Alfonso Cuaron, the Oscar-winning director of sci-fi thriller "Gravity", is bringing his star power to Mexico's very earthly debate over controversial energy reform -- and getting the president's attention.
Cuaron, who has not lived in Mexico for years, has taken out full-page newspaper advertisements twice in the past week to challenge President Enrique Pena Nieto to explain the benefits of the legislation.
Last week, he asked the president 10 questions about the constitutional overhaul, which was approved by Congress in December and will open up the state-run energy sector to foreign investment for the first time since 1938.
Pena Nieto thanked Cuaron on Twitter for asking "questions that enrich the debate and that will help to know with more precision the benefits" of the reform.
The government then responded to the questions, insisting that the reform would benefit the nation by lowering energy costs, creating jobs and reversing a steady drop in oil production.
But Cuaron pressed on, publishing a new letter on Monday asking Pena Nieto to organize three televised debates with politicians, experts and "independent voices."
Cuaron's incursion came as lawmakers prepare to debate the "secondary" legislation that will lay out the details of the new law.
His initiative was welcomed by the opposition and artists including fellow film stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, who had leading roles in his 2001 film "Y Tu Mama Tambien."
- 'This is not a movie' -
But Pena Nieto's centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) made clear that the legislation was in the hands of Congress, where the constitutional changes passed in December with the backing of the conservation National Action Party (PAN).
"Welcome to the debate. But the discussion is in the field of the legislature," said David Penchyna, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.
"This is not a movie. This is real life," said Penchyna, a PRI member.
Deputy Energy Minister Lourdes Melgar agreed that lawmakers will be the ones deciding.
"This issue must be debated and resolved in Congress. It is up to the legislators. All discussions are public and open," Melgar told reporters on Tuesday.
In his last missive, Cuaron wrote that the televised debates were needed because of the "poor democratic" process that led to the passage of the constitutional changes in December.
At the time, leftist lawmakers were angry that the PRI had fast-tracked the legislation by skipping debates in committees to bring it to the full floor.
It took just 10 days for the legislation to go from bill to Pena Nieto's desk for his signature.
Edna Jaime, director of the political analysis institute Mexico Evalua, said Cuaron's questions echo the "wide skepticism among Mexicans" regarding the benefits of the reform.
"These are questions that many Mexicans are also making," Jaime told AFP.
"We have found someone who has given an organized expression of our doubts, someone who has a reputation, who will be listened to within and outside Mexico," she said.
- Privatization fear -
Cuaron's plea was backed by senators from the PAN, despite its approval of the reform in December, and the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), which voted against the legislation and is pushing for a referendum.
The left fears that the reform will lead to a privatization of the energy sector, which it sees as a potent symbol of Mexico's sovereignty since foreign oil firms were kicked out of the country in 1938.
The state-run Pemex oil company funds one-third of the federal government's budget and the reform would reduce the firm's tax burden, raising fears that public institutions would lose money.
Pena Nieto says that Pemex would remain a state company and insists that the reform is crucial to modernize the sector and boost oil production.