Upcoming Disney Film Coco Marks Shift in Portrayal of Latin America
The Disney film Coco will be released in the United States come November 2017. It tells the story of Miguel, a 12-year-old boy from Mexico who dreams of becoming a musician despite the disapproval of his shoe-making family.
The story takes place during Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday with indigenous roots that coincides with the Catholic celebration of Día de los Difuntos, also translating to Day of the Dead, which is widely celebrated across Latin America.
Coco is already drawing attention due to its depiction of foreign culture alongside a cast consisting entirely of actors with Latin American heritage. Furthermore, the film’s release Trump presidency, which has notoriously campaigned for building a wall between the border of Mexico and the US in order to control migration.
Lee Unkrich, the film’s director, commented on the timeliness of the release during a media conference in Mexico City: “Certainly when we began making this movie six years ago, it was a very different political climate than we find ourselves in now. I think it’s a good thing that it’s coming out now, because there’s been a lot of negativity in the world.
Benjamin Bratt, who plays the character of Ernesto de la Cruz, elaborated on the political climate surrounding Coco: “I don’t want to politicize the film. It’s a pure piece of entertainment, but considering all the divisive rhetoric coming out of Washington and all the task of building a wall, this film is a bridge toward a more prosperous and positive outcome.”
In order to accurately represent Mexican culture, without the oversimplified stereotypes and mockery, Adrián Molina, co-director and screenwriter, visited Mexico several times to research aspects of Mexican culture such as architecture, art, and the history of Día de los Muertos.
Molina expressed the importance of conducting research: “We wanted a representation that was nuanced and truthful. Every decision was thoughtfully done. It was vitally important to get it right and pay respect.” The film’s meticulous attention to detail and respectful attitude towards Mexican culture illustrated Disney’s progress in portraying Latin America.
In 1971, Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart published an essay titled “How to Read Donald Duck” which analyzed Saludos Amigos and Los tres caballeros, two films released in the 1940’s. They denounced the ways “Disney comic books were used as vehicles to justify and promote U.S. policies and cultural imperialism."
Additionally, filmmaker Jesse Lerner and artist Rubén Ortiz-Torres have completed extensive research regarding Walt Disney’s trip to South America in 1941 as part of a U.S. government-directed effort to promote the “Good Neighbor” policy during World War II.
It appears the film crew’s hard work has paid off. Coco is already Mexico’s highest-grossing film of all time, after its release in October preceding the actual Día de Muertos celebration.
Disney has come a long way since its 2013 attempt to trademark the phrase “Día de los Muertos.” The creators of Coco demonstrate a deep understanding of Mexican culture, marking a shift in Disney’s previous depictions of Latin America used to justify political intervention in the region.