Pixar's 'Coco' Furthers Mexican Representation — But The Cliches Are So Disappointing

Ad failed to load

There’s a scene in Pixar’s new movie Coco where the main character’s great grandmother, the eponymous Coco, sees an old photograph of her absent father, his face having long been torn out by Coco’s embittered mother. “Papa!” the old woman cries, briefly waking from her Alzheimers-like stupor. It’s a heartwarming moment, but it's deflated by the guitar Coco's father is holding — bone white with a calavera-shaped headstock, the strings coming forth from the skull’s hollow eye sockets. The guitar's design is cliche Mexico — which isn't surprising considering that Coco, a movie about Dia de Muertos, frequently reduces its imagery to heavy handed stereotypes.

In a lot of ways, Coco represents progress for non-white representation in animated movies. In 1943, Disney made its first foray into depicting people of color with Saludos Amigos (Hello Friends!), which sees Donald Duck and Goofy travel to various countries throughout Latin America. Yet they speak to and see very few Latin Americans, and the residents of a traditional Andean village shown in the film are all the same coppery brown and possess similar facial features to the stock Natives in Peter Pan. Only two Latinx speak in the whole film: a red-faced Peruvian child who has only one line, and a Brazilian parrot named José Carioca, who teaches Donald how to Samba. The vast majority of the film consists of Donald, Goofy and the animators interacting with stubborn animals and the scenery, devoid of any troublesome non-white inhabitants.

In the years since, there's been plenty of change — some for the better, some for the worse. In movies like Aladdin, Mulan, The Lion King, and Pocahontas, the animators seemed to take joy in featuring non-white environments and creating non-white protagonists — while playing fast and loose with the geography and culture (why is Jasmine, a Persian inspired princess, living in India’s Taj Mahal, for instance?). The last decade or so, though, has seen substantial growth, as shown by last year's Moana, with Vanity Fair reporting that Disney hired an "Oceanic Trust" of anthropologists, artists, cultural experts — not to mention almost entirely Polynesian cast — to tell the Polynesian story.

Ad failed to load
Walt Disney Studios

But Coco is a mixed bag. The movie started out with controversy, as in 2013, Disney's attempt to trademark the name "Dia de los Muertos" for the project was met with harsh rebuke by many in the Chicanx community. To the credit of all parties involved, Disney stepped down, hired Mexican-American cartoonist and critic Lalo Alcarez as a consultant, and then built upon the processes of cultural competency it had used with Moana. As shown by IMDB, the studio hired a Mexican-American lead writer and co-director, and also hired at least three Mexican descendant cultural consultants and an all-Latinx lyrics team.

And for the most part, it pays off. The movie brings the viewer into Mexican history and culture, featuring cameos by an eccentric Frida Kahlo and a silver-masked El Santo (an iconic Mexican luchador) along with the typical Pixar Easter eggs. Miguel's story is even accompanied by a papel picado narration, literally giving life to the colorful banners strung during festive occasions. Throughout the film, characters slip from Spanish to English as if it's the most natural thing in the world — which, for many of us, it is.

Ad failed to load

Perhaps the most touching ode to Mexican Americans, though, is in the animation style. The realms of both the living and dead brim with painstaking detail. Close-up shots of Miguel's face show every freckle, and the thicker, slightly coarser hair follicles that many mestizos run their fingers through every day. Brown people get precious few chances to see themselves portrayed onscreen, and so to see our skin and hair treated with such love and care and nuance is world-changing.


If only this effort had been extended to Black Latinx as well. Mexico is a diverse country, yet there is no one in the realms of Coco — living or dead — who is darker than copper. Latinx are already largely erased in Hollywood, with Latinx characters making up just 3.1 percent of 900 movies released in 2016, according to a study by the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California. So why must we make things worse by erasing all those who do not fit a U.S.-centric view of how Latinx people, specifically Mexicans, look?

Ad failed to load

It's easy, possibly a reflex, for Mexican-descendant people to be hypervigilant for the insults and stereotypes thrown at us. When even other Latinx refer to Mexicans derogatorily, insinuating that we’re only around illegally and rely on day labor to get by, and when white people consume tacos, Frida Kahlo, and sugar skull face paint like popcorn then spit out our people like kernels, and when we've heard these messages since childhood, we train ourselves to identify micro-aggressions as efficiently as possible. And to some people, Coco might not seem offensive at all; star Gael Garcia Bernal recently told Bustle that "we're kind of done with" Mexican stereotypes overall, as "in this time that we live in... there’s no room for those pejorative representations."


But that's not to say that our frustration isn't warranted. Coco depicts a large, clustered family, fiery tempers, irresponsible fathers, and a wily vagabond’s attempts at illegal immigration, all Mexican cliches we've seen on-screen far too often before. Still, some of what Coco does in terms of representation is truly good to see. There's the stern yet loving Abuela, who wields her huarache like a boomerang; the industrious, caring, tight-knit family trying their best to help Miguel grow into a reliable, stable adult; the all-too-common tension between honoring your family and forging your own destiny; the wry smattering of morbid humor; and the nuanced group of characters and body types to love. The bilingual soundtrack, too, bops along with Mexican pop, techno, folk, and Mariachi, and the stars, particularly 12-year old Anthony Gonzalez (Miguel), bubble over with warmth and depth.

