Lourdes Portillo, Oscar-Nominated ‘Las Madres — The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo’ Director, Dies at 80

Lourdes Portillo, the prominent Mexican filmmaker and social activist behind The Devil Never Sleeps and the Oscar-nominated Las Madres – The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, has died. She was 80.

Portillo died Saturday at her home in San Francisco, her friend Soco Aguilar told The Hollywood Reporter. She was surrounded by her three sons and a sister. A cause was not given.

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Portillo worked as a writer, director, producer, activist and journalist to create work that centered Latin American and Mexican stories. Las Madres — The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (1985), highlighted the mothers of Argentinian desaparecidos holding weekly protests in Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo during Argentina’s military dictatorship. The documentary was nominated for an Oscar in 1986.

The Devil Never Sleeps (1994) follows Portillo’s own investigation of her uncle’s death in Mexico. It was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2020.

In May, the Academy Museum opened a gallery featuring Portillo as part of its Limited Series and Spotlights. In addition to Las Madres and The Devil Never Sleeps, it also features La Ofrenda: The Days of the Dead and Señorita Extraviada.

“Lourdes Portillo was my beloved friend whom I’ve known since the early 1990s while studying and working in San Francisco,” Aguilar told THR. “Portillo was an extraordinary human, contributing not one but myriad marks during her lifetime through filmmaking and social activism. She was an unconventional, artful talent — a ‘chingona’ whose life will continue impacting others for generations.”

Aguilar cited a quote from Maya Angelou in tribute to his late friend: “If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.”

Portillo was born on Nov. 11, 1943, in Chihuahua, Mexico. She immigrated to Los Angeles with her parents and four siblings at age 13.

In addition to her children, survivors include four siblings, five grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

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