ENCANTO V: Church, Witchcraft, Power & Language
The opening flows into the evening celebration: opening Antonio’s room. Despite my criticisms, I loved this scene. For instance, the mischievous kids running up the stairs reminded me of Lock, Shock, and Barrel — my favorite characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
It was beautiful to see kids play without getting in trouble; kids deserve mischief. Unfairly, non-white children are denied this. I hope this decade greets all children of color with compassion and glee. I think there’s more to tease out comparing the works of Tim Burton and Lin-Manuel Miranda — for another time.
This initial climax — Antonio’s party, the door, the animals, and the family photo — neatly ties up the first act. Admire the beauty of Antonio’s room. Witness a team of Disney animators. The color and detail inspire. Diverse greens with light shining through. The puma moves with effortless grace. I share my criticisms because the story evokes my family’s experience. But I have even more appreciation. Thank you.
Even the way Felix pulls up his pants mid-dance, which you might not remember. It stuck with me because I’ve seen and done it countless times. It was unnecessary, but its inclusion reveals ‘yes, in Colombia we dance — it’s a way of life’. Finally, the staged family picture resonates — and Mirabel’s absence suggests what’s to come.
Taking a deeper look at Antonio’s big moment: it starts with rhythmic drums freed from a singer’s voice. These are real drums — beating to the rhythm of the Earth. We are invited upon West African vellum to share in the First People.
Surprisingly, the padrecito is there as an observer and participant. Contrary to my experience, he does not administer the rites. Instead, Abuela Alma, the soul and fire-keeper of the family, administers them. Now, that is not how things work in Colombia, a place the Spanish Inquisition never left. The name references the colonizer, after all.
I was raised in the Church and learned to identify witchcraft, seeing it with contempt. If you’re a confirmed Catholic, then you learned the same. It takes effort to unlearn settler thoughts — it’s generational work. But I recognize that the magical house without a crucifix in sight is not the norm. It frustrates me to see the Church here endorsing what it has sought to exterminate in Latin America and the world. It’s irresponsible.
While it does reinforce that non-christian practices are beautiful, (1) Gen Z doesn’t need help turning to witchcraft; and (2) it erases genocide. An indigenous person in Colombia in resistance shares more with the Lakota at Standing Rock and the Wet’suwet’en at Camp Unistʼotʼen — than with Basque-descended Catholics devoted to settler norms. While the church is important to some, it is good to destabilize the settler project by antagonizing white supremacist institutions.
And despite the beauty of ceremony celebrating fire and the Divine Feminine, it displays the Madrigal’s power.
The Madrigal’s Power
Put simply, son hacendados. They live in The Big House. It’s situated at the top of the hill overlooking the town. The only one missing is the maid — but it’s because the Madrigal’s powers replace the invisible labor of the working class.
When I ask my family, “how long did you have a maid in your home?” the classic response is “well everyone had a servicewoman in Colombia“. And, upon pressing, “well, all my life — all our life. The whole time,” couched within “we always paid her well,“ “she lived comfortably,“ and “we supported her family in the mountains”. Then I arrive where I hoped, <<pues, la del servicio no tenía del servicio, ¿o no?>>.
Through Julieta, Luisa, and others, the town’s prosperity is guaranteed. They hold the town’s economy hostage. Abuela Alma sees this and understands that a disruption might spell doom. The Madrigal’s monopolize power, and the priest knows — the church always genuflects before power and calls it a ‘miracle’.
‘Encanto’ has many translations; here I like to think of it as “incantation”. But while it’s witchcraft, the community makes it amenable by employing every christian’s favorite term. What would’ve happened if Jesus were reborn during the Inquisition? It was and is a worldwide movement to stamp out non-white cultures practiced since time immemorial. Jesus was Black and practiced magic. He claimed to commune with the angels, the devil, and god his father. LITERALLY known to practice necromancy. Maybe he was reborn during the Inquisition? The church likely tortured and killed him.
Naming ‘miracles’ suggests divine mandate and subsequent actions become unquestionable. As the Madrigal’s horde to consolidate, employing the term ‘miracle’ makes their beliefs palatable to christianity. “Syncretism” comes to mind. We’ll see it later through Bruno and learn why he, The Oracle, is shunned.
This excerpt comes from series that I wrote in the wake of Disney’s release. The film inspired me to tap into my creativity. Join and subscribe to keep up as I share over the next month.