By Abigail Martinez
Finally, Disney went a little deeper.
Encanto is the story of a family with superpowers that help out the village. The main character, Mirabel, is the youngest of her sisters and the only one without a “gift.” And because she doesn’t have a gift she tries to help with what she can and even goes on adventure to find her uncle and figure out why her family’s house is losing its magic.
The story’s set in Colombia, which, for Disney, is a pretty big deal. Instead of using Mexicans, the film’s writers based it on Colombians and even used some of the country’s history, such as “los conquistadors,” the Spanish colonizers who ravaged many indigenous communities during the 1500s. They also gave characters a variety of skin colors, acknowledging that Hispanics are not all the same shade of brown.
I’m not used to seeing this kind of attention to detail in a Disney movie. Their films usually don’t stick with the setting’s actual culture, and the characters speak too much English and not enough of their native languages. For example, the movie Mulan misrepresented Chinese history and culture in so many ways. Mushu the dragon, for example, wasn’t the best way to represent Chinese culture). The dragon is a sign of respect, strength, and power, and using it as a silly sidekick did not play well with a traditional Chinese audience
Encanto still has some stereotypes. The characters love coffee, for example, and the over-caffeinated little kid has a cup in his hand. But it’s also got a diverse cast of Latinx actors like John Leguizamo (who voiced Bruno), Stephanie Beatriz (Mirabel), and Maluma (Mariano). Hamilton Star Lin Manuel Miranda, who is Puerto Rican, wrote the music, too.
As a Latinx student, the element I identified with most closely was the family structure, especially between siblings. Isabella’s the oldest and has to be perfect. She’s the role model, but sometimes being perfect makes you lose who you really are. My older sister experienced this when growing up. She was always a straight-A student and followed my family’s advice, until it came to committing to a college. She decided to go into writing at a liberal arts school – not what parents wanted – but with a lot of convincing and figuring herself out she knew it was the path to take.
Luisa’s the middle child, the support for the whole family. She’s there to listen, but there’s only so much she can do for the family. She has her own problems as well, but it’s hard for her to ask for help because she’s known as the strong one. I can relate to Luisa. As the middle child, I feel the same exact pressure of being the one who isn’t affected by anything around me. But in reality, it does.
I see my younger sister in Mirabel, too. When she tries to help, she’s often told to just let the adults handle it, even if she is right. Or sometimes they mistake her efforts as seeking attention.
Just like the Madrigals claimed they don’t talk about Bruno, for years Disney didn’t acknowledge the fact that Latin countries have more than just crowded, “poor” cities like the one in Coco. Just like America, there are mountains, beaches, small towns and countryside, too. Disney finally did its research on cultural backgrounds. Instead of creating the story based off of stereotypes that already exist here in America it illustrated sides of Colombia that narco films haven’t.
A friend once reminded me, during a conversation about K-pop’s popularity in America, that people shouldn’t try to steal the spotlight from another ethnicity and make it their own. We’re all different and unique in our own way, and Encanto illustrates that. Anyone can enjoy this movie if they watch it with an open mind, pay attention to the detail that was put into it, and remember that it’s been made for you, but not about you.