When the 2012 Academy Award nominations were announced earlier this week, one of the bigger surprises among the nominees was Demián Bichir, a popular Mexican performer nominated in the Best Actor category for his turn as a struggling California immigrant in Chris Weitz’ A Better Life. The little seen film and this nomination bring attention to the human condition of a U.S. immigrant population too often seen in this country as an abstract laboring body.
In A Better Life, Bichir plays an immigrant gardener from Mexico, living in East L.A., where he struggles also as a single father to a teenage son, played by José Julián. After purchasing a new truck and equipment in an effort to start his own business, Bichir’s character experiences a series of pitfalls, ultimately resulting in him being arrested by the police for driving without a license and facing deportation back to Mexico, without his son.
In responding to his Oscar nomination, Bichir said that he hopes that the attention he is receiving will bring more people to view the film, concluding, “I dedicate this nomination to those eleven million human beings who make our lives easier and better in the U.S.”
Even prior to Bichir entering the awards conversation, A Better Life evidenced the potential use of popular media to promote immigrant rights and even influence public policy. The filmmakers behind this work held a series of screenings of the film in Washington D.C., including in front of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, where lawmakers and activists used the movie as a springboard for symposia on immigration rights and reform.
Of course, the use of film, music, art and literature to promote public causes is a centuries-old phenomenon. However, it seems only recently that popular media in this country have begun to take seriously the issue of immigrant rights. In addition to A Better Life, French-Spanish rock singer Manu Chao has also recently gotten involved in this cause, last year releasing a video for his hit song “Clandestino,” which prominently featured Maricopa County’s infamous “Tent City” jail. The singer also performed a free concert in Phoenix in September in protest of SB 1070 and other pieces of anti-immigrant legislation.
Other popular media figures who have recently begun promoting immigrant rights and reform include television star Eva Longoria, Mexican movie actor Gael García Bernal and singer and native Tucsonan Linda Ronstadt.
As more and more public figures begin to promote issues related to the condition of our nation’s immigrant population, they will invariably bring attention and support to a cause that seems destined only to burgeon in the months and years ahead.