“Roma” captivates the reality of indigenous life and social issues in Mexico during the 1970s in a way that no one else has. This monochromatic film sets the stage in the Cold War era and post-revolutionary Mexico where the shock of indigenous and peasant land usurpation is still felt. Employment is visually distinguishable between class, race and gender lines. White Mexicans, or Criollos, live in fine homes tidied by indigenous women.
Director Alfonso Cuarón tells the story through the eyes of Cleo, a timid Mixtec domestic worker for the home of whiter Mexicans. Cleo, starred by Yalitza Aparicio, has to navigate through the social dynamics present at the time for a rural Indian woman living in Mexico City. Cleo tends the fracturing family while trying to figure out how she will get by alone with a child on the way.
For a moment in calm air, Cleo is pictured washing clothes on the roof then zooms out to show the backdrop of other Indian women washing clothes on adobe homes in synchrony. Although family anxiety gives a perspective of underlying expectations of Indian help, the family supports and loves Cleo in her times of stress.
Cuarón seeps nuanced details of the political atmosphere at the time. Crackdown on student protests hints to the massacre of Tlatelolco of 1968. Indian domestic workers finish their day and go to segregated bars for peasant Mestizos and Indians where they mention land usurpation that causes them to work in the cities.
“Roma” innovatively details realistic social issues of Mexican life during the time in a way no other Latin American film has. Cantinflas’ “Por Mis Pistolas,” sets Mexican Indians as unintelligible dark bandits with a Tigerlily-like princess as the only coherent, light-skinned Indian among them.
“La India Maria” reveals that Indians are only able to have a role on Latin American TV if they portray bumpkin stereotypes. Even Jesus Helguera’s paintings that iconized a form of Aztec gallantry only romanticized indigenous people of the past while ignoring contemporary Indian people at the time.
“Roma” changes indigenous portrayal in Latin America. Since its release, Latin American fans have exploded on Twitter and Instagram for incorporating indigenous beauty rather than Eurocentric standards of beauty. Aparicio won an Oscar for her performance in “Roma,” making her the second Mexican and first indigenous woman to do so. Overall, the film was an artistic production that connected with Latin American’s desire to see a candid portrayal of Indian Mexico.