If you take a look at the list of films Pixar has released since its inception in 1995, the results are resoundingly white; as in they are animated movies starring and created by white people. If you do a quick Google search of the actors behind the voices in most Pixar movies, you’ll see an overwhelmingly white majority. This trend has been the norm since 1995, but that all changed when Coco hit the big screen on November 22.
Coco is centered around Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a Mexican holiday in which families honor their loved ones who have passed away by putting their pictures up around the house. This is so the deceased can pass over into the land of the living to visit their living family members for the day. Coco’s protagonist is 12-year-old Miguel, a passionate and hopeful musician who has to hide his love of music from his family because of a generations-old family rule. He accidentally gets himself thrown into the spirit world on Dia de los Muertos, where he meets all of his relatives who have passed away. The rest of the movie follows Miguel on his adventure where he tries to make it back to the human world and tries to get his family to allow him to play music.
Now, you would think that Latinx people would jump for joy when the Coco trailer released on March 15. However, not all representation is good representation, especially when the concept is focused on minority cultures. Gabi Lacen, a Puerto Rican sophomore at Ithaca College, hasn’t been won over by the media’s portrayal of Latinx characters thus far. “I don’t think that we’re represented well,” Lacen said. “The woman is always supposed to be this sensual, fiery, passionate, quick-to-anger woman and the men are often criminalized or over-sexualized.” Depictions like Sofia Vergara’s character on the TV show Modern Family come to mind as questionable portrayals of Latin women.
With films like Coco, audiences wouldn’t naturally expect sexualized characters due to the nature of the film being marketed as a children’s movie, but, then again, you never know how the cartoons will be “dressed.” But when Coco was released, there was an overwhelmingly positive response from Latinx people and non-Latinx people alike. Diana Romero, a Dominican freshman at Ithaca College said, “This movie, having an all Latinx-cast, really exemplifies a positive model for social change, diversity, and inclusion within media.”
Those who go to see Coco will see a host of brown-skinned animated characters, something almost unheard of in animated movies in general, not just Pixar. Audiences will hear accented English, Spanish phrases, and Spanish music. People will learn about things like alebrijes, fantastical creatures featured in Mexican culture. This movie, in all capacities, is groundbreaking. Not just for representational aspects, but also educational purposes.
Gabi Ruffini, a Spanish student at Brookdale Community College, believes that a movie like Coco is a great sign of moving forward in our society but there’s still work that needs to be done. “I believe it has become more progressive granted Latin representation has a history of not being a good one but I don’t exactly feel that it has completely changed yet,” Ruffini said. “I think it’s important to have accurate depictions of all races in the media. Especially with a movie like Coco where kids can also see themselves and their cultures on the big screen.”
This movie can also be seen as having a political purpose. Especially in regards to timing, the national spotlight on Mexican people right now in this country has been tarnished by the Republican political party and our president’s racist allegations a year and a half ago when he accused Mexican people of being “drug dealers, criminals, and rapists.” Coco celebrates Mexican people and their culture and paints nothing but positivity and beauty throughout the film. One can hope that this humanizing portrayal of Mexican people shows adults and children alike that racism has no place in the world.
People say that international travel can open someone’s worldview and maybe even change their mind on some of the prejudices they might hold. For people who cannot afford to travel, Coco is a wonderful opportunity to learn about a culture different than your own and to learn how to appreciate people who may not look , talk , or think like you. There’s no better way to change someone’s mind than via entertainment, and Coco is the perfect vehicle for that. Hopefully, with some more positive representation of people of color in the media, people’s’ minds and hearts will be more open to accepting others.