Why I'm Boycotting "Coco"

General | Jan 8, 2018 | Carlos Castillo

In 2016 I went to a screening of a new documentary at a film festival. It was about a notorious death squad in Guatemala during the 1980s.

As the opening credits rolled, I was surprised to see a Hollywood icon as executive producer. Another producer had credits from some of the most successful movies in Hollywood history.

(As you can see, I’m not naming names. My intent is not to denigrate the efforts of other filmmakers.)

It was a terrific film. I’ve since recommended it to friends. Yet something was gnawing at me as I drove home that night.

Part of it was personal. I’ve been laboring on a biographical documentary on Bobby Chacon, a legendary Mexican-American boxer, for too long. Every time I watch another documentary, I get that little pang of jealousy. I’m human, so sue me.

But there was something more to my reaction for this particular film. Then, I figured it out:

I had seen this story before.

Back in the 1990s, I served on a selection committee for a Latino film festival. It was chock full of entries from Central and South America, including documentaries on human rights abuses committed by U.S.-backed dictatorships.

But, by and large, many of these films were created on shoestring budgets. They obviously didn’t have the money for expensive archival footage or explanatory graphics to properly illustrate important aspects of these very dense and circuitous stories. Although the filmmakers had employed talking heads and still photographs, too often the films lacked the polish to effectively engage an increasingly distracted audience.

The documentary on the Guatemalan death squad had plenty of polish, polish that comes from having the production dollars to make the storytelling dynamic.

Let me get to another key point: all the filmmakers—director, producer, iconic executive producer—on the Guatemalan death squad documentary were white men. Why were these particular people given first crack at telling this important, albeit tragic, story about indigenous people in Guatemala?

Are you telling me there were no Guatemalan or Latino filmmakers capable of making this documentary?

Recently I’ve seen news of an upcoming documentary on a famous Mexican chanteuse, and another one on the notorious rape of a black woman in 1944 Alabama. The filmmakers? White women.

In the case of “Coco,” the owner of the film is a multinational behemoth, Disney (and it’s getting bigger with the recent purchase of 21st Century Fox). Last I heard, “Coco” had grossed half a billion dollars worldwide, so not only are the studios co-opting our culture, they and their shareholders are making a mint off of it.

Sure, some Latinos got a temporary gig on “Coco,” including some who were used by Disney as what I call “Human Diversity Shields” to tamp down criticism and keep the natives from getting too restless.

I’ve stopped looking for white people to take a vested interest in this argument. Some of these people benefit from the status quo, so why should they care about changing it? Why would they rail about the situation if their actions upset their own apple cart?

As Latinos, we have a measure of responsibility to fix these problems ourselves. We need to invest in and support our own in the creation of intellectual property. We need to own stuff that creates recurring revenue. Why not work toward achieving parity so that all Americans are accorded equal opportunities to live fulfilling, prosperous lives?

Disney obviously delivered a film many people, including a lot of Latinos, found engaging and entertaining. But there’s something more at stake here than just another night at the movies: the ability to CONSISTENTLY represent ourselves in the cinematic canon while deriving experiential and economic benefit from doing so.

Instead of fattening Disney’s pockets by buying a ticket to “Coco,” hunt out some Latino-produced fare to watch and enjoy. Attend a Latino-themed film festival or get online and purchase Latino-produced content. And if your kid asks why not “Coco,” get a book and read them a story. Or, better yet, tell them YOUR story.

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