Aparicio ― a 26-year-old born in Oaxaca, Mexico, of indigenous Mixtec descent ― was a newcomer to acting when she was selected to play the lead role of Cleo in Cuarón’s film, according to The New York Times. The semi-autobiographical black-and-white movie tells the story of a domestic worker and the family she works for in early-1970s Mexico City.
“Stereotypes are being broken: that only people with a certain profile can aspire to be in a movie or on the cover of a magazine,” Aparicio said in a video for Vogue México. “People are knowing other faces of Mexico ― it’s something that makes me so happy and proud of my roots.”
Aparicio is only the second Mexican woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, per the Times ― following Salma Hayek in the 2002 film “Frida,” about Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the awards, confirmed to HuffPost on Wednesday that Aparicio is the first indigenous woman to be nominated in the Best Actress category.
On Tuesday morning, Aparicio posted a video on Twitter showing her crying apparent tears of joy upon receiving the news of her Oscar nomination.
“Extremely happy,” she wrote in the post. “When I woke up today … I wasn’t expecting this.”
Aparicio’s role in “Roma” has sparked a much-needed conversation about the status of Mexico’s indigenous people, who have long been discriminated against.
Around 20 percent of the Mexican population self-identifies as indigenous, per a 2018 United Nations report, which also details how indigenous people in the country face “serious challenges in the exercise of their human rights,” including “profound” inequality, poverty and discrimination.
The film and Aparicio’s story has also brought to the fore issues of class and the all-too-frequent exploitation of domestic workers. Aparicio’s own mother was a domestic worker.
“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,” she told The New York Times. “[It has] raised people’s awareness that they need to be treated better and that they are due certain rights.”
This story has been updated with the Academy’s confirmation that Aparicio is the first indigenous nominee in her category.