The Academy has taken its fair share of hits over the years, failing to recognize the very best films and performances each year, especially when it comes to people of color. #OscarsSoWhite highlights the absence of all talents that fail to get cited, despite much of Black actors and actresses’ conversation. While Black representation in the acting categories is abysmal, Latinx representation has even worse numbers.
The last Latinx actor to be rewarded in an acting category was Benicio del Toro 20 years ago for his supporting role as Javier Rodriguez in Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic.” Only seven Latinos have been nominated on the film side of things at the Screen Actors Guild awards in its 25-year history, with del Toro being the only Latino to have ever won (Jharrel Jerome and America Ferrera are the only Latinx actors to win Emmys for television performances).
Looking back at the last 30 years, we thought it wise to point out 19 Latino/a/x performances from cinema that the Academy could have given far more consideration but did not. It is important to note that there are more performances to celebrate outside of these listed, and we want to encourage everyone to seek out them out. Only one performance is named from each movie listed.
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Jennifer Lopez, “Selena” (1997)
dir. Gregory Nava
For many, the obvious go-to J. Lo performance is the recently omitted “Hustlers” from 2019. While you can be right about the egregious act, it’s always crucial to note that Lopez has shown the depth of her acting chops long before showing her stripper pole moves. As the musical icon Selena Quintanilla, the Bronx native dug deep into a woman fighting to eliminate the stereotypes of what a Latina performer is, and what she could accomplish with too little time. Lopez received a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a comedy or musical for her turn.
Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013)
dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Over the past decade, Oscar Isaac has grown into one of our most gifted actors working today. Showing his bankability as a movie star in the “Star Wars” franchise and the ill-fated Standard in “Drive,” it would be his vocals that would hypnotize viewers in the Coen Brothers folk story. Battling one of the deepest best actor races of the decade, he continued to miss out on the gold statuette despite his harness of power in “A Most Violent Year” and the hips that do not lie in “Ex Machina.”
Tessa Thompson, “Creed II” (2018)
dir. Steven Caple, Jr.
Afro-Latinas are constantly passed over in this industry, and not just for awards, but even when a role calls for Latina. Thompson arrived in 2014 for “Dear White People” before making stops in the historical “Selma” and the firework emerging “Thor: Ragnarok.” One of the underrated and ignored turns of her career yet was in the sequel to Ryan Coogler’s “Creed,” which reinvented the woman by her boxing boy’s side. If you don’t believe it, watch the scene in which she waits to see if her baby can hear, and dare to say she’s not ripping your heart into pieces.
Héctor Elizondo, “Pretty Woman” (1990)
dir. Garry Marshall
Time to travel back to a simpler time when you could walk down Rodeo Drive and be rejected by a sales associate, and you could walk into the Regent Beverly Wilshire and be given life guidance by the hotel manager, portrayed by the incredible Héctor Elizondo. Nominated for a Golden Globe, the veteran continues to work, and will next be partnering with Grammy award winner Sia on her directorial debut “Music.”
Ana de Armas, “Knives Out” (2019)
dir. Rian Johnson
A recent Golden Globe nominee for “Knives Out,” Ana de Armas is taking off in Hollywood, and there’s no stopping her at the moment. Her work as the honest and lovable Marta, who can’t seem to hold down her beans, is a lively turn and utterly worthy of inclusion last awards year. With “No Time to Die,” the latest Bond movie ahead, co-starring with her new beau Ben Affleck in “Deep Water” and then taking on Marilyn Monroe with Netflix, she could be headed toward an Oscar nomination soon.
Michael Peña, “End of Watch” (2012)
dir. David Ayer
One of the more underutilized Latino actors working in Hollywood, the very talented Michael Peña, was one of the more memorable parts of “Crash,” yet received no attention. He wasn’t even among the eligible awarded cast members when the film won the SAG award for best cast ensemble. He was nominated for a SAG along with the ensemble for 2013’s “American Hustle,” but it was one year before that he was passed over for his work as Police Officer Mike Zavala opposite Jake Gyllenhaal. Bringing a soulful interpretation, he could only muster an Independent Spirit nomination.
Ivana Baquero, “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)
dir. Guillermo del Toro
There have only been two child performers nominated for best actress in Oscar history, both by actresses of color, Quvenzhané Wallis for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Black) and Keisha Castle-Hughes in “Whale Rider” (Polynesian). The beautiful and majestic Ofelia in “Pan’s Labyrinth” should have easily placed Baquero among the shortlist.
Freddy Rodriguez, “Bobby” (2006)
dir. Emilio Estevez
The story of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy takes cues from multi-character-driven pictures like “Short Cuts” and “Crash,” so when an actor can stand out from the pack, it’s worth noting. As the busboy José Rojas, who places a rosary in Bobby’s hands after he’s shot, Rodriguez navigates the themes of the American dream for immigrants with dignity. A terrific turn helmed by Hispanic director Emilio Estevez.
Melonie Diaz, “Fruitvale Station” (2013)
dir. Ryan Coogler
The world may have discovered Diaz as Sophina, the girlfriend and mother of Oscar Grant’s daughter in Coogler’s outstanding debut. While she presents an audacious turn, it’s always good to remind the world that she arrived years prior in “Raising Victor Vargas” and “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.” Also worth a point, her last film was in 2018’s “The First Purge.” Let’s correct this, Hollywood, shall we?
