In the last three years, there has been no Academy Award ceremonies without nominees –and winners– from Latin America. And its 91st edition is no exception. The impact of these golden statues goes far beyond the award, since the audiovisual industry is a catalyst for development in our region.
But 2019 is special: Latin American cinema has broken several records and is making history among mainstream film industry. Yalitza Aparicio became the first woman of indigenous origin nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress; and Roma, the movie where she stars, was the first Spanish-language film nominated for Best Picture in the history of the awards. Moreover, recognition to Latin American cinema is trespassing the Oscar’s red carpet: in Sundance, Uruguayan director Lucia Garibaldi won the award for the Best Director, and the Colombian film Monos won the Special Prize of the Jury, one of the most prestigious of all the competition.
Juan Jose Campanella, Argentine director of The Secret in Their Eyes and winner of the Oscar in 2010 for Best Foreign Film, recently highlighted it at an IDB event in Mendoza: "The growth potential is huge, (...) three guys here at Godoy Cruz can do the next Angry Birds. So this is within the reach of anyone, very democratizing," he said.
Undoubtedly Latin American and Caribbean films are going through a great moment, and with it, the creativity of the region is reaching an unprecedented international echo. But the reason why we must pay attention to this evolution goes beyond the camera flashes, the dresses, or the awards themselves: film, and creativity in general, can become a key industry for the development of Latin America.
What does cinema have to do with development?
The film industry is one of the sectors within creative economies that can benefit the most the region's economy. For example, it is estimated that about 38% of the production cost of a film generates income in other sectors, since it involves investing in technicians, clothing, music, design, hotels and transportation, among others. Similarly, the film industry represents about US$136 billion, if one adds the numbers after box office sales, distribution rights, streaming and other revenues. It is no coincidence that three of the 20 largest movie-producing countries in the world are located in our region: Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.
In other latitudes, cinema has become so important that, in countries like Nigeria, it already generates revenues around US$5 billion and is responsible for the creation of more than one million jobs.
But let’s zoom into Latin America, again: in Mexico, for example, the gross domestic product (GDP) coming from the film industry grew by 15%, while the national GDP only grew by 2.2% between 2015 and 2016; in the Dominican Republic, cinema contributed US$66 million to the local economy last year; while in Colombia, box office collection generated a record of US$170 million in 2016.
Infographic: the numbers behind Latin American cinema (in Spanish)
Stranger than fiction
We all know that cinema is a clear and faithful reflection of our societies. The stories we see on the big screen are based on those tangible realities that we live day to day, shining light onto the social problems and the culture of our countries.
"Support this type of industries, not only because they can eventually become an industry that works, but it is also important because animation, film, music are expressions of art that represent the identity of a country," said Gabriel Osorio, Chilean director and Oscar winner for the animated short Bear Story in 2016.
What happens, then, when cinema can be a trigger for change and then improve the lives of our citizens?
Let's look closely at the cases of Mexico and Chile.
Along with the premiere of the Mexican film Roma, a group of female senators from various political parties presented an initiative to reform the Federal Labor Law, which included protections for domestic workers such as Cleo, the main character of the film. The law included limiting the working day to 8 hours and expanded social benefits established in the bill, including access to social security. In addition, the Mexican Supreme Court resolved a historic case in this regard, guaranteeing access to the social security system to more than 2 million domestic workers. On the other hand, the Mexican Institute of Social Security, better known as IMSS, was appointed to design and implement the affiliation program.
Alfonso Cuarón's Roma, nominated for Best Picture at the 2019 Academy Awards
"It is difficult to measure the concrete impact of a film as in the case of Roma, but it is definitely a vehicle to open conversations and trigger dialogue," says Alexandra Haas, president of the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred).
If we look further south, the case of Chile also reflects the power of cinema in our societies. The victory of A Fantastic Woman as Best Foreign Film at the Oscars last year opened the debate on the rights of transgender people, and their ability to officially change their legal gender and name on national IDs, passports and registries.
"Cinema, like art, tries to understand the human being better. This film proposes to defy where the limits of empathy are. [...] Today, in my identity document there is a name that is not my name. And it's because the country where I was born does not give me that possibility," said Daniela Vega, the first transgender woman to win an Oscar, after the award ceremony.
A Fantastic Woman's Oscar Win, in 2018
With this speech and the attention the film got, lawmakers speeded up the process of discussing the bill. Almost eight months after the Oscar, and five years of debate in Congress, Chile put into force the Gender Identity Law, which now allows transgender people over 18 to change their names and gender.
Cinema, like the rest of the so-called Orange Economy, composed by the creative industries, shows that it can be an engine of development in the region. For this, it is necessary to implement the appropriate public policies that foster the creative ecosystem, such as what we described in this recent publication: Public Policies for Creativity and Innovation: Promoting the Orange Economy in Latin America and the Caribbean. Download it for free here!