Ad failed to load

So can the two sides balance out? Do the ugly reminders of history and the use of cliche pollute Pixar’s colorful universe no matter what good Coco contains, or does a white-owned company's decision to tell a complex story written, directed, cast, and assisted by Mexican-descendant artists become its own sort of revolutionary act? There's no one right answer, but Coco will, most certainly, leave you thinking long after you leave the theater.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

11 Tiny Sunglasses That Will Make You Look Even Cooler Than Kylie Jenner

You know what they say — the tinier the sunglasses, the more stylish the outfit. OK, that's not really a saying, but it seems to be the case these days. Basically every celebrity, model, and It person has been spotted sporting tiny sunglasses as part…
By Sara Tan

9 Ways This Royal Wedding Was Way More Modern Than Past Ones

The newly named Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, made history with their storybook courtship and wedding. What's more, there are myriad ways the royal wedding 2018 was more modern than previous royal weddings. From deciding…
By Brandi Neal

16 Brand New YA Rom-Coms To Add To Your Summer Reading List

Ah, summer. Post-Memorial Day it's all about being outside in the sunshine, lazy pool days and exciting beach trips, warm weather treats, and — most important of all — tote bags packed to the brim with all of the biggest and best summer reads. Whatev…
By Kerri Jarema

10 Little-Known British Traditions Meghan Markle Will Learn When She Marries Prince Harry

As an American woman dating a Brit, I am no stranger to the mishaps that can result from the cultural differences between the U.S. and England. And while I'm sure Meghan Markle has a slew of royal traditions to learn, titles to remember, and fancy ha…
By Kristin Magaldi

I've Paid $18,000 To A $24,000 Student Loan, & I Still Owe $24,000

It all became real the summer before my senior year of college. It was 2010, and my home phone still had a cord, which I wrapped around my fingers as I waited not-so-patiently for the apathetic representative on the other end to tell me the bad news …
By Kaitlyn Cawley

12 Personality Quizzes That Will Help You Determine Your Exact Strengths

Learning more about yourself can be tough. It's so easy to observe others to learn what makes them tick, what areas they really excel in, and the things they could be better at. Doing that to yourself, however, is a whole different story. That's exac…
By Jessica Booth

5 Brand New Short Story Collections You Can Finish In One Sitting This Weekend

Since 2013, May has been known by book-lovers by another name: Short Story Month. If you're ready to kick off this year's celebration the right way, make sure to pick up a short story collection to read over the weekend. Modern life moves more than …
By Sadie Trombetta

I Got Styled By 'Queer Eye's Tan France & Realized I Still Have A Lot Of Fashion "Rules" To Unlearn

When I walked into a New York City Express store on May 2 to get styled by Queer Eye's Tan France, I was ready for anything. And I mean truly anything. I am such a massive fan of the show and Tan that if he had instructed me to wrap myself in tin foi…
By Olivia Muenter

It Isn’t Bad To Have A “Princess Fantasy” — Mine Made Me The Woman I Am Today

What do you want to be when you grow up? If you were anything like me as a kid, at some point, the answer to that question was "a princess." Thanks to good old-fashioned gender stereotypes, most little girls born in the '90s (and even now) grew up in…
By Nicole Pomarico

9 Mother's Day Gifts For Your Mom That Also Give Back

Mother’s Day is around the corner, and unless you’re the type who’s got gift-giving on lock months in advance — and seriously, who is that person? — you might be scrambling a bit for great Mother's day 2018 gift ideas. And while it’s important to cho…
By Carolyn de Lorenzo

Here’s How To Get A FREE 30-Minute Facial At Sephora That Sucks Your Pores Clean

Sephora has long been a mecca for both serious and amateur beauty lovers alike, where they not only have makeup artists that help answer questions about products, but free samples to let you play with new collections. But now they have upped the ante…
By Marlen Komar

Kris Jenner Is FINALLY Launching A Makeup Line With Kylie

Maybe you don't have a favorite sister of the Kar-Jenner clan, and that's perfectly fine. The one thing you can't deny, though, is that when it comes power, no one in that family has more than the world famous momager. Now, Kris Jenner x Kylie Cosmet…
By Shea Simmons

This Kendall Jenner “Diva” Moment Is Really Being Taken Out Of Context

The fashion always takes center stage at the Met Gala, but there's usually a little drama, too. And this time, a member of the Kardashian-Jenner family is involved. People are buzzing about how Kendall Jenner shoved someone at the Met Gala, but after…
By Nicole Pomarico

Feel Like You've Seen Everything On Netflix? Add These Movies To Your Watch List

The weekend may feel too far away, but if you're lacking formal plans, a Netflix marathon session is always a good idea. If you're an avid viewer, however, you probably feel like you've seen everything the streaming platform has to offer already. In …
By Ashley Rey

These 4 Zodiac Signs Are Going To Have The Best Luck In Love This May

Spring fever is here, but not all signs in the zodiac are dealt the same dose of lovin'. Some signs are going to have a better love lives than the rest of us in May, because that's just the way the cookie crumbles. According to astrologer Linda Furia…
By Kaitlyn Wylde

Hillary Clinton Says She's Ready To Fight Like A Republican — EXCLUSIVE

Hillary Clinton Is Not Going Away Quietly. Can Hillary Clinton Please Go Quietly Into The Night? Unlike Losers Before Her, Clinton Is Not Going Gently Into the Night. These headlines, which appeared in various news outlets over the course of the last…
By Catherine Thompson and Jenny Hollander

Here's The Very Best Time To Book Your Summer Vacation If You're Trying To Save Money

Summer is a great time to travel, for obvious reasons. The weather is better. Many offices are more lax about time off. If you have kids, they’re out of school. But there’s one very important element that makes summer not a great time to travel: Cost…
By Emma McGowan