Pixar’s Coco: An Opportunity to Demand More
It’s been nearly a month since the U.S. release of Disney Pixar’s Coco, and audiences everywhere continue to be moved by the film’s characters and filial message. The acceptance of this motion picture globally is also undeniable with the film not only knocking Marvel’s The Avengers out of its spot as #1 highest grossing film of all time in Mexico but also raking in millions from audiences in China who have truly embraced the cultural familiarity of the film. And for the first time since 1991, Coco is being released in Spain in its Mexican-Spanish dubbed version instead of revamping it with voice actors from the European country itself.
Coco has truly been a gem from Pixar and not without lack of trying. The authenticity that took place on screen is due in many ways to the dedication and effort put forth by Pixar to be true to the culture that they were representing, from visiting Oaxaca to bringing on consultants, and it showed. At a time when tensions in the country are at an all-time high and negative rhetoric about Mexicans, and Latinx groups in general, exist in every crevice of ignorance–even in the words spewed by those who inhabit the White House–a film like this was necessary. I emphasize Mexicans because it matters who we address when we talk about a project with the success that Coco is having.
Coco is Mexican representation before it is Latinx representation because Latinx is not monolithic. This was a giant leap for Latinx representation, as I’m sure the importance of family embedded in our cultures reverberated with Latin Americans everywhere, but it’s important to acknowledge that this took place in Mexico and the characters are Mexican. Latinx in the U.S. will soon be the majority population, and they come from all walks of life, races, genders, countries, and experiences. Coco has done immensely well of portraying one of those countries and a big part of their culture, but we as an audience have an opportunity here to demand more. As beautiful a tradition as Dia De Los Muertos is, moving forward from here it should not be the only aspect of Mexican culture that is deemed marketable enough to explore in terms of representation. We should also demand that the media industry dispel the myth that all Latinx are Mexican, and push for more visibility for those from Central and South American backgrounds. As a Mexican-American, I’ll be the first to say that it literally brought tears to my eyes to see myself and where I come from on the big screen, but it was also a reminder of just how important it is for all underrepresented groups to be able to feel that.
The lack of inclusiveness amongst and within ourselves in the Latinx community may sometimes be a topic of confusion or tension, but media is such a great tool for addressing these conversations of identity. Acknowledging where we constantly fail to include queer Latinx and Afro-Latinx, for example, is a major part of why the shift in the agency for writers and producers of color that is happening in television right now is so exciting and important, but it is also a shift that needs to make its way into the industry altogether. It is imperative that what we see on screen is reflective of the creators behind the scenes. Representation does not mean diversity that falls flat and fails to address the complexities of the group being represented. It means that in order for this to work, the people who write these stories and experiences NEED to be part of that group or at the very least they must be consulted and not brushed aside, given a voice and credit. (It is not an impossible feat, I continue to applause Aziz Ansari for holding himself accountable so that Lena Waithe had the proper space and authority to tell her story as it should be because Aziz is not a black, lesbian woman, but I digress.) This is why Coco was such a breath of fresh air, for how much of the writing and casting and attention to detail was considered. And my friends, while I understand why many were upset that it seemed like it would be a rip-off of Book of Life, I hope that after watching it you could see where it differed. I love both films immensely and Book of Life deserved better but both are worthy of being reflected on in how much progress has been made. Even just the mere fact that Spanish was such a huge part of Coco was an amazing touch, and its release of a Spanish-only dub was something I never thought would happen; it’s not often that audiences of color are catered to in terms of accessibility.
So I want you to not settle. Coco was more than we could have asked for, from the writing to the music and the tears it made us shed, but I think we may agree that it was about time and it should not end here.
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