'Coco' proves Latinos are best at telling their own stories
SAN DIEGO -- Hey Hollywood, it's time you asked: What can brown do for you? Scratch that. It's long past time.
The U.S. film industry is supposed to be the imagination capital of the world. Yet, for decades, producers, directors and studio executives -- most of them liberal -- couldn't imagine that the secret to successful Latino projects was to do something that liberals hate to do: surrender control to Latinos.
The creative left think they are the smartest, best and most enlightened people on Earth, and you want them to hand over the power of making films to people they apparently see as inferiors who are better suited to making beds, making lunch or making lawns look nice? You must be loco.
A Latina novelist recently revealed on social media that she tried to pitch a Hollywood executive on a story about a group of young Latinas at an Ivy League college. She failed. The movie guy -- a white male -- couldn't get beyond the setting. Wouldn't it be more realistic to put them in a state college, he suggested.
You can't fix stupid. I hope this guy's next movie is a western. He can play the south end of a horse headed north.
It turns out that a movie with a Latino theme, Latino writer, Latino co-director, Latino cast, and Latino consultants that isn't just meant for Latinos can crack open the pinata and send candy flying through the air.
The treats come in the form of the delightful hit movie "Coco," an animated musical that honors the Day of the Dead. The Disney and Pixar production has earned both critical acclaim and blockbuster box-office success. The film raked in an estimated $71.2 million over the long holiday weekend. It also took in another $82.2 million from foreign markets, most notably Mexico.
Oye Hollywood, can you hear us now?
Co-directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, who also wrote the screenplay, "Coco" centers on a 12-year-old Mexican boy named Miguel who wants to be a musician despite his family's objection. When a mishap takes him to the "other side," he meets his ancestors -- who, in death, give him a new lease on life.
The cast of "Coco" includes Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt and Alanna Ubach.
And no one played a housekeeper or a gang-banger? What kind of crazy movie is this?
"It was never even a choice. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to have an all-Latino cast," Unkrich said in an interview. "From the moment we conceived this idea, we wanted a film that wouldn't have any cliches or stereotypes and that would be as respectful as possible."
Latinos love a good paradox. And so my compadres managed to make a fun film about, of all things, death.
I'm not surprised. For Latinos, death is not this sad and dark ending. It's just a curve in the road on a journey into the afterlife. We take comfort in our belief that, one day, we'll all be seated again at our abuela's table savoring her chile colorado and homemade tortillas.
For years, Latinos tried to tell Hollywood the first step to courting us as customers was to respect us as human beings. People have to be able to tell their own stories in their own way. Alas -- on diversity issues, as with sexual harassment and pay inequity for women -- Tinseltown has a tin ear.
Hollywood only respects the color green. Hopefully, entertainment executives will look at the box-office success of "Coco" and get the message. Maybe other studios will push through those Latino projects that have been stuck in development since California was part of Mexico.
And as long as we're doling out messages, Bratt has a strong one for his fellow Americans. The 53-year-old actor -- who was born in San Francisco to a Peruvian Quechua mother and white father -- has been doing television and films for three decades.
"What I'm really excited about is that although the story takes place in Mexico, [it's] also on some level representative of Latino culture in general and American Latino culture, which you recognize is as American as anything else," Bratt told a reporter. "Latino culture is as American as apple pie. As American as chips and salsa. So the film celebrates that fact on some level."
Bravo. That sentiment alone is worth the price of admission.
You had better believe that, somewhere on the other side, as dinner simmers on the stove, our abuelas are beaming with pride.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.
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