Historical Clarification: Del Toro Is the Second Mexican Director to Win Venice's Coveted Golden Lion

Mexican director Luis Buñuel receiving the Golden Lion.

Mexican director Luis Buñuel receiving the Golden Lion.

Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro was presented yesterday with the Golden Lion, the top prize at the 74th edition of the Venice Film Festival, for his American sci-fi fantasy film The Shape of Water. In his acceptance speech, the Guadalajara-born director mentioned that the win marked a first for a Mexican, and dedicated the award to young Mexican and Latin American directors.

Many media outlets—including Cinema Tropical's TropicalFRONT—reported the win as the first for a Mexican filmmaker (and the second for a Latin American director after the win by Venezuela's Lorenzo Vigas in 2015), yet exactly 50 years ago (on September 8, 1967), Spanish-born Mexican director Luis Buñuel had won the top award at Venice for his film Belle de Jour, a French-Italian coproduction starring French actress Catherine Deneuve. Additionally, Buñuel was the first recipient of the first Golden Lion Honorary Award in 1969, which was created to celebrate film professionals that have made an important contribution to cinema.

Luis Buñuel was born in 1900 in Calanda, Spain, and after living in France, and the United States, he went into exile due to the Spanish Civil War, moving to Mexico City in 1946. Buñuel obtained Mexican citizenship just three years later, in 1949—renouncing his Spanish nationality, as at the time neither country allowed for dual citizenship—and lived in the country until his death in July 1983. It was as a Mexican filmmaker that he received several of his most prestigious awards, such as the Best Director Award at Cannes for the Mexican film Los Olvidados in 1950, the Palm d'Or for the Spanish-Mexican film Viridiana in 1961, Venice's Golden Lion, the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for the French film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in 1972.

Due to the prevailing Eurocentrism in cinema studies, as in other aspects of culture, Buñuel is most often credited as a Spanish national. This is incorrect. Though his films before and after becoming a Mexican citizen may have drawn on Spanish or European themes, the artist was Mexican for most of his career.