Who is Oscar?

Sure, they’ve got the same name as the world’s most famous grouch, but the many golden guys being given out tonight are said to be modeled after a guy named Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez, a Mexican director who lived in Hollywood during the 1920s.


While there’s no direct proof that Fernandez is Mr. Oscar, it’s a legend that’s held across the board, from Wikipedia to textbooks. NPR did a story on the mysterious origin of the statuette earlier this week and cited the Mexican and larger Latino community’s embracing of their culture’s role in Hollywood history. Fernandez would grow to become an extremely influential director who put Mexico on the cinematic map with films like 1946’s Maria Candelaria, which took the top prize at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival.

NPR reporter Shereen Marisol Meraji spoke to USC professor Laura Isabel Serna about the phenomenon, and she supported that while there is no direct evidence that Fernandez is Oscar, the myth persists for a good reason.

“I think it would be wonderful if it were true, because it would be another bit of evidence of the involvement of Mexicans in particular, and Latinos more generally, in American cinema during its most formative years,” she said.

Whoever Oscar truly is, his significance cannot be underestimated in popular culture, and his importance has only grown in the past 87 years. Tonight one Mexican director, Alfonso Cuaron, is nominated for best director for Gravity, continuing the tradition of great Mexican-American cinema and carrying on the legacy of the man who may or may not be Oscar.

[h/t NPR]