These Hollywood Mexican immigrants are pushing the boundaries of American cinema


When Donald Trump launched his rant against Mexican immigrants, he claimed “when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.”

The Donald couldn’t have been more wrong. Often Mexico actually ends up sending some of its most talented people. Just have a look at one of America’s most competitive industries: Hollywood.

A new generation of Mexican filmmakers has taken Hollywood by storm, contributing to what some in Mexico are calling a fuga de cerebros, or brain drain. At this year’s Oscars, Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu won best director, the second time in a row it was awarded to a Mexican. And Mexican artists have won accolades not just for their work directing movies, but also breaking ground in acting roles, special effects and cinematic techniques.

Here are some of the Hollywood Mexican immigrants leaving their mark on Tinseltown:

Alejandro González Iñárritu

González Iñárritu, popularly known as “El Negro” in Mexico, won worldwide acclaim with Amores Perros and the film highlighted the director’s ability to bring out some of the most crude and memorable performances on screen.

He broke into Hollywood with the 2003 drama 21 Grams starring Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro and Naomi Watts.

Three years later his indie Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, dropped another big hint of his emerging star status. This year, he dominated Oscar night with his acclaimed movie Birdman.

Academy Awards aside, Iñárritu is quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s most experimental directors. To convey the structure of a Broadway play, he filmed Birdman in a few long takes with the help of Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

In his upcoming film, The Revenant, Iñárritu teamed up with Lubezki again and filmed only using natural light in remote locations. The project, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, is expected to feature the filmmaker’s signature marks of rawness and knack for pushing the limits of the usual Hollywood shoot.

Alfonso Cuarón

Cuarón is probably the most experienced out of Mexico’s golden generation of filmmakers. As a film student, he wanted to break molds. He angered traditional Mexican filmmakers and the prominent university he attended when he directed a short film in English.

In the 90’s, Cuarón made beautiful renditions of A Little Princess and Great Expectations. In 2004, he directed the third Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is often singled out as the best of the franchise.

He won critical acclaim for his Mexican indie, Y Tu Mamá También, a road trip flick about two Mexican teenagers trying to sleep with an older Spanish woman.

In Children of Men, Cuarón showed he was determined to push the boundaries and delivered a series of jaw-dropping continuous takes.

Cuarón’s Oscar glory came in 2013 with Gravity. He was the first Mexican to win the best director honor. Before the awards ceremony, his colleague Iñárritu wrote in Spanish daily El Pais that a week before Gravity was released, several investors sold a large percentage of the film fearing it would bomb.

The movie was a domestic and international box office smash and today Cuarón is part of the Hollywood elite.

To film Gravity, Cuarón assembled a brilliant team headed by special effects maestro Tim Webber to get the film’s impressive outer space look and feel. Cuaron co-wrote the screenplay with his son, Jonas, and spent years planning and designing the technology to film it. Director James Cameron called Gravity “the best space film ever done.”

The film appeared so realistic that when promoting the release in Mexico a reporter asked Cuarón what it was like to shoot in space.

Emmanuel Lubezki

Lubezki, popularly know as “El Chivo,” is perhaps Hollywood’s hottest cinematographer right now. He has worked alongside Tim Burton and Terrence Malick to render gorgeous imagery.

Yet Lubezki has earned his camera virtuoso reputation by working with Iñárritu and Cuarón and achieving some memorable takes. In Children of Men, Lubezki developed a special camera rig to be able to film his subjects seamlessly inside a car.

In Gravity, Lubezki pioneered long seamless takes, opening the movie with a 13-minute continuous sequence shot that helped him win the best cinematography Oscar award last year. He won it again this year for his work on Birdman.

“El Chivo” is perhaps one of the most innovative cinematographers of modern American cinema.

Guillermo Arriaga

Arriaga became known as an impressive screenwriter when he authored Iñárritu’s Amores Perros. His narrative style introducing several different characters and later having their lives intersect at the film’s climax won him critical acclaim.

