Mexican actor Demian Bichir’s Oscar nomination for his role in A Better Life — a film about an illegal immigrant trying to keep his U.S.-born son out of street gangs — comes at a time when immigration issues are at the forefront Republican primary debates. Hopefully the increased attention the film will receive for Bichir’s nomination will shed a more sympathetic light on immigration.
Arizona will hold primaries on February 28th, two days after Sunday's Academy Awards. As we saw in the 20th GOP debate in Mesa, Arizona, illegal immigration is a major issue for the state whose controversial SB 1070 law is widely considered one of the harshest anti-immigration measures taken in recent U.S. history. During Wednesday’s debate, Mitt Romney praised the law, calling it a "model for the nation."
Kris Kobach, the source of some of Romney's most hard-line ideas about immigration, told the Guardian that he estimates that within the first term of a new Republican presidency, half of the current pool of undocumented aliens – some 5.5 million people – could be forced to resort to self-deportation after being subjected to significantly more aggressive enforcement of immigration documents.
Rick Santorum, who is leading Romney in the polls, holds a stance on immigration that is similarly harsh. Newt Gingrich, however, who has recently fallen behind, claims to be in favor of a limited amnesty program for those who have lived in the U.S. and have ties here; Gingrich has ridiculed Romney’s concept of self-deportation as a fantasy.
Like the character he plays in A Better Life, Demian Bichir immigrated illegally to the U.S.; he arrived in New York City at the age of 22. Bichir benefited from an amnesty program that helped him obtain a Green Card in 1986.
"It was important for me to relate to that time when I arrived in New York," Bichir told the Associated Press about preparing for his role as Carlos Galindo. "Carlos Galindo's dignity is similar to all those 11 million undocumented workers in U.S. They live their lives with ... that power and that passion, and they never give up. That's me."
Bichir is the first male Mexican native to be nominated for an Academy Award since 1964, when Anthony Quinn was nominated for Zorba the Greek, and A Better Life is one of the very few major Hollywood studio films about the lives of illegal immigrants. Though A Better Life didn’t do well at the box office, perhaps the increase of downloads and rentals of the film since its nomination will raise awareness about the multi-faceted nature of illegal immigration.
Photo Credit: Dave_b