Mom's Fave Monday: Representation Matters

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Disney has been creating movie magic for nearly a century now, and it’s pretty undeniable that millions of us are under their spell. They’ve told stories that have captured our hearts and shined a light on the underdog for decades, and I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember. With the political turmoil our country has faced since the last election, it seems that everything in movies and media is being put out with certain agendas in mind; anyone watching the Oscars last night can agree. And though I may not agree with some of what Hollywood stands behind, the push for diversity amongst the actors movie makers choose to cast and the films they choose to create featuring minorities in starring, heroic roles is one I can definitely get behind. As a trend that’s currently on the rise, it’s one Disney has long stood with; they’ve told the stories of various ethnicities since the days of Pocahontas and Mulan, and though they haven’t necessarily always gotten it right, they certainly do now.

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In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last six months or so, you might have managed to miss Disney Pixar’s latest masterpiece, Coco, about a young boy named Miguel who seeks to break the status quo of his shoemaker family to become a musician, despite their adamant disapproval. The film follows Miguel on a wonderful journey of exploration into his Mexican roots on Día de Los Muertos and takes a close look at family bonds, highlighting themes such as grudges, forgiveness, communication, family pressure & expectations, ambition, greed, honesty, and many others.

  I wanna say that you didn't live a true Latino childhood experience if you didn't have a chancleta-wielding mom or abuelita

I wanna say that you didn't live a true Latino childhood experience if you didn't have a chancleta-wielding mom or abuelita

While I am not Mexican, I certainly didn’t need to be to relate to the film and to Miguel’s journey. I am a proud Latina, deeply rooted in my family’s Cuban heritage, but born and raised in this beautiful nation of the {not so} United States of America. Even with this blend of cultures, there was so much value to be gained from Coco. Lessons such as honoring our family no matter what they chose or choose to become, and listening to & communicating with loved ones to promote understanding are the prevailing takeaways, amongst others. Aside from teaching all these wonderful lessons, Coco also does a fantastic job of explaining and illuminating a big part of Mexican culture in a way that is easy to understand and relatable for those who may not know much about Dia de Los Muertos. Because I didn’t know enough about it or its cultural significance, I had always dismissed it as strange and macabre, when in reality after watching the film and doing some research, I learned that it is much more than just an empty, odd practice. Clearly I give Coco a rave review and highly encourage you to watch it, and I’m not alone; Coco took home two Academy Awards last night, for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (because I didn’t even BEGIN to get into how fabulous the music is). 

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Another huge and diverse hit on the marquee was last month’s Black Panther from Disney’s Marvel, smashing the box office and bringing a wave of empowerment in its tracks. And though Black Panther is set in a fictional country and stars a fictional superhero, it deals with so many heavy real-world problems, such as race relations, even within the same race, socio-economic relations, gun/weapon restriction, family bonds, forgiveness, honor, and so much more. I didn’t expect to leave the movie theater reflecting after watching a superhero movie, but that’s exactly what Black Panther did, and that alone makes it so very worthwhile. The special effects, humor, and straight up beauty of the cast are nice added bonuses.

  Don't mind me, I'm just dead over here.

Don't mind me, I'm just dead over here.

All these virtues aside, the beautiful thing about both of these movies is that we are finally reaching an age where little boys get to go to the movies and see heroes that look like them, not just villains. I was the first to dismiss this idea as just plain silly, until I experienced myself. Sitting in a theater and seeing a little boy that looked just like my husband, hearing parents that sounded and spoke just like mine, and watching a kid go through something that I had gone through shifted the paradigm somehow. Even though none of us are even Mexican, it was still special. I realized, this was one of the first times I could think of where a person speaking Spanish in a major film wasn’t a gang member holding a gun or a gardener trimming hedges, and that meant something. I’m sure that Black Panther had the same impact on many of its viewers. 

  I could have kissed this man when he said representation matters.

I could have kissed this man when he said representation matters.

  If you haven't seen this guy in The Big Sick, highly recommend, 10/10.

If you haven't seen this guy in The Big Sick, highly recommend, 10/10.

Last night, watching the Oscars and seeing several of the movie makers upholding their end of the bargain was truly something beautiful. A few in particular had some great things to say, like Coco’s director, Lee Unkrich, who best put it, “We tried to take a step forward toward a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look and talk and live like they do," because “representation matters.” Less aptly, but just as impactful was Pakistani actor, writer and comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who stated, “Some of my favorite movies are movies by straight white dudes, about straight white dudes. Now straight white dudes can watch movies starring me, and you relate to that. It’s not that hard. I’ve done it my whole life.” Even if we all look different, there’s still so much we can relate to in each other, and that alone is worth celebrating. The fact that Hollywood is finally catching onto it is something worth celebrating, too.

There’s so much going wrong with our society, it feels. I’m the first to admit it. But with the diversity we’re beginning to see in film, I feel like we’re finally getting somewhere and reaching a small victory, and I’m even prouder of Disney for being at the forefront of it. There are, of course, always those who will disagree. But when I look at my son, and I think about the world he will grow up in, I’m excited for it to be one where the heroes come in all shapes, colors and sizes, speak all sorts of languages, and wear all sorts of garbs. I hope he’ll have a hero with tan skin and light eyes that speaks Spanish just like him, and I hope we continue to diversify even further, because not every Latino is Mexican, not every Arab is Pakistani, and so on and so forth. After all, America is a melting pot, and what is more beautiful than celebrating all the cultures that make us... U.S.? (See what I did there?)

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Happy movie watchin’,

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P.S. Oh yeah, forgot to add that Mom’s Fave Monday will just be an occasional lifestyle feature where I’ll share anything and everything that I’m loving at the moment. Like Coco. On repeat. Six times in two weeks, soundtrack everyday... y’know, #momlife.