‘Roma’ For The People | The Nation

As the sun went down in Mexico City last Thursday, thousands of people lined up at the gates of the Los Pinos presidential residence, an enormous leafy complex in the middle of Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park. “Look, it’s the president!” joked a young girl playing in line with her little brother. But with their blankets and thermoses in tow, the crowd wasn’t there to wait for the newly-inaugurated Andrés Manuel López Obrador. They were there for a free screening of Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma.

The film was projected in what was, until a few weeks ago, the presidential heliport. But when Obrador was sworn in on December 1st, he broke the tradition of moving into Los Pinos, opting instead to continue living in his home in the Roma neighborhood—where Cuarón’s film is set—with eventual plans to move closer to the National Palace, Mexico’s federal seat.

Making good on one of his man-of-the-people campaign promises, which included foregoing a security detail and continuing to drive his white Jetta, he opened the doors of Los Pinos to the public for the first time in 84 years. His administration’s intention is to transform it into a cultural center which will include regular events like the Roma screening.

Cuaron’s new film is a fitting début for the newly-public center: the film is an intimate portrait of the relationship between an upper-middle-class Mexican family and the indigenous domestic worker, Cleo, who holds their home together. It’s also homage to Cuarón’s own childhood housekeeper. Set in the 1970s, the tensions around class, race, and gender that it exposes feel current still today. These situate the film within the national conversations around systemic inequality that helped Obrador get elected. 

“A huge component of urban Mexican society is this class structure that involves internal migration, composed of young females coming from outside the city looking for work,” explained Pablo Martinez Zarate, a filmmaker and professor of documentary film and photography at Iberoamericana University.

The screening reflected the new administration’s stated commitment to accessibility: Roma was financed by Netflix, which originally limited its run in theaters and ignited a backlash against restricting such a cinematographic film to costly streaming services viewed on small, private screens, especially when the limited showings sold out almost immediately.

“There are people who don’t have Netflix, who don’t have the Internet,” said Antonio Martínez Marvel, spokesman for the new secretary of culture, adding that the project Los Pinos Para Todos (Los Pinos For All) aims to shine a light on the way that Mexican presidents have lived apart from the people, metaphorically and physically: “when you go to Los Pinos, you feel like you’re in a bubble.”

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