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Yalitza Aparicio: “More needs to be done to improve diversity in film”

A sunny presence in Alfonso Cuarón's film Roma, which won three Oscars in 2019, Mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio is a socially committed woman. A UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Indigenous Peoples since 2019, she also supports the UN campaign, “I say NO to racism” and contributes to the work of the Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights. In parallel, she works to raise funds for schools in her hometown of Tlaxiaco, convinced that education is key to fostering diversity.
Yalitza Aparicio

Interview by Laetitia Kaci and Laura Berdejo
UNESCO

Following your Oscar nomination, you became a spokesperson for the demands of indigenous peoples. How did this commitment come about? How does it manifest itself on the ground?

My fight for the recognition of indigenous peoples didn’t start overnight – it has always been with me. I had long understood that very few people are aware of the diversity of society, mainly because of the lack of presence and plurality of indigenous peoples in the various places of power and in the media. So when I had the opportunity to share this feeling with the rest of society, I did not hesitate to do so, because positive change in society requires the support of everyone. It is a team effort.

Positive change in society requires the support of everyone
Yalitza Aparicio

In recent years, the film industry has been criticized for its lack of diversity. Do you think that attitudes are changing?

For many years, indigenous people were treated by the film industry in a very stereotypical way. Over time, however, society has begun to realize how important it is that indigenous peoples and other agents of cultural diversity are better represented. As role models, they promote inclusion through their stories and are seen as change agents. This industry has its own norms, but we have started to break down some of the barriers by exposing prejudice and offering a more inclusive vision through concrete actions. However, we still have a long way to go to change things.

What would the cultural industries gain from being more open to indigenous cultures?

A better representation of these cultures would allow people to better understand our identity and the cultural richness that exists in the four corners of the world, as each culture is a world to be discovered. Also, greater openness would help us to develop a society that is open to change and more inclusive, not only in discourse but also in everyday life.

Each culture is a world to be discovered
Yalitza Aparicio

What are the main obstacles to the visibility of indigenous peoples?

It is undoubtedly the lack of tolerance and respect for diversity, which we see in attitudes such as discrimination based on dress, skin colour or a certain type of physiognomy. The visibility of indigenous peoples is also hampered by unequal opportunities and a lack of awareness of their unique and authentic cultures. The lack of recognition of indigenous languages is another major obstacle, as it forces their speakers to express themselves in another language in order to integrate into society, while at the same time devaluing their mother tongue. 

The culture of indigenous peoples is under threat. What can be done to preserve it?

In order to collectively preserve the cultural identity of each group, we need to prioritize education, as it is the only way to reach people at their deepest level and influence their development. But this education must be of high quality and give students the tools they need to take into account the diversity of society.

It is in the educational environment, whether school or university, that every child and young person can be made aware of cultural differences. Education can enable them to recognize, from their own world view, the uniqueness of each individual.

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