The acclaimed new family film Coco, about a Mexican boy who inadvertently ventures into the Land of the Dead, is Disney Pixar’s first animated adventure to feature a story steeped in Latin culture and with an all-Latino voice cast. And according to one of its best-known stars, the south-of-the-border-set film could not have been released at a better time.
“It’s really interesting that the film comes out during a moment in the United States where the established rhetoric is to point a finger at a group of people from a particular place and say that their parents or grandparents are rapists or [drug] traffickers or criminals,” Gael García Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle) told Yahoo Entertainment, referencing then-candidate Donald Trump’s now-infamous 2015 comments in which he referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and criminals before adding, “Some, I assume, are good people.”
García Bernal, a 39-year-old native of Guadalajara who broke out with international audiences in the hit Mexican imports Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También and plays a deceased ne’er-do-well who guides young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) through the Land of the Dead, called Trump’s comments “infuriating.”
But the way García Bernal sees it, Coco, a heartfelt and charming story that celebrates Mexico’s Día de los Muertos traditions, is exactly the type of film young Mexican-Americans will enjoy as an antidote to the president’s vilification of the country’s citizenry and emigrants. “These kids are growing up with that rhetoric, so this is a film that’s dedicated to them,” he said. “Because they’re going to say, ‘We know that’s all a lie, but here’s the truth. Here’s a way to express that we’re a much more complex and profound culture than you think.’ And not only that, but we have to grab onto that to be able to feel strong and empowered. And not feel down about [those comments] because they were really awful.”
García Bernal’s costar Benjamin Bratt, who voices a legendary Mexican folk singer who also resides “on the other side,” took a more diplomatic tone toward Trump, who continues to push for the construction of a controversial wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “While a lot of the rhetoric out there even from some of our elected officials is divisive and denigrating to our culture, and is interested in building walls, this film is a kind of bridge that will hopefully span over all of that B.S. and all of those untruths and continue to present the reality, which is we’re all in this together,” said Bratt, the 53-year-old Law & Order alum who was born in San Francisco to a Peruvian Quechua mother and white father.
“Undeniably we have to find a way to do away with our divisions and find our commonalities and move forward in a progressive and positive way. And that’s all possible, it’s all doable,” he said. “But we have to get rid of the divisive rhetoric first, and it’s incumbent upon our leaders, whoever they are and at whatever level, to lead with empathy and with compassion, and it’s the lack of those two qualities right now that has put us in the hole that we’re in.”
Regardless of politics, both García Bernal and Bratt are proud of the role that Coco can play in a larger cultural shift in the U.S. and more prominent representation of Latino faces in pop culture.
“It’s taken a lot of years — I’ve been doing this for three decades now — but the paradigm is finally shifting, and a film like this helps escalate and speed up that shift to a place of cultural equilibrium,” said Bratt, whose early film roles include One Good Cop (1991), Demolition Man (1993), and Clear and Present Danger (1994). “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 … Latino culture is as American as apple pie. As American as chips and salsa. So the film celebrates that fact on some level.”
García Bernal, however, does not sound optimistic that Trump might screen Coco and learn a thing or two about the Mexican culture he’s criticized. “No, I have no hope that he will learn something, no,” the actor said.
Coco opens Nov. 22. Watch the trailer:
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