ENCANTO IV: Title, Race & Mestizaje
Moving on, violins greet the title: Encanto. I relive my first time seeing Harry Potter (recently celebrating its 20th anniversary).
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Harry Potter’s theme rested on a melody of strings. I feel the creators designing Encanto to invoke the magic, inspiration, and disbelief of Harry Potter.
But just as I settle in the Hogwarts Express, I feel the drums awakening my bones. We’re neck-deep in mestizaje.
Before the title, we observed decontextualized political violence and displacement. And within minutes, we’re exposed to strings and drums — a sanitized narrative on race, culture, and mestizaje.
I used to say “anyone can be Colombian,” referring to the diversity in phenotype. Later, I learned that this neo-liberal reached Colombia long ago. Neoliberal, here, meaning: ‘without importance to the material differences in the economic and social conditions of white and non-white communities’. I am coded as white (and gringo) in Colombia presently.
Without interrogating the history of race in Colombia, the audience may perceive it as a post-racial, color-blind utopia — which is a feature of neoliberalism and the intent of mestizaje. To argue we are one race is colonizer thinking, because the material differences are stark and very real, and the only ones who benefit from this line of thinking are in power.
The pretense of Colombia as a post-racial country runs deep. That is a fundamental criticism of the movie and an insight into Colombian culture generally.
Opening Musical Number — World Building and Historicizing
After the strings comes the opening number. It moves you, features the cutest kids, and introduces us to our heroine: Maribel Madrigal. The incandescent Stephanie Beatriz hits it out of the park as an emotive, compassionate Maribel. Curiously, I didn’t see an ounce of Rosa Diaz — the role which introduced me to Beatriz. This film showed range.
I was curious who would be played by Diane Guerrero, whose role as Crazy Jane in HBO’s Doom Patrol rivets me. Her role in Orange Is The New Black is likewise compelling. Isabela Madrigal we will unearth later.
I was also eager for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s contribution. I am critical of him and his work, but I enjoy consuming his art.
I find the lyrics in the opening are too literal. The subtlety of figurative devices is employed at the end, when we realize that repression and anxiety will drive the story, suggested by an increase in tempo. This movie antagonizes façades of perfection built around people, their families, and their communities.
But here’s what I gathered: Abuela Alma aside, the first magic family members include the town doctor (Julieta), and its economic engine — Pepa, who endures bouts of anxiety because the town, quite literally, counts on her for prosperity.
Next there’s Luisa — far and away my favorite. We initially learn that she takes on public works projects — including, importantly, improvements to the church — a commanding figure we will decipher later.
I also observed a few silleteros — Antioquia Stand Up!
In the middle of the song, a kid says, ‘wait, I lost track! Who’s a tío and who’s a primo?’ And I felt seen, and not only because 40 family and friends filled the theater asking ourselves the same question. I laughed out loud.
Finally, I catch a glimpse of the priest; the town doesn’t lie on any major highways; and all the decor is handmade.
Once I recognize that this movie isn’t told in the present day, I realize my mother must see herself as a young person. She and her siblings will digest Encanto through a moment in their collective memory. That is beautiful to me. As First and Second Generation diaspora Colombians, let’s consider how Encanto helps us engage with their trauma. Although it’s just a Disney movie I urge others my age and younger to step back and use it to engage with the Other. At the end, my mom said, “there, I saw my grandma. Always serious. Always stern”.
This excerpt comes from a 5-part 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.