The Oscar Is Mexican: Academy Award Statuette Modeled After Emilio ‘El Indio’ Fernández
The story behind the Academy Award’s Oscar statuette is itself one fit for the movies.
It starts in the 1920s during the Mexican Revolution. Emilio Fernández was studying in Mexico’s military college when he dropped out to take up arms and support the revolutionary cause of Adolfo de la Huerta.
Forced into exile, a defeated De la Huerta left Mexico in 1924 to open a music school in Hollywood. A less lucky Fernández was captured and sentenced to 20 years in prison. However, he was only in jail for 8 months when he managed to escape. It is said he used dynamite to blow himself out of jail. He soon joined back up with De la Huerta in Los Angeles where he began working as an extra in Hollywood films.
It was in 1928 that friend and fellow Mexican Dolores del Río approached Fernández with the proposition of being the nude model for the Academy Award.
Fernández was modest and unwilling at first, but ultimately took the job, and is now forever tied to the Academy Award and its statuette, the “Oscar.”
Fernández eventually returned to Mexico where he wrote, directed and starred in dozens of films, receiving critical acclaim for several of them.
In 1946, his masterpiece, “María Candelaria,” was the first Mexican film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival of France. It won the Grand Prix prize for best feature film. And in 2002, the U.S. Library of Congress named “La Perla,” which he co-wrote and directed with John Steinbeck, to its National Film Registry.
In Mexico, Emilio Fernández was known as “El Indio,” Spanish for “The Indian,” a tribute to his Indigenous heritage and subject of many of his films.
Fernández’s place in Mexican cinema is well known and highly regarded, but his role in American film history as both an actor and muse for the ultimate Hollywood award has been largely forgotten.
As you watch the Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night, remember the story of how a young man in Mexico went from fighting in a revolution to being the model for the “Oscar.” To El Indio Fernández!
This an updated version of a post we first published February 26, 2012.