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  • Gonzalo Munoz

Comparing COCO to Black Panther; A cultural analysis

I am quite the Disney fan, and because of this I have delved deep into the likes Marvel Cinematic Universe and Pixar (to mention a few). Growing up with Disney, I never thought much of the racial, political, and sometimes, taboo subjects the films and various entertainment mediums explored or were too afraid to do so. The 90’s were the beginning of Disney’s venture to diversity and inclusion, Aladdin was one of the first major Disney movies to not feature main characters of European descent (The jungle book being the first), then came Pocahontas, and then Mulan. Disney has evolved with the times, as it should. It would be terrible to see a princess whose purpose in life is to become a stay at home house wife (ehem, Snow white). But this doesn’t mean that older movies cant be admired and liked. Although dreaming to be swept away to live as a loyal wife for the rest of her life.This might have been appropriate during the 1940’s, it is no longer the case as we approach 2020.

A film based off of a culture other than that of America would very likely not have worked pre 1980. The globalization and digitization of the world has allowed an interconnected global society to interact and understand one another. The evolution of world and entertainment has led us to these two films, fascinatingly enough, by the same company; Black panther and COCO.

Black panther came out amid a cultural divide in America. Donald Trump is now President, and regardless of whether if you agree with his political agenda and twitter tweets; he caused a divide in America in both extremes. Colleges are more liberal than ever, and its students expect others too agree with them with their left leaning rhetoric, if not face the consequences of being called a bigot, nazi, and more. Right winged individuals feel they have won and extreme right ideas are a lot more prevalent than we have been used to in the last few decades. Perhaps this is because of social media, it could be argued that extreme left ideas are also more prevalent.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done a great job at expressing the sentiments of the times in the 10 plus years it has existed. Black Panther is the product of all these aforementioned items, a global digital society, an evolved more educated population, and the current politics in America. It provides to the African American community a hero. This is a community that has often been neglected, and if you disagree then you can at least agree that this community feel neglected. The film puts into the spotlight one of their own, and beyond that, someone from their origins as the hero, a hero from Africa. This is where I found some interesting points regarding the film Black Panther. As I walked out of the theater, I recall a man of African descent mentioning to his date that “Black panther isn’t America’s hero, he’s Africa’s hero”. Now watching the film, I realized what the black community might have been thinking/feeling as they watched the movie. The villain, or anti-hero Killmonger would act out and state phrases that are those of a person who grew up in Black America would agree with. In one scene, Killmonger asks the museum expert “Where is this one from” (referring to an African artifact) the expert explains the artifacts at question and she proceeds to explain other artifacts as Killmonger questions them. Then Killmonger explains to her “Nah, it was taken by British soldiers in Benine, but its from Wakanda, and its made out of Vibranium”. Like the sentiments most African Americans towards their white counterparts, there is a disgust to how the “white” population see the heroics of their founding ancestors and the explorers who would often find these tribes across the globe (India, Africa, America). I think as an individual of Hispanic decent, I related quite well to this scene. The issue at hand is that what the “white” population considers “heroic” is different from what the black population considers “heroic”. Disgust, villainous, unfairness, catastrophe, are a few words that may describe what the black community considers the actions taken by the ancestors of white individuals. But to my point, the movie is created to touch the sentiments of the black man/woman from America. It evokes emotions often looked over by other communities. The scene explains that truths that are different depending who witnesses it. I believe Killmonger is the real star of this film, he, through his rhetoric, questions what truth really is. He flips the script to show a different side to the same story. As I searched and watched the different MCU interviews I found one with Don Cheaddle who captivated me when he said “You think they would send the black guy to where all the black people are” referring to his character. It was interesting to see how well nit the black community (at least in America) is. To the black community there is only black, yes there are exceptions to the rule, but unlike the Latin community, where there are different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, there is more than one community. Black Panthers ability to touch an ethnic community’s emotions the way it did is what makes its purpose so like that of the film COCO. However, there is a fascinating distinction between both cultures that I previously mention (black and Latin) that I thought was intriguing. Regardless, both films attempt to achieve the same goal, to evoke emotions in their targets audience by provoking their cultural identification.

COCO takes place in Mexico. Mexicans are very proud of their nationality, like other Latin communities including, Colombian, Honduran, Argentinian, Costa-Rican, Ecuadorian, etc. The key distinction I would like to make between the two films portrayal of ethnicity is that a Latin person is a descendant of Spaniards (The white man), and we don’t like to be seen as Spanish. The Latin community tends to be more loyal to our actual nationality, even if born in the United States (if Latin you identify with your parents nationality, Argentinian, Colombian, Salvadorian, Mexican, etc). We are prouder of having indigenous heritage. Like how the black community sees the white man, we see the Spaniard. The ”Spanish” represents to the Mexican the white tyrant who threatened our home and caused chaos among our people. To our unfortunate displeasure, we are also a product of him. We are decedents of both the indigenous tribe who fought against tyranny, and the white man who caused it.

COCO does a phenomenal job at expressing the culture and thoughts of the Latin (specifically Mexican) people. Pixar did its homework well, the music was on point, Mexican’s love traditional mariachi music. The town portrayed on screen looks just like my mother’s home town in the state of Jalisco. I love watching this film because it makes me feel like I am there, in Jalisco, a home away form home. Everything portrayed in the film is the same way I remember my childhood and the same way I feel every time I am with my family. From the punishments with the “chancla”, having tortillas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. COCO does the same thing Black Panther does to its targets audience emotions by evoking pride in our own ethnic backgrounds. Although they have the different methods of doing so, both films ultimately make you feel proud of being black, and what does it mean to be black? To be from Africa! As opposed to someone who is of Latin origin, what does it mean to be Latin?! It means be from Latin America! This subtle difference between both ethnicities makes no difference in the way both films evoke emotions to one’s origins. They both ultimately do the exact same thing.

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