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Coco Is A Somewhat Touching But Problematic View on Dia de los Muertos

Coco Is A Somewhat Touching But Problematic View on Dia de los Muertos

coco, coco, coco

I want to preface this by saying it is important to acknowledge that “Dia de los Muertos” is celebrated differently all over the Americas and the Caribbean and also goes by different names. In some places, it is called “Dia de los Difuntos”, “Dia de Todos los Santos” among other names. While the movie Coco centers around how Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico, the essence of remembering our ancestors and celebrating their complicated lives resonates all across the board.

*This review contains spoilers for the movie Coco*

Everything about the making of Coco was messy, from Disney/Pixar wanting to trademark “Day of Dead” to having problematic folks like Lalo Alcaraz become one of the consultants for the film. I had a lot of trepidation and excitement for the movie. But after having seen it, I can say that it was both problematic and somewhat touching. Coco is about a young boy named Miguel Rivera, who wants to become a musician, but generations of Matriarchs in his family forbid any kind of music in their home due to his great-great grandfather abandoning the family in order to pursue a life as a musician. The internal struggle Miguel goes through wanting to follow his dreams verses trying to please his family is something I know most Latinx communities can relate to since pursuing the arts is never seen as a viable form of income. Nevertheless, Miguel is a very creative child and wants to follow his dreams at the risk of forsaking his family’s shoe making business.

Miguel’s personal struggle ties into the family drama both in the living world and the Land of the Dead, which is arguably the strongest element of the film because it deals with the intergenerational trauma felt by the womxn in Miguel’s family and how often it’s the womxn who are the ones that deal with caring and raising their families alone. There was a moment in the film that could have voiced that genuine pain with all the feelings and intensity it deserved; the singing of La Llorona. It was ultimately sung as a duet to entertain the audience. It is unfortunate that the movie really downplays the importance of this song because the lyrics are full of complicated feelings of sorrow and resentment. But despite living through all that pain, the ability to love has not been lost. The weak resolution to this major conflict was to introduce a villain that didn’t need to be in a movie that was already suffering from structural problems as it tried to balance multiple storylines.

While the movie emotionally captured the meaning of Dia de los Muertos, it ultimately failed to explain where the origins of these traditions came from. The depiction of the “Land of the Dead” as a class-based society between the remembered and the almost forgotten was not only uncomfortable, but completely disingenuous to the complex Indigenous epistemologies these traditions are based on.

My own understanding of Dia de los Muertos is deeply connected to the concept of Ayni, which is a difficult word to translate because it’s so foundational and interconnected to our responsibilities with each other and Pachamama. The mutual reciprocal relationship we have is not only exclusive with our ancestors, but with the land and cosmos too. There is a cyclical exchange happening with our deceased relatives since their bodies are returned to Pachamama and since we ask a lot from the ground that feeds us, it’s only natural we give offerings to both the ancestors and land with the promise we will always take care of each other.

The movie does not have any sense of the spiritual aspects I mentioned and instead we are presented with a world that treats offerings like passports. We see the affluent lives of deceased famous celebrities be commemorated while the almost forgotten live in poverty. The whole depiction of the “Land of the Dead” mirrors the real world hierarchies that exist in Latin America and the Caribbean with mestizos and white Latinxs being the overwhelming majority. The coco, coco, cocoperspective is clear in the film since it views Indigenous and Afro-Indigenous people as relics of the past that no longer exist let alone make any relevant appearance in the movie.

At the end the movie, Coco is going to mean something different for everyone since there is a real desire for Latinx folks to be represented across all forms of entertainment media. The sad reality is that while we would like to think we are all in this together, the conversation surrounding Coco has shown we were never a united in the first place.

To be fair, the music was great the animation was colorful, but while there were a few things that resonated with me in the film, ultimately I didn’t feel represented. Coco is doing well in the box office so more conversations about what representation means for us are going to continue and be messy. That is why it is important to listen, share, and support voices that have historically never been included in these conversations because if these voices keep being ignored, then the representation people want isn’t inclusive at all.

Readers should also check out Eren Cervantes-Altamirano article “Understanding Mexican Nationalism and Mestizaje Through The Film Coco”

By ThatNerdyBoliviane formerly known as ThatLatinxChick was originally born in New York City and essentially lived there until the age of 17 when they had to move to Toronto for reasons. They are currently struggling to survive in this weird ass world that does not celebrate awesomeness enough. They self-identify as Queer Quechua/Mestize Bolivian-American who is involved with social justice work of all kinds. Aside from that they are an avid lover of anime, manga, cartoons, (on rare occasion live-action TV shows if it’s good), and having amazing discussions with other folks about nerdy things. You can follow them on twitter @LizzieVisitante

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  • Criticism is to address what was intended and whether or not that was accomplished. If a gymnast does a floor routine, we critique how well he or she accomplished that routine, not whether or not the gymnast addressed our own bias. This is a problematic review; an opinion blog pretending to be legit review.

  • I like the info you interweave throughout your critique. I don’t like your critique. It’s unfair, unjustified (have your personal opinion but don’t call the movie a failing for the rest of us), and unnecessarily harsh (why the dig at Lalo Alcaraz?) The scholarship about this movie will be prolific, to be sure, but some will assuredly continue to miss the mark.

  • Hmm…I won’t pretend to fully understand the cultural references the author feels were lacking, but overall I disagree with her critique of the film as a film. I feel her version would be 4 hours long and require a course beforehand. Also, to say Lalo Alcaraz is “problematic” and not explain why is in itself problematic. While I’m quite familiar with him and his work, I think the author wrongly assumes everyone who read this will be. His response on his own facebook has been pretty priceless, by the way.

  • The Black Girl Nerds review for Coco can be found here: Our reviews usually have a star value at the bottom because they’re linked to Rotten Tomatoes. The stars also provide a good way to visually discern our reviews from our editorials. This is an editorial. BGN is intended to cater to a wide range of perspectives even those that aren’t lockstep with the mainstream. Thanks for reading!

  • I think this review is problematic. The writer obviously doesn’t understand what a huge break thru this is for he Latino community and being represented in such a beautiful way in a Disney film.

  • A Bolivian living in Canada complaining about how a specifically Mexican interpretation of death is portrayed in a film as not representing Bolivian culture is as silly as a Vietnamese person complaining about a Korean film’s not addressing specifically Vietnamese ways. You say yourself latinx isn’t a monolith, and yet you complain that it’s not a monolith.

    Someone’s very confused, and it ain’t me.

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