Bobby Cannavale, “Blue Jasmine” (2013)
dir. Woody Allen
One of those dependable, skilled actors often gets ignored because he makes it look so damn effortless. He’s also one of those actors that many forget (or don’t realize) belong to the Latino community. His work as the loud and misguided boyfriend Chili in Woody Allen’s movie wasn’t able to stay above the conversation surrounding co-stars Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins. Pity, but it’s also worth noting that Cannavale, to date, is the only Cuban to ever win an acting Emmy for his work in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”
Michelle Rodriguez, “Girlfight” (2000)
dir. Karyn Kusama
Michelle Rodriguez’s knocked it out of the park in her first leading role in “Girlfight” as Diana Guzman, the high school senior, who showed us all how to throw and take a punch. An outstanding debut that led her becoming a box office sensation with “The Fast and the Furious” and “Avatar,” Rodriguez is still a compelling talent to watch with “the one” just a film or two away.
Tony Revolori, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014)
dir. Wes Anderson
The sensational Revolori charmed us all as Zero in Wes Anderson’s Oscar-nominated film but couldn’t get the awards campaign off the ground mostly due to a scene-stealing counterpart in Ralph Fiennes (who also missed Oscar attention). With only the St. Louis Film Critics recognizing his turn, his big breakout in 2014 led the Guatemalan actor to the role of Peter Parker’s high school bully Flash in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” The casting also led him to receive death threats from angered comic book fans due to Flash’s ethnicity being reimagined from white to Latino. Just another hurdle that darker Latinos face both in and out of Hollywood.
Sônia Braga, “Aquarius” (2016)
dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho
OG Academy voters may remember the gorgeous Brazilian actress as playing the three roles of Leni Lamaison, Marta, and the quintessential Spider Woman in the Oscar-nominated “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” co-starring the legendary Raul Julia, who also should have scored a nomination. Her strongest role yet came in 2016 in the underseen “Aquarius,” showing that she’s still a cinematic force.
Raúl Castillo, “We the Animals” (2018)
dir. Jeremiah Zagar
Independent Spirit nominee Raúl Castillo is impressive and commanding in Jeremiah Zagar’s debut film, and this entry could swap Castillo out for his young co-star Evan Rosado, who is equally as affecting. The Mexican actor is one of the great discoveries of 2018 and showcases his acting arsenal as Paps in the LGBTQ picture. If you haven’t made time for it yet, please do.
Érica Rivas, “Wild Tales” (2014)
dir. Damián Szifron
The Oscar-nominated submission from Argentina for best foreign language film is courageously inventive with its six short stories. Still, it’s the “Hasta que la muerte nos separe” portion in which Rivas’ bride Romina exercises her talents in a profound style. The Academy has difficulty being compelled to look outside the foreign category often. This film should have been checked in many categories.
Gael García Bernal, “Y Tu Mamá También” (2001)
dir. Alfonso Cuarón
We’ll always be grateful to Alfonso Cuarón for his eternal contribution to the medium, with his history-making “Roma” that delivered Yalitiza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira to the acting categories; however, he should have cracked the acting categories nearly two decades prior with Gael García Bernal’s Julio in his Oscar-nominated masterpiece. Equally gripping by his co-stars Diego Luna and Maribel Verdú, it’s just one of Bernal’s many worthy career highlights that were followed by “The Motorcycle Diaries,” “The Science of Sleep” and “No.”
Adriana Barraza, “Cake” (2014)
dir. Daniel Barnz
Gear up for one of the saddest statistics to share. No Latina woman that has ever been nominated for an acting Oscar has ever returned for a second nomination. Once that truth sets in, you can look to Adriana Barraza, who first nabbed Academy attention for 2006’s “Babel.” As Silvana, the devoted housekeeper (unfortunately one of the overused tropes for Latinx characters), she balances and elevates everything achieved by co-star Jennifer Aniston, who came up short in her own best actress lineup.
Andy Garcia, “When a Man Loves a Woman” (1994)
dir. Luis Mandoki
File this one under movies that don’t come up enough in cinematic conversations. Andy Garcia, who nabbed himself an Oscar nomination for “The Godfather Part III,” has managed a career full of significant and consistently strong turns. In Mexican director Luis Mandoki’s film about a man standing by his alcoholic wife, Garcia’s Michael Green is one of the few pictures of the 1990s that dared take a look from another angle. From the script that was co-written by former Senator Al Franken, Garcia shines so brightly, in what should have landed him in an Oscar lineup (same for Meg Ryan).
Rosie Perez, “White Men Can’t Jump” (1992)
dir. Ron Shelton
With all respect for Anna Paquin’s Oscar-winning turn in “The Piano,” I’ve long believed that Rosie Perez was neglected grossly for her immaculate work in “Fearless.” While that Oscar nomination is magnificent, it should have been her second as one year prior, the Academy found themselves in a very rare comedic mood (proven by Marisa Tomei’s win for “My Cousin Vinny”) but failed to cite the spunky Gloria Clemente. Coming up on its 30th anniversary, I still remember what to do when my wife says, “she’s thirsty,” the foods that start with the letter “Q” and why you when “you win, you really lose.”