Take a fun and magical ride with a young girl as she is pulled to the world of the dead to learn what Día de los Muertos is all about. This vibrant and fast-paced animated short, created by students at the Ringling College of Art & Design, shows you some of the customs and the importance of the Mexican holiday.
Since Disney Plus launched on November 12, people have been swept up in all the family-friendly chaos, indulging in a long list of classic Disney favorites. While the streaming service also plans to offer new original content, the company is definitely taking advantage of our generation’s lust for nostalgia, providing exclusive access to the Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and National Geographic franchises (and reminding us how much Disney dominated our youth with films like The Lion King, The Cheetah Girls, and Gotta Kick It Up). Honestly, the list of iconic feel-good films is outrageously long, and it’s easy to understand why everyone’s so excited.
But it’s no secret that Disney’s wholesome image has been blemished by a long, varied history of controversy and criticism. While Disney has been accused of sexism and plagiarism numerous times, one of the most notable topics of discussion in recent years has been the company’s tendency to racially stereotype its characters, a propensity that is especially notable in early Disney films (though many scholars and film critics argue that this has carried into the 21st century, despite Disney’s attempts to be more culturally sensitive).
On many occasions, Disney has acknowledged the racist nature of its older animated films, like Dumbo, The Jungle Book, and The Aristocats. In the descriptions for several programs on Disney Plus, there is a brief warning about the “outdated cultural stereotypes” contained within each film, and while several people view this disclaimer as a sign of progress, Disney has been criticized for making a bare minimum effort toward addressing the problematic elements of its past.
And speaking of the company’s past, how could we forget the time that Disney tried to trademark the term “Día de los Muertos” / “Day of the Dead”?
Credit: Pinterest / The Walt Disney Company
Back in 2013, Disney approached the US Patent and Trademark Office with a request to secure “Día de los Muertos” / “Day of the Dead” across many different platforms. At the time, an upcoming Pixar movie with a Día de los Muertos theme (read: the early stirrings of Coco) was in the works, and Disney wanted to print the phrase on a wide range of products, from fruit snacks to toys to cosmetics. Por supuesto, Disney received major backlash for trying to trademark the name of a holiday—what is more culturally appropriative than claiming ownership over an entire celebration? Especially one with indigenous roots?
“The trademark intended to protect any potential title of the movie or related activity,” a spokeswoman for Disney told CNNMexico at the time. “Since then, it has been determined that the title of the film will change, and therefore we are withdrawing our application for trademark registration.”
But prior to withdrawing their application, Disney received extensive backlash from the Latnix community. Latinos all over social media expressed their disdain for Disney’s bold and offensive attempt to take ownership of the holiday’s name, even starting a petition on Change.org to halt the whole process. Within just a few days, the petition had garnered 21,000 signatures.
Although Disney didn’t acknowledge whether the online uproar had influenced them to retract their trademark request, they were clearly paying attention. Lalo Alcaraz, a Mexican-American editorial cartoonist, had expressed open disdain at what he called Disney’s “blunder,” creating “Muerto Mouse”—a cartoon criticizing said blunder—in response.
Credit: Lalo Alcaraz / Pocho.com
This wasn’t the first time Alcaraz had criticized Disney with his cartoons. After the trademark fiasco, Disney definitely caught wind of Alcaraz’s position, and in an effort to approach the upcoming Día de los Muertos movie with sensitivity, the company hired him to work as a cultural consultant on the film.
Although several folks celebrated this development, Alcaraz was widely denounced for collaborating with Disney—many people called him a “vendido,” accusing him of hypocritically selling out to the gringo-run monolith against which he had previously spoken out. But Alcaraz stood his ground, confident that his perspective would lend valuable influence to the movie and ultimately prevent Pixar from doing the Latinx community a disservice.
“Instead of suing me, I got Pixar to give me money to help them and do this project right,” Alcaraz said. “I was let down because I was hoping people would give me a little bit of credit for the stuff I’ve done; to give me the benefit of the doubt.”
