Coco- A Culturally Accurate Phenomenon
By Bridget Smith
Beautiful in its complexity, culture can be difficult to accurately portray. This complexity is what deters so many filmmakers from attempting to do so on American big screens, making films like Pixar’s Coco unique. The film follows a boy named Miguel in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos. Transported to the Land of the Dead, he discovers truths about culture, music, and family. Coco was a financial and critical success, and an important film that showcases the vitality of diversity in film.
At Edmonds Woodway, culture is a vital aspect of the language curriculum. When taking a language course, students are encouraged to explore the art, music, food, and films that depict it. In Señora Bryson’s Spanish classes, students can receive “culture credit” for watching and writing about Coco. I spoke with Señora Bryson about the film, culture credit, and Coco’s depiction of Mexican culture.
When asked why culture credit is included in the curriculum, Señora Bryson stated that “Sometimes when teaching a course like Spanish we get into the grammatical content and vocabulary… having culture credit allows students to have opportunities to with the language outside of the classroom, and bring the material to them… It helps them extend their classroom learning into their personal lives. Senora Bryson let students watch Coco for credit because of the film’s ability to paint a realistic and entertaining portrait of Mexican culture, while providing context to the material that Señora Bryson teaches. This marriage between culture and grammar while studying a language, according to Señora Bryson, helps students “embrace our unique backgrounds and celebrate them. [Culture] does enhance children’s understanding of the world around them.”
The film exemplified what makes movie diversity important, as the team behind the film constructed an authentic experience for viewers. These viewers included many of Senora Bryson’s students, showcasing the importance of depicting authenticity whilst dealing with culture. Coco’s success with both critics and Spanish teachers can be attributed to this cultural sensitivity. Conversely, blockbusters like 2015’s Aloha and 2017’s Ghost in the Shell produced the opposite. Accused of white washing, these films both sparked controversy for their clumsy handling of ethnicity and culture, and performed poorly at the box office. Coco, if it had been handled with the carelessness of such movies, might have met the same fate. Señora Bryson commented on this issue, stating that “ the producers [of Coco] were very careful to really go down to Mexico and spend time with the people, and ask them their stories, and see why it mattered to them that they were careful in their casting and the music that they collected… It’s not just a donkey and a sombrero.” Cultural authenticity in some films cases, is seen an easy pass for progressivism. But depicting a culture is not, and should not be so simple. Even movies with good intentions can be plagued by insulting stereotypes and a director’s laziness.
Señora Bryson encourages all to go watch the movie, even if it’s not for culture credit. The movie itself, aside from the cultural significance, is wholly enjoyable. It’s emotive, innovative, and creative. When asked why readers should go see Coco, she stated that:
“It’s a delightful movie! Is it fluffy? Absolutely! It has a beautiful soundtrack, it’s really family oriented, but honestly, it’s one of the first movies that has featured Mexican traditions so well in mainstream American cinema. So it’s kind of an important movie. In watching the movie you might learn something that you didn’t know! The movie is just plain fun.”
America is home to an array of cultures that all deserve to be treated with care and appreciation. For children, adults, and Spanish teachers across the country, Coco exemplified the importance of diversity in storytelling. With heart, delicacy, and cultural sensitivity, Coco reminds its viewers what makes culture, and learning about culture, so important.