Content Disclaimer: This notice discusses racism, which may upset some readers.
Darkness has long been misrepresented or absent from Disney’s animated catalog, with previous depictions being justified meticulous examination. The company’s first major step forward in representation came with Princess Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog” (2009); Tiana was Disney’s first black princess, and the film was Disney’s first animated story led by a black character.
“Encanto” represents another big step forward for representation at Disney. The film handles the portrayal of the black experience in a benevolent way, where the black characters are not subordinates, but whole persons who have a purpose beyond assisting the main character.
It’s important to remember Disney’s heinous portrayals of black people in the past before delving into “Encanto.” “Fancy» (1940) and «southern song(1946) both employ racist stereotypes: the former employs a caricature of a slave while the latter portrays plantations positively. Moreover, the old Aunt Jemima’s Creperie at Disneylandnow known as the Magnolia Tree Terrace, relied on harmful stereotypes of black women.
Although Disney has introduced admirable black characters like Princess Tiana and Joe Gardner from “Soul” in recent years, there are still issues. To know that Disney systematically turns Black characters in animals or other non-human beings. “The Princess and the Frog” and “Soul”, alongside “Brother Bear” and “The Emperor’s New Groove”, were called for their portrayals of people of color as disembodied, effectively dehumanizing the characters in a way that rarely occurs for their white counterparts.
The ‘Encanto’ trailer raised both caution and hope for how Disney would handle this story of magical realism filled with a myriad of skin tones, true to the diverse undertones found not just in Colombia but in America. Latin as a whole. In particular, the depiction of Afro-Latinos and darker-skinned Latinos – a first for Disney – and the reframing of Colombia away from the dark histories of Pablo Escobar and the drug cartels raised hopes that the film would center the diverse, beautiful and vibrant realities of the country.
“Encanto” can be The 60th film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, but this is the first time the studio has truly addressed the perspectives of Latin Americans. In 1943, the studio released a series of short films under the title “Greetings Amigoswhich was implemented in the region, but it was largely expanded under pressure from the United States government to help the “Good neighbor policy.” Although “Saludos Amigos” revolves around Latin Americans and their households, it is not representative as it simply uses the region as a setting rather than centering Latin American voices as tracks.
“Encanto” has been in the spotlight since its release, with the film and its music receiving acclaim both at the golden globes and the Oscars. “We don’t talk about Bruno” by Lin Manuel-Miranda upgraded Adele’s ‘Easy on Me’ hit the Billboard Hot 100 and is the second Disney animated film soundtrack to reach number one after ‘A Whole New World’ from the movie ‘Aladdin’. the soundtrack to film was also number one on the Billboard 200 for six consecutive weeks.
This momentum shows the cultural importance of the film in the United States and abroad. Accurate storylines featuring actors connected to the culture portrayed in the film are important in helping viewers feel respected and seen. I grew up aspiring to be like Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) on “High School Musical” only to find that Hudgens isn’t quite Latina like her character Montez. Representation also faltered in the recent film “In the Heights”, which to throw no Afro-Latinos although it is centered on New York’s predominantly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights. It’s important for filmmakers and those involved in casting to understand that people of color are not interchangeable when choosing their actors. This is especially true for stories where character cultures are important to the storyline. I’m glad to see a movie like “Encanto” achieve widespread success when the mere existence of Afro-Latinos and Latinos with indigenous features has been decried and rarely portrayed. These images push back the widespread and fabricated narrative that all Colombians, and Latinos for that matter, look like Sofia Vergara or Shakira.
The animated characters showed enhanced racial diversity, but so did the voice actors. The mostly Colombian cast of “Encanto” accurately portrays its characters when the studio could have easily harnessed the “star power” of well-known non-Latino actors to boost ticket sales. Additionally, all of the Afro-Latino characters – Camilo, Félix, Antonio, and Dolores – are played by Afro-Latino voice actors.
“Encanto” is more than its cultural impact and critical acclaim; the film is meaningful to individuals who can finally see themselves respectfully represented on screen. the Youth Book Cooperative Center reports that people of color are overrepresented in children’s books by animals. Moreover, today, Latinos constitute about one-fifth of the U.S. population – of this number almost a quarter are Afro-Latinos — and are the biggest cinephiles. “Encanto” is moving in the right direction to fill those representational gaps.
As a Twitter user wrote on “Encanto”: “It was nice to see Afro-Latinos like me in there. It was nice to feel seen even if it was just in an animated movie.
Outside of its character portrayal, “Encanto” also succeeds by centering its plot around intergenerational trauma and respectfully addressing modern issues in Colombia and Latin America. The violent displacement of Alma, the family matriarch, and the creation of the “miracle” following the sacrifice of her husband have domino effects that unknowingly stress Alma and the family dynamics. When I first saw the movie, I saw my family in the Madrigals, especially my father’s mother in Alma.
In truth, conditions of conflict like those depicted in the film are the reason I even have a life in America, as my family escaped the civil war in El Salvador. My grandmother and the rest of the family were brought up with the armed conflicts of football warthe civil war and the mass murders of indigenous peoples. Life went on despite the impending chaos and cyclical poverty it sustained, leaving little time to talk about mental health, a concept almost unheard of at the time. Now my family struggles to discuss mental health issues without stigma. My parents, my grandparents and the generations that preceded them never had a childhood. Young children and adults had to work to survive and support their families. This lifestyle meant there was no time to discuss depression; you had to work and be wary of the constant violence. I’m glad my family has finally started discussing depression and mental health issues, and I appreciate how “Encanto” delicately addresses the realities of intergenerational trauma.
Alma’s trauma reflects the true conditions that many latin american families have had to face decades of wars, conflicts and colonial violence which left them displaced and impoverished. This unrest is still present in Colombia, which has the second highest rate inter-country travel (only behind Syria). However, despite its depiction of chaos and conflict, “Encanto” is not a story of pity but rather a story of joy and healing. The Madrigal and Alma family recognize their shared trauma and work together to become stronger. In the end, the movie doesn’t have a villain in the traditional sense. Rather, the villain is the trauma that has plagued the Madrigal family.
This film shrewdly shared a piece of Colombia and the Afro-Latin experience, promising for the studios future projects. My only fear is that the raw, personal stories that people care about will be turned into commodities. Movie studios like Disney have to be careful when trying to tell more diverse stories to fit our current cultural expectations. Studios need to go beyond just portraying people of color in an effort to sell merchandise and show that they have diverse personas. Rather, they need to have a diverse off-screen and on-screen cast that is culturally in tune with the stories they are trying to portray.
Editor’s note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, reflections and criticisms.