Roma: No Longer are Indigenous Women in Mexico Silenced

Luis Santos, Scarlet Staff

Netflix’s original film Roma takes the viewer face to face with the past in unexpected ways. The black and white contrasts of the film serve to make an impression on reality that the picturesque scenes of the Mexican landscape and Mexico’s many walks of life leave one breathless with a sense for imagination and adventure, making the film feel like a biopic.

While a fictional story, the setting and the events in the film are not dramatized which is something that the director and writer of the film, Alfonso Cuaró, sought to encapsulate. Cuaró is known for his creative and visionary adaptations of Gravity, Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También, and Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban.

Roma was inspired by Cuaró’s experiences as a child who was raised by Libo, an indigenous woman and caretaker that helped raised him in Mexico in the 1970s. Libo is reflected by the protagonist of the film Cleo, who makes the film’s debut.

In a way, Roma is a tribute to Libo, as it accounts her experiences and sheds light on the experiences of  indigenous women and women of color who often times found themselves in the same situations: marginalized by society and compelled to do domestic work for the white upper-class.

The film is from Cleo’s point of view, who is a mextic domestic servant working for a middle-class Mexican family during the 1970s as she traverses the challenges that come with her duties and the palpable yet complex experiences of race, class, gender discrimination and Mexico’s political turmoil.

Confronted with these harsh realities and seemingly powerless, Cleo draws inner strength and finds the courage to keep going despite adversity. Audiences are transported into a cinematic world where class distinctions are clear-cut and family and racial dynamics apparent. However, these elements should not detract viewers from the film’s heartfelt message.

Roma sends a clear-cut message of hope, unconditional love, family relationships, womanhood, strength, and resistance to forces outside our control but at the very nature of what makes us human. It breaks from the traditional form of storytelling and puts women’s voices center-stage.

The film captures these experiences, the obstacles and tribulations for Mexican and indigenous women as they wrestle with the intersectionality of race and gender as well as class differences. Emerging is an inner strength in Cleo that the lines between class distinctions and family dynamics blur as she finds solace in her homestay family and the mother and head of the family she serves, Sofia, who struggles to keep her family together.

It should be noted that Yalitza Aparicio, who played Cleo, had no prior formal acting experience before her remarkable debut and performance in Roma, as she she is the first indigenous woman to ever receive an Oscar nomination (Roma is critically acclaimed, having broken many Oscar nomination records). Aparicio brought a devotion to the character that was so genuine and heartfelt that it threw the audience was thrown and share in Cleo’s world; when Cleo suffered, we suffer along with her.

Ultimately, Roma reimagines the past and challenges the notion of reality in creative ways by also breaking barriers and stereotypes. No longer are women like Cleo silenced, the film’s protagonist becomes a heroine in her own right.

Demonstrating a genuine appreciation for Hispanic representation and womanhood, Roma can be found on Netflix where viewers can stream the film to their heart’s content.