Still from Disney’s “Encanto“ (2021)
**This article contains spoilers for Disney’s “Encanto” (2021).**
In late November of 2021, Disney released the long-anticipated movie “Encanto.” The film centers around a mestiza, Colombian family, the Madrigals, who were blessed with magical powers which they use to help the neighboring town. The main character is Mirabel Madrigal, who didn’t get powers and is therefore the familial black sheep, tip-toed around and often told to stay out of the way. However, when the magic starts disappearing from the house, and the Madrigals begin to lose their powers, it’s up to Mirabel to save them.
“Encanto” is vibrant and full of life. Everything is colorful and the music is fun yet enchanting, especially “Dos Orguitas” by Sebastian Yatra, which appears towards the end of the movie. It is clear that this was a passion project, treated with the utmost care. The film tackles a lot of themes that surround Latinidad, specifically generational trauma and the ways in which our identities are constructed, destroyed, and renewed.
I wanted to specifically focus on two characters in the film: Mirabel and Bruno. As mentioned earlier, Mirabel was the only one in her family born without any powers (with the exception of those who married into the Madrigals), making her an outcast in her family (with the exception of those who married into the Madrigals). Bruno, on the other hand, was born with the gift of foresight, seeing visions of the future that were often muddied and vague. These visions scared many people, including the Madrigals. He eventually left, having gotten tired of their views about him.
Latinx or not, many queer folks related to these two characters because they were the familial “black sheep.” Many of us stand out from our families, as being one of the few family members that are queer. Many of us don’t live with a queer family. If we’re out, we are told that we shouldn’t be too open about it, that we must put that part of our personality away. In the case of Bruno, his gift of foresight was causing too many problems and he left the family before his visions could cause any more trouble. With Mirabel, she is constantly told to stay out of the way in lieu of her more gifted family members, even implied to be bad luck at her cousin’s gifting ceremony. To queer folks, this was a feeling that was easily identified with.
Make no mistake, however. “Encanto” is not a queer film or, at least, it’s not a film explicitly about queerness. The “queerification” of the film by white queer people has caused some controversy, especially when the film is meant to center themes of family and generational trauma. Many of the issues come down to the fact that “Encanto” isn’t meant to be a queer allegory but an allegory about Latinx trauma, and making it a solely queer allegory has gotten folks accused of racism.
(Warning, spoilers for the movie are coming up.)
“Encanto” is a film that mainly explores generational trauma through the breaking of the “generational curse” that plagues the Madrigal family. Towards the end of the film, it is revealed that the Madrigal’s magic came after Abuela’s, or Alma’s, husband Pedro is tragically killed while trying to protect the town and his new family. A candle appears, and that is when Casita, the house, magically appears and their children — Pepa, Bruno, and Julieta — are given their powers. It’s interesting to note that Alma doesn’t obtain any magical gift after the candle appears but rather serves as the candle’s and her family’s guardian, trying to protect the magic.
This comes to a head when Mirabel is discovered not to have a gift and Bruno, in one of his visions, sees Mirabel destroying the house. It’s implied that he’d been the scapegoat for a lot of the family’s problems before Mirabel, as evidenced by the song “We Don’t Talk about Bruno,” although the vision with Mirabel was the catalyst for him leaving the Madrigals.
When the magic starts disappearing, Mirabel is blamed for its disappearance which leads her on her journey to discover the cause. But as Mirabel continues to solve the mystery, more and more of the Madrigals’ problems are revealed. Luisa, whose gift is super-strength, is actually a very anxious person, afraid that she cannot stop the magic from disappearing, carrying the weight of her problems like most older Latina daughters do. Similarly, Isabela is betrothed to a man she doesn’t love because she wants to keep up appearances for her family and to be the perfect (grand)daughter. These are problems that many Latinx viewers can relate to, especially as Abuela becomes more hostile as these problems get revealed.
When Mirabel tries to explain how she’s going to save the magic, Abuela shouts at her. It is here when Mirabel finally stands up for herself and tells her grandmother that the damage to the magic was Abuela’s fault for wanting everything to be perfect, that the magic actually disappears. Mirabel also laments about how she’s never enough for her grandmother, a feeling that many Latinx grandchildren know all too well.
I related to the film more as someone who is Latinx and experiences generational trauma rather than someone who was queer. Still, I don’t know if I like people being accused of racism for looking at the film through a queer lens. The conversation is really strange, and it seems to say that Latinidad and queerness are at odds with each other (which isn’t true at all, there are many queer Latinx folks). One TikToker makes the claim that someone headcanonning Luisa as a trans woman was causing harm to the Latino community because “it comes off as you masculinizing feminine characters.” While we can definitely have a conversation about the masculinization of women of color, I don’t know if this is the right take. It posits that trans women who happen to be buff are automatically still masculine, that their femininity isn’t valid. It assumes that our notions of femininity are so fragile that a headcanon, something that isn’t even real, threatens it (however, this is an article for a different time).
But again, the conversation is a lot more nuanced in my opinion. We view things through our own lenses, and I happen to view media through a lens that’s both Latino and queer. And there’s media that definitely tackles both generational trauma and queerness. One such example is PopTV’s “One Day At a Time,” which is about a Cuban single mother trying to do right by her children, one of which happens to be a lesbian.
“Encanto” was one of of my favorite 2021 releases. I, unfortunately, didn’t get to see many films over the last year because I’d been living pretty much under a rock, but “Encanto” was my most anticipated. When I saw the trailer, I flipped out because it just seemed too good to be true. The last animated film that had brown, Latinx faces was Pixar’s “Coco,” a film that similarly explores themes of generational trauma and family disappointment. “Encanto” didn’t disappoint with music and well-developed characters that I could relate to.
If you get the chance, I’d recommend watching “Encanto!” It is a really good movie, the music is catchy, and the story is really touching. It’s important that we celebrate Brown art, even if it’s not explicitly queer. It is hard to tell stories about ourselves and our cultures, but “Encanto” did a wonderful job at doing so.
Author: Judah C (They/Them)
Copy Editors: Emma Blakely (They/She/He), Bella (She/They)