“Coco” Offers Accurate Exploration of Culture

CHRISTIE NEO / AGGIE

Disney got it right for the Mexican community

As children, we are often blind to the cruel realities of the world and how they shape our lives. The underrepresentation of diverse stories in the entertainment industry and, in general, the lack of diversity across other media platforms, is one such reality.

Until more recently, I didn’t realize such underrepresentation contributed to the my dislike of my brown skin, the language my family spoke or the inerasable culture my roots were grounded in. Comparatively, it might not seem so cruel. However, it breeds not only false expectations about who we will interact with but also — especially for people of color — an inescapable feeling of degradation. The critically acclaimed, spirited and endearing Pixar animated film “Coco” helps alter these typically white narratives.

“Coco” follows Miguel, a young boy conflicted by his love of music and his family’s deep aversion to anything remotely related to music. He aspires to follow in the footsteps of his idol and become a successful musician, too, ending up in the Land of the Dead during the celebration of Day of the Dead to prove himself and uncover his family’s history. Miguel is misguided and doesn’t realize what his kin already know and try to push: the ultimate importance of strong familial relationships over individual pursuits, which take away from that.

The movie has been applauded for its stunning visuals, particularly for scenes of the Land of the Dead, but this is to be expected of a Pixar film. What really captured me was the less outwardly vibrant but just as detailed scenes set in the fictional town of Santa Cecilia, Mexico. It brought me back to when I, too, would run through the streets of a small Mexican town like Miguel during summer visits to my family’s city. From the tamales to the cobbled roads to the zapateria to el jardin, “Coco” stayed true to its country of inspiration.

Elena, Miguel’s eccentric grandmother, is a source of laughs. She is the overbearing, extra-loving grandma many can relate to, but she also embodies attributes of a stereotypical Mexican grandmother, making her especially poignant to members of the broader Latinx community. For example, she uses her chancla (sandal) as a weapon. If you offend grandma by not eating all the food she puts on your plate, beware of a flying chancla headed your way.

The enchanting music magnified by the theater’s speakers and the magical imagery on screen made me want to get up from my seat and dance throughout the film. It was delightful just to hear the correct pronunciation of Spanish words and the slight, natural accents the characters held when speaking English. This can be attributed to the all-Latinx cast and, again, demonstrates the crew’s commitment to staying true to culture.

The storyline teaches the audience about the Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead, while neatly balancing topics of family, heritage, life and death. This combined with the animation quality, music, attention to detail and inherent liveliness of Pixar productions makes “Coco” an uplifting breath of fresh air in a heavy world atmosphere.

But it’s quite possible, however, that the greatest gift “Coco” has to offer the Mexican, Mexican-American and Latinx communities, is the accurate portrayal of our community and lives — more than most films have offered us. In this way, our people get to bask in a glamorous light we have not often had the opportunity to experience and to expand our culture to a broader, more visible dimension.

 

Written by: Cecilia Morales — arts@theaggie.org