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Disney’s Encanto is a refreshing form of representation for Colombian culture

By Sebastian Vasquez Gutierrez, January 24 2022—

For the bulk of Disney’s filmmaking history, most of the stories are based in European countries, as seen with classics like Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame — all of which are based in France, with other films being set across the rest of Western Europe.

This has served to normalize European stories and narratives as mainstream and the narratives of people of colour as radical. While Disney movies based in Europe contain elements of the cultural surroundings — like baguettes and saying bonjour — they do not focus on the culture itself but rather simply normalize it.

However, with movies such as Coco — based on Mexican culture — and now with Encanto, which is set in Colombia, we are beginning to see Disney making an effort to represent different cultures and countries accurately. 

Encanto shines a new light on Colombian culture since it breaks away from the negative stereotypes we all know about surrounding its tragic past of violence related to drug cartels and terrorist groups.

These stereotypes have given the world a very negative perspective about the country and its people — Narcos is not a reflection of your everyday Colombian, just as American Psycho isn’t a reflection of an everyday American. Instead, Encanto highlights Colombian culture as vibrant, family-oriented and makes sure to include the little customs and traditions that mean so much to Colombians.

The film starts by showing a crucial part of Colombian history — a time of violence during the Thousand Days’ War which took place between 1899 to 1902 between the Liberal and National Conservative parties, as stated on the official Disney Encanto Fandom Wikia.

It came to the point of killing any opposing party member and many towns and cities was terrorized and living in constant fear as a result. Those events are still relevant to Colombians in the present day. They are a massive part of our history —  particularly when it comes to those living with generational trauma in the aftermath of conflict. 

 Even though the movie’s main character is Mirabel, the historical background of Encanto is something that thousands of Colombians remember. Many people lost their lives trying to protect their loved ones from attackers. However, the film also resonates with younger Colombians as many other circumstances unfolded following the Thousand Days’ War like the era of Pablo Escobar and the rise in guerrilla warfare during the 1980s — which continues to this day. 

As a Colombian, I grew up with lots of violence due to ongoing guerrilla conflicts but thankfully I never had to experience the forced displacement thousands of others have suffered.

I have heard stories and seen displaced families trying to get money while explaining their situation. Seeing an enterprise such as Disney show a very human perspective towards our culture and identity makes me hopeful that we can overcome the situation by showing the world and creating awareness. 

In the film, Abuela — one of the central characters in the movie — is escaping a violent mob alongside her family and town members. She is carrying a magical candle that represents one of the most important festivities for the Colombian community known as the “Day of Little Candles” — celebrated on Dec. 7.

This particular tradition is important to all Colombians since it is a celebration that represents happiness and hope. Even though it has a religious background that represents the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which is very important for Catholics, the tradition also represents unity with loved ones and the rich culture of the country. 

Another main character, Mirabell’s mother, has the gift of healing people with her food and is shown making traditional Colombian food such as arepas that heal the injuries of the townspeople — a metaphor for the idea that food heals people when it is made with love and care.

This representation is important for the Colombian community as it offers the world a different and unique view of our culture. We tend to see how many countries in South America get overlooked or seen as a monolith since there is little knowledge of each country, so having a company such as Disney portray my culture with such attention to detail is encouraging to see.

On top of this, many characters in the film represent real-life Colombian icons — Luisa, in particular, who is the older sister with the gift of super strength. She is a parallel of Colombian weightlifting gold medalist, Maria Isabel Urrutia, who was the country’s first-ever gold medalist and competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

She is important in Colombia since it was one of the first times Colombia made worldwide news not related to the internal conflict or issues with illegal drug trafficking. She spoke with different media outlets where she showed a different light of Colombia to the world. 

Like Encanto, we all share our love for our culture and our country. It’s safe to say that this movie is a significant step not only for Colombia for people of colour, Latino community and cultures across the world that struggle with the intergenerational trauma of violence and forced displacement.

This article is a part of our Voices section.

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