Guillermo del Toro paid tribute to Mexico, to immigrants and to the borderless "world of filmmakers" as he accepted Oscars for best director and best picture Sunday night.
Del Toro's "The Shape of Water," a sumptuous, sensual fairytale that is a Technicolor ode to outsiders, was the evening's top winner with four Academy Awards. It also won best original score and production design.
"Growing up in Mexico, I thought this could never happen," del Toro said. "It happens."
Del Toro's win marks the fourth time in five years that a Mexican director has walked away with the best director awards. Del Toro's friends and countrymen Alfonso Cuaron won for "Gravity" in 2013 and Alejandro Inarritu won back-to-back Oscars for "Birdman" in 2014 and "The Revenant" in 2015.
Del Toro called his fellow directors "my compadres," saying he was an immigrant like them and had spent the last 25 years living "in a country all of our own" — partly in America, partly in Europe and elsewhere.
"I think that the greatest thing our art does and our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that when the world tells us to make them deeper," Del Toro said.
Then he thanked Fox Searchlight for accepting his "mad pitch" to make a fairytale that was both a musical and a thriller about an amphibious creature and a mute woman falling in love.
"The Shape of Water" tells the story of a mute cleaning lady, Eliza (Sally Hawkins) who conspires with her gay friend and neighbor (Richard Jenkins) and her co-worker (Octavia Spencer) to rescue a muscular merman that is being held captive in a secret Cold War-era government laboratory.
It is a love story between the two voiceless creatures that includes messages of tolerance and insurrection.
"I want to dedicate this to every young filmmaker ... in every country in the world," del Toro said, encouraging filmmakers to use fantasy to tell the world about things that are real.
Some mainstream moviegoers were turned off by the film's fantastical premise — a woman's love affair with a fish-like monster — but the Academy awarded del Toro for creating a technical masterpiece that is also an homage to cinema. Del Toro's film manages to be both nostalgic for the feel of another era and also expose its nastiness.
"The Shape of Water" was considered a front-runner for best director but faced a tight field of competitors whose wins would have also carried strong storylines.
In the director category, he beat out Jordan Peele ("Get Out") who would have been the first African-American to win the award and Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird") who would have been the second woman in the Oscars 90 year history to win it. Other nominees were Christopher Nolan ("Dunkirk) and Paul Thomas Anderson ("Phantom Thread").
Backstage, del Toro clutched his two golden statues — one in each hand — and spoke about the importance of honoring your roots.
"I think every time we can demonstrate in any form — be it sport, science, art, culture, anywhere — what we have to bring to the world discourse, to the world conversation, it is extremely important. And it is extremely important when we do it, to remember where we're from. Because it's honoring your roots, honoring your country."
"My next stop, I'm going to see my mom and my dad this week," del Toro said, holding up both Oscars. "I'm going back home with these two babies."
For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture