‘Dora And The Lost City Of Gold’ Did The Right Thing And Hired A Quecha Professor To Make Sure Everything Was Done Right
If you haven’t seen “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” in theaters yet, we only have one question: what are you waiting for? There’s a reason the movie is so celebrated. From the outset, pre-production, Paramount Pictures ensured that a Quechua professor would be deeply involved in maintaining the authenticity of the indigenous language–from grammar to teaching the actors correct pronunciation.
Thankfully, University of Pennsylvania has a Quechua Language Program and it’s program coordinator, Américo Mendoza-Mori gave an enthusiastic ‘yes’ to Paramount’s request to hire him as a cultural consultant.
Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous languages to date.
Between 8 to 10 million people speak Quechua, primarily in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. The language is nascent to the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Andes.
Mendoza-Mori reviewed the entire script for the Dora Movie, and even translated some of the English parts of the script into Quechua.
“They wanted me to make sure the Quechua references were correct,” Mendoza-Mori told Remezcla in an interview. “It was a translation, but it was also an adaptation because there are many things in English that were not really possible to translate into Quechua. It’s a concrete language and doesn’t have many abstract concepts.”
There are some words in the English language that were so inherently colonial, there is no direct translation in Quechua.
He told Remezcla that the word “‘explorer’ is a more western notion of going around the world. The translation I liked more was walkers of pachamama [Mother Earth].” Mendoza-Mori explained that pachamama is “a term that has a very important meaning in Quechua because indigenous people don’t live in the world. They see themselves as part of it.”
Isabela Moner, who plays Dora, is half-Peruvian and hear Quechua spoken growing up, but never learned it fully.
Paramount would send audio recordings of Moner to Mendoza-Mori to get feedback. He would then send his own audio recordings of the same lines and send it to the studio, which would send the message back to Moner.
“All my grandpas and grandmas from my mom’s side of the family, they all speak Quechua to some extent,” Moner shared in an interview. “Some of them only know dirty jokes, but some of them actually know how to speak it. I knew about it, but I never spoke it. This was a great opportunity for me to feel more connected to my culture.”
Mendoza-Mori noted that Moner’s desire to connect with her roots helped propel her execution of the language during the film.
“I think Isabela did a really great job with the pronunciation of Quechua,” Mendoz-Mori told Remezcla. “I think she was motivated to connect with her own roots. That was reflective in how professional and careful she was to achieve the correct pronunciation.”
In a separate interview, Moner shared that she took the opportunity to call her abuelos for help with pronunciation as well. Moner truly did get back to her roots.
For Mendoza-Mori, the Quechuan dialogue between Dora and the Inca Princess Kawillaka is the most important scene in the movie.
Even the Princess’ name is important because it reflects one of the most sacred historical manuscripts from the 16th century that gives insight into the Andes civilizations. In the ever-important scene, Princess Kawillaka asks Dora why they are here. She tells them: “to learn.”
According to Mendoza-Mori, Peruvians are excited to see Hollywood value Quechua and broadcast it to the world.
He told Remezcla the entire project “is a tribute to indigenous knowledge. It’s from a U.S. perspective, but it’s very respectful. Even the Peruvians I’ve spoken to are very excited about the presence of Quechua in a [Hollywood] movie. It gives us a chance to publicly discuss the value of the language.”
He thinks that acknowledging the languages spoken by indigenous peoples is one step closer to acknowledging the indigenous peoples’ themselves.
“If we start recognizing that Quechua or Zapotec or Nahuatl are languages that are spoken by millions of people today,” he said. “Then we will start recognizing the people that speak those languages and their individual cultures. I think the industry is trying to be more mindful.” He also thinks that movies like Black Panther, Roma and Coco have started a movement in Hollywood that values accurate cultural representation.
Mendoza-Mori thinks we should all “watch the film a second time to make sure [we] catch all the references.” For him, the Dora movie is a symbol that illustrates “how diverse Latino identity is and how important it is to embrace our indigenous heritage.”