He also authored the Cannes winning screenplay of Tommy Lee Jones’ directorial debut The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

In an effort to maintain more control over his work in the screenplay to movie transition, Arriaga has started shooting movies himself. He recently put together Words with Gods, an international film project that drew some of the best global indie minds such as Emir Kusturica.

He hasn’t exactly migrated to Hollywood but Arriaga is one of the few embodiments of the original screenplay in a time where most industry movies are based off novels, comic books and other established franchises.

Diego Luna

Luna was recently tapped for the Star Wars spin-off Rogue One and will be the leading man in Amazon Studios’ take on Giacomo Casanova.

He has worked with mainstream directors such as Steven Spielberg and edgier ones like Harmony Korine and Gus Van Sant.

Luna has paved the way for Latinos in Hollywood by being cast in non-stereotypical roles. He’s played everything from Harvey Milk’s lover and a Michael Jackson impersonator to the heartthrob lead in Katy Perry’s The One Who Got Away music video.

The Mexican actor hasn’t forgotten his roots and recently filmed the first biopic of Hispanic labor activist César Chávez starring Michael Peña. Luna said he filmed the movie for his kids who were born in the US and are Mexican-American.

As an actor and director, he is one of many pushing for a more complex Latino voice in Hollywood films.

Along with fellow Mexican actor Gael García Bernal he co-founded the Ambulante film festival which distributes documentary projects across the Unites States and other countries. He also co-founded the production company Canana which is funding projects by new Mexican and Latino directors.

Guillermo del Toro

Del Toro broke into the Hollywood scene with the terrifying Mimic, a film about giant man-eating cockroaches, and gained critical acclaim with Pan’s Labyrinth, a creepy fairytale take on the brutal Spanish Civil War.

His comic book film adaptations of Blade and Hellboy have won him hoards of fans. At one point he was tapped to direct The Hobbit but we’ll never know what that could have been.

Del Toro is set out to release Crimson Peak, his personal take on the old haunted house genre.

He was also set out to be one of the few filmmakers to bridge the gap between movies and videogames when he teamed up with Hideo Kojima to develop the horror franchise Silent Hills.

The project fell apart but del Toro’s monstrous art continues to inspire fanboys across the world. He perhaps can be regarded as the Orson Welles of Comic-Con.

Gael García Bernal

He played a young and thoughtful Ché Guevara in the Motorcycle Diaries. He also worked with acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and was tapped for a role in Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep.

He currently stars in Amazon Studios’ Mozart in the Jungle series created by Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman about the escapades of a philharmonic orchestra director.

Demián Bichir

He drew the attention of critics when he played a humble immigrant father trying to raise his son in A Better Life.

Now he’s a TV favorite thanks to the border noir The Bridge where he starred as honest Mexican detective Marco Ruiz. He became an overnight sensation in Hollywood but spent many years working in Mexican film and comes from a family of experienced theater actors.

He appeared in Showtime’s Weeds playing the narco lover of Mary-Louise Parker. He also played Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s Ché Guevara biopic. Up next: He’s starring in the highly anticipated Quentin Tarantino film The Hateful Eight.

Patricia Riggen

She directed the upcoming Hollywood drama of the 33 trapped Chilean miners starring Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche.

Before that, the up-and-coming director filmed Girl in Progress starring Eva Mendes. Riggen is one of the few female Mexican directors trying to enter the Hollywood boys club.

Eugenio Derbez

Back in Mexico Eugenio Derbez is perhaps the country’s most beloved comedian. In Hollywood, he’s bringing a much-needed dose of laughter to movies from Mexican directors that sometimes are heavy on drama.

His 2013 hit Instructions Not Included showed the box office power of Latinos. Derbez’ directorial debut was filmed for around $5 million, and took in more than $100 million.

Beyond the numbers, Derbez managed to create a successful film that intertwines language and Mexican and American culture. He continues to bridge the gap between traditional Americana and Mexicanness. He was recently tapped by NASCAR to help create a Latino-themed feature.

With his unique brand of comedy, Derbez is both laughing at and breaking Latino stereotypes in Hollywood. Most importantly, his work suggests making Latino content is not just politically correct and good PR, it’s actually extremely profitable.

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