‘Roma’s’ Latina producer Gabriela Rodriguez could be on the brink of an Oscar first

In many ways, “Roma” — filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron‘s intimate reflection on the ups and downs of his ’70s middle-class childhood in Mexico City — is testing some untapped waters of awards season protocol. For one, it could become the first film produced by a streaming outlet, namely Netflix, to get a shot at Best Picture. To help achieve that goal it will get a run in select theaters beginning November 21 and is expected to play in 20 countries before it heads online on December 14.

“Roma” could also stand alongside 1993’s “Schindler’s List” and 2011’s “The Artist”  as the third black-and-white film to take Oscar’s top prize since 1960’s “The Apartment.” The winner of the Venice International Film Festival’s coveted Golden Lion could also go on to compete for Best Foreign-Language Film as well, since it is Mexico’s official entry. Plus, it has a solid chance to be the first title to triumph in the foreign category along with Best Picture, That would also make “Roma” to be the first fully subtitled title to reign supreme. Critics have already have done their part by giving the epic family drama a coveted 99 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

But given that Cuaron is not just the director of “Roma,” but also its writer, producer, director of photography and editor for his labor of love that took 15 years to get made, it’s a good thing he has a loyal, sharp and talented right-hand woman by his side, namely Gabriela Rodriguez, 38. If all goes as planned, she could become the first Latina producer to take home a little gold man.

Rodriguez has her Venezuelan mother to thank for her big break in the movie biz 14 years ago, she says.

“I was in New York city trying to find my way with no money for college. My mom was on a plane to visit me and she knew I was trying to find a way to intern. By coincidence, she was sitting with a guy she knew and he told her his girlfriend had worked for Alfonso at his office. He had just finished the ‘Harry Potter’ movie. I sent in my CV and was screened the next day. Two days later, I met Alfonso and became his personal assistant as he worked on ‘Children of Men.’ “

In the heat of filming, she says, “He will say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I tell him, ‘I’m like this because you are the only mentor I have.’ Publicly, he says I am the one who holds the whip. He is just the victim. But I think it is like that line from ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ : ‘The man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.’ “

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Despite strong word of mouth and a name-brand director, Rodriguez knows “Roma” has some speed bumps to overcome when it comes to mainstream audiences and more close-minded awards voters. “It is still a movie that is in black and white and is in Spanish and Mixteco. And it takes place in Mexico in 1970. But I believe that with the combination of what we are accomplishing with Netflix, which is a wide theatrical release, and a release on a platform with a reach of 130 million plus, people will have the choice to see “Roma” in remote places where it would never have had a release in a standard way. We are hoping for the best of both worlds, both the theatrical experience and the wide access that Netflix can give it.”

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