The Maid, The Gardener, and The Prime Minister

7 Feb
Demian Bichir

Demian Bichir

I was tickled when I heard that Demian Bichir, the handsome Mexican actor, was nominated for Best Actor for his role in “A Better Life”. I had expected Ryan Gosling in “Drive”, or Michael Fassbender for “Shameless”, but not Bichir. I saw the movie last summer, and thought that he brought quiet dignity to the role of a father struggling to connect with his son and provide a better life for him in the U.S. I appreciate movies like “A Better Life” that show the lives of people who are normally invisible in society- “Under the Same Moon” with Kate del Castillo also falls in this category. So I was disappointed to see this headline on Guanabee a few days ago: “Mexican Actor Demian Bichir Receives Oscar Nomination- But for Playing a Gardener”. Why the “But”?

A similar debate has emerged regarding Viola Davis’ performance in “The Help”, which has also garnered her an Oscar nomination.  Some critics are mumbling that she only played a maid. I will not shield the movie “The Help” from criticism. I have difficulty watching a movie when I can’t accept the characters’ motivations, and I had trouble understanding why the maids would agree to tell their stories to young Skeeter Phelan. As a result of her chronicle of the lives of domestic maids in Jackson, Mississippi, Skeeter’s professional career skyrockets and Aibilene, played by Davis, is predictably fired. But Viola Davis imbues the character with patience, wariness and the disillusionment of a character living with daily oppression. Viola Davis has a wonderfully expressive face and could read the phone book (yes, that old thing) with aplomb, and it is good to see talented actors  using their gifts to give life to people whose inner lives are rarely glimpsed on the big screen.

Viola Davis

Viola Davis

“The Help”, while flawed, provided a showcase for a host of female actresses, and could launch the careers of Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis. But what roles will they continue to play as their careers skyrocket? Tyler Perry offers roles for African-American women actors. But will Viola Davis ever play a world leader on the scale of, say, Margaret Thatcher? An actress like Meryl Streep will never hurt for parts. Yet African-American actresses-especially those of a certain age- have fewer and fewer roles available to them. And what will Demain Bichir do to follow up his Oscar nomination? Again, while I applaud his portrayal of Javier in “A Better Life”, I hope that he finds roles in Hollywood that offer the same chance to give a nuanced performance. No gangsters or drug lords or cholos that hew to old stereotypes. Por favor.

 

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One Response to “The Maid, The Gardener, and The Prime Minister”

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  1. The Maid, The Gardener, and The Prime Minister - TheCitizenCulture : TheCitizenCulture - September 24, 2013

    […] This post is a re-run from Lebanexican.com. Check out the original post here. […]

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