There have been a lot of interesting thoughts and discussions happening around Coco. I’ve personally gotten to sit a lot and think my way through several things, particularly how Coco rolls out and fits in to the last big movie that focused on Día de los Muertos: 2015’s Spectre.
I actually got to experience the inconvenience of that James Bond movie first hand; I ended up traveling to CDMX for a conference and during a day of sightseeing my friends and I thought going to the Zocalo was a good idea. The Zocalo in CDMX is a big, open public space, emblematic of the city. It is where Independence Day is heralded every September, where major protests take place, where the president of Mexico addresses the people (Peña Nieto is trash, had to say it). Imagine my annoyance when what should have been a 10 minute walk to the cathedral ended up turning into a 40+ minute excursion going around the entirety of the Zocalo because James Bond was filming! There was an entire side street filled with calavera floats, a fake carnival commemorating Día de los Muertos, and helicopters flying overhead. At the time the comments between us where partly mocking these güeros coming in and putting a carnival that didn’t even exist, and how ignorant could they be, making up things that weren’t even there? The entire event grated on my mood, because for all the times gringos had yelled to go back to my country, I was suddenly not able to walk around freely because they were determining how space was used in the place they deported me back to.
After finally making it to the cathedral, the sound of helicopters from which Bond would jump echoed inside, interrupting any semblance of normalcy. In my rage I walked outside and once on the side walk, lifted both arms to flip off the chopper. I was very frustrated, and I was done.
In the (almost) 3 years since Spectre’s filming, CDMX has adopted the carnival from the lackluster Bond film, under the pretense of celebrating pre-Hispanic Mexican culture. Here was this European and American movie, determining new traditions, and shaping not only how to celebrate it, but making the event a money grab.
I’ve thought a lot about Coco in that sense- of how it might shape the stories we say of ourselves to ourselves and manifest itself physically, and how it would change traditions and impose a worldview by those outside (after all, Disney/Pixar is completely lining its pockets with nary a donation to any specific Mexican/Indigenous organization or people, something that seems much more egregious considering the earthquakes that have taken place throughout the country in 2017). Reading the conversations on Twitter @latinxscientist and @QueerXiChisme were having I was suddenly aware of how close to home this would be hitting- particularly migrant vendors who travel and suffer a magnitude of injustices just to make ends meet. If you’ve ever visited Merida (or Chiapas, or Oaxaca, or, Cancun or, or, or!) there are indigenous women, generally in traditional gear, looking to sell blouses, shawls, toys, bracelets and a bevy of things to those who would buy them. They are generally dismissed or looked over by locals and bartered with by tourist (if you’re a tourist and want to buy something please don’t barter, honestly folks here are struggling to make ends meet thanks to a devaluing peso, your violent president and our violent president), but they, along with poorer folk who dedicate themselves to selling anything to help put food on the table would see their direct livelihood threatened under the guise of giving us a mirror to see ourselves in.
I understand that part of having a full humanity means that we cannot create anything that will envelop everyone. It is impossible. But demanding more from Disney/Pixar is not a violation of this, but a direct challenge- after all, Disney/Pixar is a corporation, and extending the same leeway to a corporation that one would to an individual ends up grinding people in figurative, and in some cases literal ways.
I am at once concerned by the idea that Americans and Europeans will suddenly feel emboldened to diminish and invalidate things like Huichol art, and alebrijes because they will think that Disney/Pixar were the originators of this very indigenous and traditional art, while short changing the folks who not only create it but where the originators of it.
That blurring of what came from where ends up affecting existing indigenous and poor people in disproportionate ways, by taking a story that purports to create a visibility and borrowing without proper attribution, thus making Disney/Pixar the auteurs. It is Columbusing, in technicolor.
A few weeks ago, when discussing my feelings about Coco around the diner table, a friend’s mother tried to explain how the whole Día de los Muertos observance had evolved throughout the years. When she was a child, the tradition in her particular part of el Estado de Mexico focused on carving out a gourd, and going door to door asking for 20 para la calaverita! akin to the way children go around in December, asking for money para la rama. This all changed when the richer neighborhoods started handing out nice candy, for Halloween.
“Ni celebrabamos Halloween, pero como estaban dando muchos dulces de los buenos, dejamos de pedir para la calavera y empezamos a pedir Halloween. Pero halloween es Gringo. Como Santa Claus.”
She then went on to say how schools focused on Halloween and now they were swinging back to allowing Día de los Muertos in schools again, instead of being an at home observance. This all had taken place in the span of 30 years.
It is a form of violence to expect indigenous cultures to uphold and protect every aspect of their traditions while denying them basic sustenance through housing, and food, things they have to make up for due to stolen land. A corporation like Disney/Pixar benefits from seemingly endless capital built on generational advantages afforded by whiteness and colonialism and creates an even bigger chasm by claiming authority over Mexican tradition and indigenous heritage.
There’s a lot to parse through in what amount of humanity Coco grants us, for sure. But it’s important to remember at whose expense this is coming from, who seeks to be impacted most, who ends up benefiting the most and the cost of it all.