And, sin duda, Coco emerged as one of the most culturally accurate films that Disney has ever produced. Employing an almost exclusively Latino cast and crew, Coco seamlessly captured the beauty, magic, and wonder of Día de los Muertos, depicting the holiday with reverence and respect. And after becoming the top-grossing film of all time in Mexico, it’s safe to say that Coco helped Disney bounce back from its trademark mishap, even if more controversy is bound to emerge in the future.
Many young girls, especially Latinas, have a vivid memory of where they were and what they were doing the first time they saw the film “Real Women Have Curves” on their television screens. The 2002 dramedy film centers around Ana García, an 18-year-old Mexican-American girl living in East Los Angeles who struggles to follow her dreams in the face of the economic uncertainty.
The film touches on hot-button issues like body image, discrimination, mother-daughter relationships, emotional abuse, and sexual liberation. For many Latinas who grew up watching a predominantly white media landscape, seeing America Ferrera in “Real Women Have Curves” was the first time they saw a character like themselves being reflected back to them on their TV screens.
In December, the Library of Congress announced that the movie was being added to the United States National Film Registry for its status as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” motion picture.
The movie’s addition is notable because it marks the first time a Latina director, Patricia Cardoso, has been added to the archive since its creation in 1988. “The film is a remarkable snapshot of the community and working toward getting ahead as part of the American Dream,” said Steve Leggett, liaison specialist and program coordinator with the Library of Congress. “Plus, the talent and personality of America Ferrera in this film is irresistible and impossible to resist.”
At the Library of Congress’ announcement, Cardoso spoke on the bittersweet nature of her addition to this exclusive group of filmmakers. “I am thankful, it’s an honor and I don’t take it for granted. For me, being one of the first Latinx woman directors is very important,” Cardoso said. “But I would wish I wasn’t the first one. I wish there were many, many more before me and certainly hope there are many more coming behind me.”
“Curves” has long garnered both popular and critical acclaim, winning the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award when it premiered in 2002 and subsequently being voted “one of the most influential movies of the 2000s” by Entertainment Weekly.
The movie was notable for how it broke many of the traditional Hollywood conventions that the industry had, for years, relied on to tell stories. The film’s protagonist was not a white man, she wasn’t conventionally beautiful by societal standards, and she didn’t live a glamorous or exciting life.
“Curves” was celebrated for its accurate illustration of the complexities of mother-daughter relationships–especially involving teenage girls. It’s layered and affectionate depiction of East Los Angeles–and especially the Chicano community–was a spectacle audiences had never seen before.
In an industry in which women make up only 4 percent of directors are women, less than 1 percent of which are Latinas, Cardoso remains one of the few Latina filmmakers that have been recognized by mainstream critics.
America Ferrera took to Instagram to explain the impact of the movie not only on her life, but the lives of countless other Latinos. “I was 17 years old when this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came. This movie gave me a chance and gave me a career,” she said in an emotional Instagram post. “Because Latinos in this industry are busting their asses to create opportunity for one another, things are beginning to improve slowly, but there are still far too few opportunities for the talent in our community to shine.”
“Our people deserve opportunities more often than once-in-a-lifetime,” Ferrera continued. “My deepest gratitude to every Latinx creative & executive in this industry busting down doors, and to our allies who understand the value of our stories. Thank you @librarycongress for this acknowledgment of a beautiful film.”
Naturally, fans of the film (many of which are Latina) took to Twitter to express their love of the movie and their gratitude for its recognition.
It’s true that important art doesn’t have to be acknowledged by large institutions to be culturally significant, but nonetheless, it is always satisfying to have one’s work recognized by others.
This Latina explained perfectly why the movie was important to her:
Not only was this movie ground-breaking in its day, but it continues to be today.
This fan couldn’t help but quote one of the movie’s most memorable scenes:
God, we love this part. We’ve all been there before.
This observant movie-goer had an interesting point about the movie’s impact on future filmmakers.
We can definitely see the similarities between “Curves” and “Lady Bird”, another coming-of-age movie.
This person got candid about how this movie changed her life:
The power of on-screen representation can’t be overstated.
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