film’s political theme was also unique because it came from a specific time in Mexican history—something the majority of Americans probably know little about. The black and white aesthetic paired with the esoteric context of Mexican politics presented a unique depiction of a world forgotten by many, deserving more than what the Academy rewarded with.

Compared to “Green Book,” “Roma” simply stands as a much better film. Not only is it also a story that retells true events, but it also champions indigenous women. “Roma” allowed an indigenous Mexican woman to be adored and adored by audiences everywhere. Cuarón was very intentional about his depiction of women in his film. He wanted to present an ode to women who have made sacrifices and the women who continue to sacrifice everything for their families. This film checked off all the boxes for seemingly everyone—except the Academy.


So, why did they fail to recognize the cinematic genius of Cuarón? The problem is not their failure to recognize it, but that in the midst of the Trump era, they wanted to make a stance using something that read, “we are not racist.” After all, “Green Book” retold a true story through the perspective of a white driver—and Don Shirley’s family was not consulted during the making of the film. With its white savior-centered premise, “Green Book” is less about engaging interracial relationships and acts more as the poster child of white guilt.

While the events in the film are not the responsibility of the vast majority of white Americans alive today, it was still not plausible for “Green Book” to snag the top prize. Furthermore, apart from “Roma,” the Academy could have also chosen other great films such as Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” or Marvel’s “Black Panther” if they wanted to make a statement about their racial stance. The story of an Italian-American driving a black pianist through the South in the 60s did not end racism in Hollywood, but I suppose they would like to pretend it did.

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