He may be best known for directing Jennifer Lopez in Selena. But before bringing la Reina de la Música Tejana’s story to life, Gregory Nava co-wrote and directed the independent film El Norte, the story of two indigenous youths who flee their country in the early 1980s due to ethnic and political persecution during the Guatemalan Civil War. They head north and travel through Mexico to the United States, arriving in Los Angeles, California, after an arduous journey. The Mexican/Basque filmmaker and Anna Thomas’ screenplay earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, the first American independent film to be so honored. The film was later selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Best Original Screenplay, El Norte (The North), 57th Academy Awards, Nominated