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guillermo del toro mexican film director

Guillermo del Toro: The Hollywood director who has inspired Latinos worldwide

In his long and glittering career, the award-winning titan of cinema has deservedly received praise both on and off the screen.

When Guillermo del Toro won the Academy Award for Best Director for his movie The Shape of Water in 2018, it felt like a big win for Mexico. Thousands of people took to the streets to celebrate in Guadalajara, where the award-winning director was born and raised.

Guillermo’s work and accomplished career became the main topic of conversation in the country. Everyone, from mainstream media to Chicanos on the subway, was talking about it.

In Mexico, Guillermo is not only recognized for his movies but also for all the work he’s done to promote the arts and culture of our country.

In fact, he’s had such a positive influence on Mexican culture that he has been recognized by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), which gave him an Honoris Causa Doctorate for his contribution to cinema.

Throughout his career, Guillermo has always tried to find ways to show his support for the arts. In 1986, he co-founded the Guadalajara International Film Festival, which catapulted Mexican cinema's reputation around the world.

Moreover, he constantly shows his support for Mexican filmmakers. From encouraging his Twitter followers to see the work of immensely talented yet lesser-known Latino directors, to helping young artists fulfill their dreams of studying cinematography with the Jenkins-Del Toro scholarship.

Guillermo del Toro's long and successful career

Over the years, Guillermo del Toro has been involved in a number of iconic movies, from the Spanish Civil War allegory Pan's Labyrinth (2006) to the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water (2017).

His love for telling stories and making movies started at a young age. Before he had graduated high school, he had already shot at least ten short movies.

Guillermo made his first feature-length movie, Cronos, in 1993. Shot in Spanish, this movie gained the director international recognition and had Hollywood producers flocking to work with him.

After the success of Cronos, Guillermo went on to write and direct movies that tackle a range of themes, both in English and Spanish. Among his most famous are The Devil's Backbone, Mimic, Blade II, Hellboy, Pacific Rim, and most recently, a unique take on the classic tale Pinocchio.

Many have labeled Guillermo as a master of the dark fantasy and horror genres. And if you had asked my ten-year-old self, I would point to Pan's Labyrinth as perhaps the most terrifying movies ever made.

However, this view is too reductive. While it is difficult to identify a single underlying theme for his vast body of work, most deal with the idea that people are haunted by their histories – and have to exorcize their memories to live complete lives.

As part of this, Guillermo’s signature endings – or the way he ties up most of his movies – usually involve the protagonists finally coming to terms with the histories and aspects of their lives they find most difficult to resolve – and then using them to become better people.

This is a theme that resonates with all of us, whether we know it or not. It’s for that reason that he has captivated audiences for so long and come to be recognized as a genius of cinema.

guillermo del toro

Finding inspiration in Mexico

Latinos regard Guillermo del Toro highly – but just because he is Latino himself. Rather, it is that he often takes inspiration from Mexican culture for his movies. On more than one occasion, he has admitted to including details of his childhood in Mexico in his movies.

For example, most of the carnival scenes in his 2021 movie Nightmare Alley are inspired by real carnivals he visited when he was a child living in Guadalajara.

“The spider-woman act is one I saw when I was four or five,” he told The Guardian. “I have a photograph of my brother and me on a little horse cart on the day we saw her. I was tiny, and the impression it made on me was so strong.”

Similarly, Mexican art was a big source of inspiration for Pinocchio, his latest stop-motion movie. “Those two figures have every single thing from Mexican sculpture and creativity,” Guillermo admitted.  “They can be an alebrije from Michoacán. They can be a hand-carved saint in a little town church.”

In addition, how the characters deal with death in the movie is reminiscent of many Mexican beliefs and symbolism. 

I think the ability to travel in creative spaces that are global is important as a Mexican, but always remember that your roots will never stop being in Mexico,” Guillermo says.

For his movie The Book of Life, Guillermo also drew inspiration from Mexican folklore. As he told “In The Book Of Life, I wanted to show the Mexico that isn’t out of a tourist guide but has the explosion of light and sound you get when you go to the country.

“There’s an incredibly rich folklore that’s not explored often in cinema – we have two supernatural characters in the movie that embody it. One is La Muerte, a personification of death, and the other is Xibalba, inspired by the idea of hell in southern Mexico that’s survived from Mayan times. It’s fascinating how the old magical ideas of death and the afterlife were merged with the influence of Spanish Catholicism.”

Overall, Guillermo is a source of inspiration for Latino filmmakers. He is living proof that Mexican writers and directors can create so much more than just telenovelas and that no matter where we come from, we can create stories that resonate with everyone. 

As Guillermo said during his Oscar acceptance speech: “The greatest thing our art does, is to erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that when the world tells us to make them deeper.”

Astrid Longi

Astrid is a freelance writer based in Mexico. She has written for a number of high-profile publications, including El Heraldo de México, and began writing for Orgullo Latino in 2022. Her areas of expertise include Latino food and culture.

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