Step into the trippy, psychedelic and dystopian version of Puerto Rico in filmmaker Kristian Mercado’s futuristic Nuevo Rico. The animated short follows Barbie and Vico, twin siblings and aspiring reggaeton musicians, who want nothing more than to share their talent with the world.
When an opportunity presents itself to steal a magical contract from the Taíno gods and gain the power to become reggaeton superstars, Barbie and Vico take it. But their decision doesn’t come without consequences.
“I wrote the script in a kind of fever dream,” Mercado told Remezcla during a recent interview. “I was really interested in creating something I had never seen before. It’s definitely an outsider piece of cinema.”
Collaborating with talent across Latin America, Mercado wanted to feel the “texture and voice” of the Latino culture. When it comes to the animation industry, he feels there has been very little room for diverse narratives.
“The animation world is sometimes super white, so I wanted to really do something super Latino,” Mercado said. “It’s like, ‘Yo, here we are!’ We can all do this.”
Lending her voice to Barbie is actress Jackie Cruz (TV’s Orange is the New Black), who also came on board the project as an executive producer. From the start, Cruz said she was amazed by the world Mercado had created.
“I could see it and feel it and breathe it in,” Cruz told Remezcla. “I was like, ‘How can I be a part of this?’ It’s been my dream to create something so outspoken and out of control. It’s been a crazy, bold adventure.”
Mercado said it’s important for his projects to be “genre bending” and prove to the industry that Latino films and characters don’t have to be limited to certain storytelling structures. He’s attracted to working with people who have that same type of vision. In the past, Mercado has directed projects for Latinx talent like poet Rachel Inez Marshall and reggaeton superstar Bad Bunny, among others.
“Latinos can go into space or be in cyberpunk fantasies,” Mercado said. “Why create these limits in fiction?”
For Cruz, it’s all about Latinos getting the chance to show their talent. “Latinos have imagination,” she said. “Everything we’re doing feels fresh and new. [Kristian] wasn’t afraid to share his world with us and let everyone put in their own perspective.”
Nuevo Rico premieres online Tuesday (March 16) at 2 p.m. CT at the South by Southwest Film Festival.