Natalie Portman took the stage at the 84th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday to announce the year’s Best Actor nominees. When she introduced Demián Bichir for his role in “A Better Life,” she identified his character as an “undocumented immigrant”—and not with the pejorative ‘illegal’ term.
Speaking to Bichir, Portman said, “You created so much empathy for another human being that we all left the theater looking at the world differently. As Carlos Galindo, an undocumented immigrant fighting to give his son the opportunities he never had, you made us face very true portrait of a human being no one had ever dared us to consider before.”
“It was very meaningful for Natalie Portman to say ‘undocumented immigrant’ in a room full of people that may be accustomed to hearing the i-word. Whether her own or that of the writers, it was a meaningful choice that shows progress, and it would have been impossible for her to talk about the dignity and depth in Demian Bichir’s portrayal had she used the i-word,” said Mónica L. Novoa, campaign coordinator for the Drop the I-Word Campaign.
“First, no one is illegal. There are a bunch of laws and rules that we’ve created throughout the history of humankind to have some order, but you can’t be illegal as a human being. You probably don’t have the proper documentation to do certain things or transit through certain places. But you aren’t illegal,” Bichir recently said, in an interview with the Huffington Post.
Portman went on to close her introduction by saying “you gave a voice to the voiceless in the film ‘A Better Life.’ “
“I really wished she would not have said he ‘gave a voice to the voiceless,’” Novoa said. “Nothing is further from the truth.”
“People without documents of all ages and from all walks of life are fearlessly leading the charge for immigrant rights across the country. And specifically day laborers, through NDLON, with and without papers, are organizing and telling the truth about their current conditions and demanding workers’ rights and protections. There are many voices out there telling their own stories and fighting their own fights.”