Content Warning: This piece speaks of violence against Black and Indigenous people in Latin America. Spoilers also ahead.
Encanto made me feel a whole lot. I cried in the very first scene where Alma explains the encanto to Maribel; the arepas made me hungry; and while I know this may be an unpopular opinion, I also cringed at some of the songs.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Disney musical number as much as the next person. But you know the kind of songwriting that so desperately wants to be turned into a TikTok trend? Yeah, that really pulled me out of the moment. But I digress.
There is a moment when Felix is teasing Abuela, encouraging her to dance and join the party, the exact type of interaction I’ve witnessed or even had with my own abuela [grandmother]. Something about the fun banter in Spanglish that felt so intimate and recognisable. Not to mention the fact that I’ve been told by no less than four people since the film’s release that my curly hair and closed-mouth smile makes me look like Mirabel, and that my mother looks like Julieta — it's finally happened folks, I saw myself represented in a Disney film!
#Encanto's "We Don't Talk About Bruno" is now #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.— Disney Animation Promos (@DisneyAPromos) January 18, 2022
It has surpassed Frozen's "Let It Go" peak, and it is the highest-charting Disney Animation song in 26 years. pic.twitter.com/nB2KKIHn18
It was a rollercoaster of emotions. From pride in seeing magical realism reinterpreted — a genre so deeply entrenched in the Latin American literary psyche — to the familiarity of listening to Carlos Vives’ voice singing (immediately identifiable to any Latinx person, I’m sure), right down to seeing my own family in the characters, in their personality types and the way they talk.
It also made me reflect a lot on what it is to be Latinx, especially as the daughter of immigrants, and only knowing my family’s history through stories of displacement. Recorded history is not something many of us are familiar with, and our lineage is almost exclusively traced using what's left of the memories our elders have.
A lot of the praise for Encanto has centred on its diversity within the family, with a female-dominated character lineup, Felix and his children being Afro-Latinx, and Isabela being the 'perfect', beautiful young woman while not reflecting white-washed standards of beauty. The complexity of each character has allowed the creators to showcase a real tenderness and sensitivity in different types of personalities. It’s not about good vs. bad; it’s a story about family and how even within our own little worlds there’s a mish-mash of people and emotion.
In this respect, it’s important to acknowledge Encanto’s social and historical context. What we see most is a group of women who are working hard to keep their family both together and alive. We see a community whose priority lies in making sure that everyone is safe and looked after. They all exist knowing the very real circumstances that led their Abuela to be in their Casita, and the type of loss it took to create it.
It can’t be ignored that this was a very real concern for Black and Indigenous people of Colombia during the Thousand Days' War, which was brought on as a result of revolutionaries trying to save Indigenous communities and liberate Black people from slavery, and nationalists (read: racists) fighting against that. And it’s perhaps why the scenes with Alma and Pedro’s displacement from their home with the rest of their friends and neighbours were the hardest to watch. The film may lean more towards magic than realism, but it’s these moments of sincerity that make the movie approachable.
We see Alma distraught at the loss of her husband, and so desperately clinging to the gift her family has been given, lest she lose her loved ones again. It is a truth that I think all children of immigrants, and people with parents and grandparents who suffered through war and turmoil must confront: the life we live now is built on the decisions our family made because they had to, not because they wanted to.
I’m hard-pressed to think of many, if any, people my age whose families immigrated here not out of necessity and displacement from their own land, but because they just wanted to. And it’s this that we see from Alma — the expectations she has of everyone, her overriding focus on the candle — all from knowing that loss created the life she has, and further loss will take everything away.
The Colombia we see in Encanto is luxurious and abundant, and the characters we’re introduced to do everything from control the weather to grow flora and fauna as needed. The Encanto world, however, is not a utopia, but a refuge. It is a stronghold within a war-torn country that exists because of immense sacrifice.
It made me reflect a lot on what it is to be Latinx, especially as the daughter of immigrants, and only knowing my family’s history through stories of displacement.
What makes Encanto so special to me is its display of hospitality and safety. Casita is not just a house, but a sanctuary for all who need it. The elements it draws its inspiration from help build a world that to me, feels familiar and comforting. Its magic is not the talents each of the Madrigals have, or even Mirabel’s ability to bring the house back to life, but in its display of resilience — which hits close to home.
Encanto is available to stream now on Disney+. Watch the trailer below: