What is Oscar-Nominated 'Roma" About? Yalitza Aparicio Delivers Age-Old Woman's Story in Redeeming Film

For a realistic experience that immerses the viewer into a broad slice of life, Alfonso Cuaron's Oscar-nominated Roma tells the tale of one young woman facing hardship within an ultra-masculine society.

Yalitza Apricio, nominated for a coveted Best Actress award at the 2019 Academy Awards, gives a touching, critically acclaimed performance with very little dialogue but much realism within a world she is dedicated to navigating with all her young heart. Yet, as Cleo, she appears joyless and numb.

Notably, Apricio's nomination is the first for an Indigenous Mexican woman and only the second for a Mexican actress, after Salma Hayek's nomination for Frida in 2002, the New York Times reported.

"At that moment, when he offered me the role, all I could think about was that it was an opportunity to make my mother proud," Aparicio, 25, told the Times recently, speaking through a translator. She had just learned of her nomination while surrounded in a hotel room by the team that accompanies her on her press tours. "And I assume my mom is even more proud at this moment."

Aparicio's nomination is one of 10 for Roma, including Best Picture and Supporting Actress for Marina de Tavira, who plays Cleo's employer, Senorita Sofia.

Cleo's home exists within Sofia's family, for whom she is the nanny and maid. Cleo's life revolves around the mother and three children in a 1970s Mexico City middle-class family. They all love her and treat her as one of the family.

Even though we meet a wide array of characters, the core of the plot remains Cleo's story. Seemingly not very worldly, she finds herself in a universal conundrum that women have endured since the beginning of time: she is alone and pregnant after her boyfriend ditches her.

From a viewer's perspective, Cleo is the last person on earth you want to see hurt, as she is loyal, yet sad regarding her situation. Cuaron, the frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Director, draws in the viewer-as-participant via spectacular black-and-white cinematography in the ultra-detailed story.

Mexican society is an overtly masculine one, which Cuaron layers like an oppressive shroud throughout the storyline. It drives the male louts' motivations in the story, including when Cleo's ex-boyfriend ditches her unexpectedly and cusses her out before he runs back to his hyped-up male friends. His fear comes across — but hers is magnified times a thousand as she faces the prospect of giving birth alone.

But as women have done throughout history, her closest woman friend, Sofia—whose own husband abandons her and their children—embraces Cleo when she needs it most. Sofia likewise needs a friend and support system.

The male characters may play on the fringes of the story, but their influence filters the women's lives.

Cuaron instills some fantastical elements into the cinematography, perhaps as an homage to Mexican societal beliefs and traditions. Their roles are up for interpretation.

Two climaxes are very realistic, but incredibly difficult to watch, as film reviewer Brian Tallericodescribes as " a couple of emotional scenes that will shake to the core those who care about these characters."

However, the disturbing scenes are necessary for Cleo to grow and redeem herself in terms of life blows in the wake of an unexpected pregnancy, relationship loss and finding her true place in the world. Her journey is universal if not yet fully embraced by Hollywood mainstream movies.

Again, what matters most is the women's relationship and the closeness Cleo's young charges feel for her in what Cuaron calls his semi-autobiographical film since he based the story on the women who raised him.

In a mainstream industry in which most stories on film are still told from a male perspective, it is a relief to experience Cuaron's decidedly independent, female-driven story in all its difficulties, but ultimately redemptive glory as Cleo recovers her life and ends up on a better side, despite the hardships.