The ‘Coco’ Effect: Raising Awareness Around Cultural Representation

cultural representation Miguel Coco Movie BELatina
Photo Disney/Pixar

When cultural theorist Stuart Hall cultivated the concept of cultural representation, he probably knew that advocating for the depiction of gender, race, and ethnicity was a long, difficult road but not an impossible one. Decades later after Hall shared his theory, mass media, the fashion and beauty industry, the movie industry, marketing, and publicity agencies still struggle in properly accommodating cultural identities, and fails in accurately addressing other culture’s traditions. 

The lack of diversity in a team can make things superficial, and when creative companies don’t have a deep understanding of customs or beliefs, the result is catastrophic. However, the American computer animation film studio and a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, Pixar, successfully tackled cultural representation with the 2017 animated fantasy film Coco, which is serving as a reference on how things can be properly done. 

In a 2014 study conducted by Columbia University, researchers found that only 1.4% of films released in the United States, featured Latinx actors in lead roles. “Yet, with few exceptions, Latino participation in mainstream English language media is stunningly low. A review of the top movies and television programs reveals that there is a narrower range of stories and roles, and fewer Latino lead actors in the entertainment industry today, then there were seventy years ago,” says the report. 

Regardless the Latinx representation is low, Coco, a movie about a Mexican family and inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, grossed worldwide with $807.1 million, proving that despite the gap, Latinos are avid media consumers and our contributions are highly important. 

After decades of stereotypes, in which Hollywood portrayed the Latinx community as criminals, cheap labor workers or hypersexualized beings, Pixar showed how rich and beautiful can be our culture, by completely changing the narrative and taking care of every detail to avoid inaccuracies. 

The film, not only tells the story of a Mexican tradition but also boasts a majority Latinx actors that include Alanna Ubach, Gael Garcìa Bernal, Jaime Camil, and Anthony Gonzalez, an uncommon cast in the U.S entertainment business. “It’s unbelievable what this film has meant to so many Mexican Americans,” said Alanna Ubach, to Los Angeles Times. “I truly feel that we really have been pushed aside. Our heritage has been just so challenged this past couple of years. People forget what a rich, sophisticated culture the Mexican culture is. It’s not just about tacos and sugar skulls.“ 

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Coco definitely sent a message to the industry that rarely depicted Latin American culture correctly, by promoting cultural awareness instead of cultural appropriation and stereotypes. The Center for American Progress reported that by 2050 there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority in the United States; Therefore, cultural diversity awareness should be a priority not only in the entertainment field but in every school. collage, work environment, and life in general.