“You might want to steel yourself for a movie that wears Mexican culture like a poncho it bought at Epcot Center. As great as it is that Pixar finally created a protagonist of color, the exoticism of Miguel’s world almost defeats the purpose.” Those lines, from an IndieWire review of Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina’s animated flick Coco exemplify the kind of rhetoric some non-Latino writers were using to describe Pixar’s latest film. You know, the one based on Día de Muertos that was so embraced by Mexican audiences that, with $57.8 million dollars in box office receipts, it became the highest grossing movie there. Ever.
Wanting to discuss the way Anglo reviewers tackled Coco, Remezcla’s own Film editor, Vanessa Erazo, gathered a trio of Latinx film writers for a frank discussion on what these critics got right, why they often stumbled, and how they reflected blind spots that remind us we need more diversity in American critical circles. Joining Erazo in this wide-ranging podcast were Monica Castillo, the film writer for Watching at the New York Times, Carlos Aguilar, a film journalist for Remezcla and MovieMaker magazine, and Dilcia Barrera, a film curator who works for Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Sundance Film Festival.
From talk of what it means to refer to Coco as an Epcot-bought poncho (as Aguilar points out, this reviewer and many other people, were “looking for the otherness. They’re looking for something foreign; if I recognize it, if it seems too relatable, then it’s not authentic.”) the wide-ranging chat goes on to question what it means to approach films from an outsider’s perspective. Especially, when said outsiders are so eager to wear their wokeness on their sleeves.
As Barrera asks at one point, “why are these questions coming up for this movie in particular? Why are people searching or reaching for something to kind of hate on?” Might it be that the nearness of Mexico makes certain American writers feel they have an authority on the subject in ways that they don’t on films like, say, Frozen or Moana, both of which are set in foreign lands and borrow from their respective cultures? And what, in turn, does that mean for the kind of nitpicking we’ve seen lobbed at this Pixar hit?
If you want to listen to the full discussion, which includes rightful jabs at Sicario, an in-depth back and forth about how death in Mexican culture really challenged Anglo viewers and critics alike, and why authenticity came to dominate conversations about Coco in general, find it below.
Coco is now available on DVD and digital platforms.