'Inocente': An artist's journey from homelessness to the Academy Awards

INOCENTE-OSCARS

Image Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Affleck and Hathaway, Lawrence and Day-Lewis may have been the most notable winners on Sunday night, the artists who cemented their Hollywood legacies at the 2013 Academy Awards. But no one’s life has changed more this year from starring in an Oscar-winning movie than Inocente Izucar. The name might not ring a bell, but you’ll remember the acceptance speech for Best Documentary Short, when Inocente‘s co-director Sean Fine introduced her to the world. “We want to thank this young lady who was homeless just a year ago and now she’s standing in front of all of you,” he said. “She’s an artist and all of you are artists and we feel like we need to start supporting the arts. They’re dying in our communities. And all of us artists, we need to stand up and help girls like her be seen and heard. It’s so important. Thank you.”

Fine and his wife and collaborator, Andrea Nix Fine, discovered Izucar in San Diego four years ago, when the Oscar-nominated duo (War Dance) were searching for subjects for a documentary about homelessness. Then 15, Izucar and her family moved 30 times in the previous nine years, never living in the same place for more than three months. Her father, who’d illegally brought his family north of the border when Izucar was a child, had been deported back to Mexico, and her mother struggled to support her four children, toiling at a series of low-paying odd jobs. But it wasn’t her plight that made Izucar so compelling a subject; it was her talent and her spirit. She is a promising artist who starts each day painting bright and extravagant makeup on her face, and after the filmmakers connected with her through a San Diego non-profit called ARTS: A Reason to Survive that supports at-risk youngsters, they spent the next two years documenting her life. “I don’t even want to imagine where I would be if there wasn’t the documentary and everything that’s going on with it,” says Izucar. “I’m really thankful to Sean and Andrea.”

Since working on the documentary, Izucar, now 19, moved into her own apartment — which she shares with her two adopted pet bunnies — and she had a successful art show in New York City in August, right before the documentary aired on MTV. Last night, she elected to forgo her audacious makeup and her trademark red Chuck Taylor sneakers for something more red-carpet appropriate. “I wish I had my sneakers,” says Izucar, who wore heels for the occasion. “But I was barefoot most of the time because they hurt. I almost tripped getting up there too, because of my heels.”

It was an amazing Cinderella-like evening for the trio — they described the professional stylists who helped them prep as “fairy godmothers” — though there was no midnight curfew this night. Armed with their Oscars, the trio basked in the glow of their success as Hollywood’s elite treated them as three of its own deep into Monday morning. “Sean’s speech struck a chord, you could just tell,” says Nix Fine. “Peter Fonda walked right up to Sean very purposely and thanked him.”

“He said, ‘Sometimes we forget this is about art and artists. We forget about that,’ says Fine. “Daniel Radcliffe was right backstage and he was like, ‘Thank you for saying that.’ I was really impressed how they reacted because I do think it is so important. And we do forget about that sometimes. It’s great to support the arts when it’s at the Oscar level, but what about when it’s at the junior-high level or below. Or the high-school level. The artists wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for great teachers and support. And that’s dying in our country. From the reaction we got, all the stars know that too.”

Izucar attracted her own share of attention, as Hollywood legends recognized her from being on stage and asked her about her art. She had plenty of good news to share: she recently launched a website on which collectors can view and purchase her art, and she’s been invited to do an art show at the National Art Club in New York this summer. “I want to do advocacy with the film and there are just so many things I want to do now,” says Izucar, who also harbors dreams of joining the circus. “I want to a write a kids book. I definitely want to go to college soon but I’m not sure what for. I think college is definitely where you learn new things and it’s the place for experiences. I wish I could do everything, and maybe I can.”

Inocente

Image Credit: Pablo Durana

Her story is far from finished, in more ways than one. Her inspirational tale has caught the eyes of producers who recognize the potential for a Pursuit of Happyness type underdog story. “We did have some producers talk to us last night, but we’re talking to a producer ourselves about that already,” says Fine. “Andrea and I are developing a screenplay right now. We’re in the process of doing that.”

Should Izucar’s amazing story eventually get the full Hollywood treatment, perhaps she’ll return to the Dolby Theatre someday for another Oscar ceremony. Perhaps her life story will attract A-list acting talent on par with those who took home their own statues Sunday night. Like, maybe, Daniel Day-Lewis. Don’t scoff; the two are already acquaintances. “There was a great moment at the party [Sunday] night where Daniel Day-Lewis and Inocente were having their photo taken together, and he leaned down and kissed her on the head,” says Fine.

“And I was sweaty so it was kind of gross,” sighs Izucar.

A little sweat never hurt anyone — especially someone who starred in Last of the Mohicans. (I’m melting myself just thinking about the tender Kodak moment.) If Hollywood truly is a dream factory, than Sunday truly was one of those amazing nights that only the Oscars can conjure.

Inocente can be viewed online here or downloaded from iTunes.

Read more:
Oscars 2013: Full winners list
Oscars 2013: The best acceptance speeches
All of EW’s Oscar coverage

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