LOS ANGELES—“We didn’t dare to dream that we would ever be nominated or win again,” Filipino-American Robert “Bobby” Lopez told us backstage at the recent Oscars about winning again the best song honors with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, for their poignant “Remember Me” from “Coco.”
The couple snagged their first best song Oscar for “Let It Go” in 2014. Bobby became the first Fil-Am to win in a major Oscar category when that popular song triumphed.
“Coco,” directed by Lee Unkrich and Darla K. Anderson, won the best animated feature in the show held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. The hit movie, which narrates the saga of Miguel, a budding young musician who somehow ends up in the land of the dead, showcases Mexico’s rich Day of the Dead tradition.
Bobby lost his mother last year and his grandmother a few years ago. “We actually celebrated Day of the Dead in November,” he said.
“‘Remember Me’ is also about the permanent goodbye we have to say when we lose those we love, and how memory and music are the ways we stay connected,” said the cocreator of the acclaimed
musicals, “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q.” “We played the song a few years ago at the funeral of my grandmother (who immigrated to the United States from Manila in 1945), and again at my mom’s last year.”
Kristen said, “From now on, we will always celebrate Day of the Dead in our family,
like Christmas, Hanukkah, Halloween. Day of the Dead has become part of a healing process of our family, because loss is inevitable. Last year was very hard for us. Celebrating Day of the Dead was healing. I want to pass that tradition on to our daughters.”
“It feels great to win again,” Bobby remarked about their second Oscar victory. “It’s a great recognition for people who have worked really hard. Not just us, but the people who worked on ‘Remember Me,’ including Germaine Franco, who arranged it and wrote many other songs in the film, and other folks who poured their love into this film’s music.”
Kristen credited “the incredible Mexican musicians who recorded the bulk of the music down in Mexico City.”
“I’m Filipino,” Bobby answered when he was asked if he spoke Spanish. The composer’s father and paternal grandfather are Filipino, while his mother was Filipino-Scottish-American. Both his paternal grandparents hailed from Iloilo. “My grandmother spoke Spanish. My dad didn’t. He was born on a boat on the way to the US from Manila, so I never learned Spanish, and it’s one of the great regrets of my life.”
The Manhattan-born Bobby, asked for his advice to people who look up to him as a son of immigrants, replied, “I’ve always felt ‘other’ in this country, even though I was raised very assimilated (into the US society). If our success can help someone pursue his dream, that’s good. I know that examples play a huge role, and I want to encourage every brown kid to pursue his dream just like my mom did to me.”
Lee Unkrich replied to our question backstage on the couple’s contribution to “Coco”: “We have been friends with Bobby and Kristen for a long time. I was a huge fan of their work. So, when we started developing ‘Coco,’ initially we thought maybe we would do a full-on musical, so we started working with Bobby and Kristen. And they wrote a bunch of songs for us, including ‘Remember Me.’
“Ultimately, we ended up going down a different path, but ‘Remember Me’ remained the bedrock of the movie, and we just can’t imagine the movie without it.”
“Remember Me” was performed by Gael García Bernal, Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade in the show. “It’s wonderful that these amazing performers performed the song live at the Oscars,” Bobby commented. “I wish there had been time enough to include Benjamin Bratt and Anthony Gonzales, as well.”
Before the star-studded ceremony, Bobby told us, “Being nominated for an Oscar is even more exciting this time around. This time, our kids (Katie and Annie) are old enough to come with us as our dates! And since we have been there before, we aren’t as anxious about the awards and we feel a lot less pressure.”
Exactly four years later, the couple’s “Let It Go” and their other songs from “Frozen” are being performed on Broadway. The stage musical version of the film, which also won the Academy best animated feature film in 2014, is in previews at the St. James Theatre and will open on March 22.
“Winning the Academy award for ‘Let It Go’ was a real highlight of our career and one of many glorious moments that song has given us,” Bobby said. “I hope our Filipino fans can make their way to the St. James Theatre on Broadway to see what we have done with the stage version.”
Ramona Diaz, one of the few Fil-Ams who are voting members of the Academy, attended the ceremony. “Ampas (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) first came into my life more than 20 years ago when the thesis film I made while a graduate student at Stanford, ‘Spirits Rising,’ won a Student Academy Award,” Ramona said about her documentary on women’s role in the 1986 People Power revolution in the Philippines.
“I’ve since become a voting member of the Academy, one of only a handful of Fil-Ams and Filipinos to be invited to join this illustrious organization,” said the filmmaker, who proudly wore a colorful gown by Filipino designer Oliver Tolentino to the Oscars.
“This past weekend was fun. Last Saturday was the Film Independent’s Spirit Awards—the indie film community’s answer to the Oscars—where my latest film, ‘Motherland,’ was nominated for best documentary,” she cited. Ramona and Rey Cuerdo, the film’s producer, got the nod.
“The Spirits happens in Santa Monica, with a chill vibe, traditionally held the day before the Oscars. I was a little nervous, but I calmed down once I was there.”
The Assumption prep and high school alumna added, “Then on Sunday, I attended the Oscars. What brought me to this moment is a career of making films about the Filipino and Filipino-American experience. I hope to continue to be able to do this, to tell our stories on the world stage.”
Another Filipino pride moment was the surprise appearance of a gown by the late designer Pitoy Moreno on the Oscars’ high-fashion red carpet. Veteran actress Rita Moreno drew a lot of media attention by wearing again the stunning gold and black gown by Asia’s fashion czar when she won the Oscar best supporting actress trophy for “West Side Story” in 1962.
More than half a century later, the ball gown was seen by millions of television and online viewers around the world because the Puerto Rican Rita, who is 86, appeared on the show as a presenter of the best foreign language film category.
The acclaimed theater, TV and film actress told Variety, “It was not a last minute decision to wear the dress again. When I learned that I was going to be a presenter, I was thinking, what am I going to wear? And I thought, why not wear my dress again, which I wore 56 years ago when I won? And why not? It was a historic moment, and it is a historic dress. So I did this. I’m so proud that I could still wear the damn thing.”
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