If someone told me a decade ago that the woman who would play Marilyn Monroe in a fictionalized biopic of her life would have the best chance of being the one Latina woman nominated at this year’s Oscars for best actress, I would have asked, “where is Ashton Kutcher? Because clearly, I’m on ‘Punk’d’?”
But what could have seemed like a fever dream may soon become reality, Ana de Armas has done the impossible with her intoxicating portrayal of the classic starlet in Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde,” and the Academy Awards may fall under her spell.
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If she is nominated for best actress, she would be only the fifth Latina ever to be nominated in the category in 95 years. She would follow Brazilian Fernanda Montenegro for “Central Station” (1998), Mexican Salma Hayek for “Frida” (2002), Colombian Catalina Sandino Moreno for “Maria Full of Grace” (2004) and Mexican Yalitza Aparicio for “Roma” (2018).
As we sit in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, the only other Latina actress remotely on awards voters’ radar is Zoe Saldaña in the motion capture role in “Avatar: The Way of Water.” But Saldaña didn’t get any recognition for the first “Avatar,” so will that change this go-round?
There’s a real possibility, however, that a number of women of color could be the dominant force in the category, such as Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”), Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”), Viola Davis (“The Woman King”) and Taylor Russell (“Bones & All”) all generating buzz.
After watching Ariana DeBose become only the second Latina ever to win an acting Oscar for “West Side Story” (2021), after Rita Moreno who played the same role in the 1961 original musical, it’s disheartening to see an overall regression of Latino representation in the acting races.
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The potential obstacles and roadblocks for De Armas will rest on the overall reception of the NC-17 drama. It had a seemingly strong start at the Venice Film Festival, where it had its world premiere, kicking off with a strong 86% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, as more regional critics and journalists weigh in on the fictionalized re-telling of the blonde bombshell the score has plummeted into “rotten” territory. It currently sits at 53% and is dropping fast.
For the 34-year-old Cuban actress, who is on the cover of Variety last week, De Armas has consistently shown promise over her short stint in Hollywood. She got her start in independent features and tiny roles such as Eli Roth’s psychological thriller “Knock Knock” (2015) and Todd Phillips’ “War Dogs” (2016). Her breakout came as the hologram Joi in Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” (2017), somehow bewitching Ryan Gosling despite the fact that her flesh and blood were only pixilated. She graduated to her first leading role as the nurse Marta in Rian Johnson’s murder-mystery “Knives Out” (2019). Aside from garnering lots of critical acclaim, she also earned her first Golden Globe nomination for best actress (comedy or musical). Since then, she continues to command focus, no matter how big or small her role is – for example, stealing the show from Daniel Craig’s 007 as a kick-ass agent in “No Time to Die.”
And Netflix may throw its full weight behind De Armas, who has emerged as the streamer‘s leading contender for major acting attention. After De Armas, their best chances lie with Adam Driver (“White Noise”) and Janelle Monáe from the Knives Out sequel, “Glass Onion.” As Academy voters have shown in the past, middling reviews can’t hold them back from recognizing the bravery of a performer, especially when portraying a real-life figure. Just ask Andra Day for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (2021) and Oscar-winner Renée Zellweger for “Judy” (2019). Neither of those films made many critics’ best-of lists.
The physical transformation into Marilyn Monroe is undoubtedly one of the film’s highlights, as the “Blonde” team is able to recreate iconic images from classics such as “The Seven Year Itch” and “Some Like It Hot.” The film’s makeup and hairstyling should find themselves in the discussion and stand a solid chance at making the category shortlist when it’s announced in December. Furthermore, composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis lay down tender chords and poignant notes that could get some love.
Not that “Blonde” is an easy sell. It’s sexually explicit and has a three-hour runtime. The Oscars are changing, but are they ready to get behind a movie that features first-person POV shots of fellatio?
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