Film Forward

Why ‘Coco’ Earns Praise For Embracing Inclusivity And Not Pandering To Stereotypes

A cultural celebration in which "every nuance felt good."

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Title: Coco (2017)
Directors: Lee Unkrich 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Adrian Molina 👨🏽🇲🇽🇺🇸🌈
Writers: Lee Unkrich 👨🏼🇺🇸, Adrian Molina 👨🏽🇲🇽🇺🇸🌈, Jason Katz 👨🏼🇺🇸, and Matthew Aldrich 👨🏼🇺🇸

Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸

Quality: 5/5

Pixar's Coco is the complete package. Its vibrant universe is full of riotous, celebratory colors and neons — purples and pinks and greens exploding across every corner of the screen. The storytelling is pitch perfect, rediscovering the depths of emotion that old-school Pixar masterpieces like Toy Story 2 (1999), also directed by Lee Unkrich, or WALL-E (2008), had plumbed to great success.

Gender: 2.75/5
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? NOPE

The Rivera women in Coco are strong, inspiring, and lovingly crafted, forming a long line of matriarchal figures who provide the family unit for Miguel Rivera, the main character voiced by Anthony Gonzalez.

However, these women are not the focus of the film. Instead, audiences embark on Miguel's journey as a young boy who thirsts for freedom of choice and chases the ghost of his long-lost father. In Miguel's travels to the Land of the Dead, he meets Héctor, voiced by Gael García Bernal, who is on the precipice of being forgotten and erased forever. Héctor commands much of the remaining emotional space, so between him, Miguel, and the supporting character of Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the screentime of Coco is largely swallowed up by three men who interact with any number of minor characters such as passport control agents, security guards, and other residents of the Land of the Dead.

Don't get me wrong, women do play pivotal roles in the film. But Miguel's abuelita, his great-grandmother Mamá Coco, and their ancestor Mamá Imelda — voiced by Renee Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, and Alanna Ubach, respectively — come and go in short bursts, never finding a chance to actually hold a conversation with each other. The closest we get is abuelita talking to her mother, Coco, but the slightly addled older woman never responds.

I'll say this again and again until I'm blue in the face: the Bechdel Test is the lowest of low bars to pass for equal gender representation. There is simply no excuse for two women to never exchange words with each other in the span of a feature-length film.

Race: 5/5

As an Asian American, I hardly have the authority to talk about how Coco portrays Mexican culture and its people. What I can say is that I loved the richness of the film — how every nuance felt good and never exploitative or stereotyped. The lengths that Pixar went to do Coco right, such as course-correcting after the attempt to trademark "Día de los Muertos" blew up in their faces, have paid off. Quite literally, too; Coco is Mexico's highest grossing film, ever, and it's still going strong.

Vanessa Erazo of Remezcla lauds the film, saying "Mexican culture is treated with dignity, honor, respect, and the utmost reverence. It is not exotic or seen as foreign, in fact it's normalized," while Kiko Martinez goes one step further, calling Coco "the standard-bearer of a positive example of what the Latino experience can look like on the big screen for years to come."


A couple times during the film, Héctor — who is straight — cross-dresses as Frida Kahlo in attempts to get through passport control, or to crash a hot-ticket party. The scenes are portrayed as humorous but not overplayed in a way that could be construed as ridicule or transphobia.

Mediaversity Grade: B+ 4.25/5

Coco may very well just be my favorite Pixar film to date. However, a film that doesn't designate the mere seconds it takes for two women to talk to each other will always have room for growth in terms of broader inclusion.

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.


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