NATALIA CORDOVA-BUCKLEY is a voice actor in the new Disney/Pixar movie “Coco,” but it was her voice that led her to first experience the trauma of sexist taunts. She was bullied because she spoke with a low tone — deeper than her father’s by age 6, she says — that was judged to be less than feminine.
“Machismo harmed me deeply,” she says. “It silenced me. It made me feel like my existence was not worthy.”
Now, amid the tectonic crack in the culture that has grown as men from Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore have been accused of a wide range of sexual misconduct, Cordova-Buckley believes speaking out is the only way to topple what she calls “the monster of machismo.”
“We’ve never had a female awakening of this magnitude,” says Cordova-Buckley, whose resume also includes the Disney/Marvel TV series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which begins a new season next month, as well as its Emmy-nominated web spinoff, “Slingshot.” She cites the historic fights of women’s rights movements in the 1920s and ’60s and ’70s, but says: “This is really unstoppable now.”
Cordova-Buckley declines to comment on Pixar co-founder John Lasseter, who on Tuesday announced that he is taking a six-month leave of absence in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct. She has met him only once, at a premiere event for “Coco.”
Yet as Rashida Jones clarified Tuesday on why she and her writing partner left the studio’s “Toy Story 4″ — reportedly over differences involving the creative representation of women and people of color at Pixar — Cordova-Buckley continues to speak out, including on her social-media accounts, for people who face systemic injustice.
“I’ve had my own moments of sexual harassment,” says the Mexican-born actress, who turns 35 Saturday, speaking by phone from Los Angeles. “Have I had my private parts grabbed without my permission? For sure. Have I had a man older, when I was a child, try to get with me? Sure, [though] it’s never gone further than that. So I know what it feels like.”
Cordova-Buckley voices the legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in “Coco,” which centers on a 12-year-old’s artistic journey revolving around Day of the Dead ceremonies. The actress feels as if the role was practically spiritually ordained, given the fact that Kahlo helped the actress find her own voice.
Cordova-Buckley was raised in Cancun, Mexico — “a ‘Blue Lagoon’ baby,” she says with a laugh. Despite comments about her voice, she found strength in the story of Frida Kahlo, whose work was such a presence in Cordova-Buckley’s home growing up that the girl practically had personal altars of her. Cordova-Buckley would look at images of such paintings as “The Two Fridas” (personally, “that represents the older me reassuring the younger me”) and “The Broken Column” (with Kahlo’s exposed torso) and find strength.
Kahlo’s art taught Cordova-Buckley “that it was okay to choose strength over acceptance,” she says. “To me, that is the choice every woman must make in a very misogynistic world, you either choose to be strong and powerful, or you choose to be loved and accepted. You can’t have both because if you choose to be strong and powerful, then [people] will fear you and then you will be rejected.
“Frida chose her strength and was rejected for it — by her husband, by her family, by friends, by society, even by herself,” the actress continues. “Her paintings are a way to connect with the pain that lived inside her. To me, that was such a powerful thing, to be able to forgive myself. … She just constantly taught me to love myself.” And Kahlo, she says, made it okay to be described by a male-dominated culture as a woman who is “intense, radical, crazy, dramatic.”
Cordova-Buckley studied classical dance as a child, but by her teens, she found more freedom for self-expression through theater. She studied acting for three years at Cal Arts — which “is basically Pixar University,” she says — so getting to voice Kahlo for Pixar, she says, was a surreal dream come true. It was as if her own late grandfather, an acclaimed Mexican actor, was guiding her steps from the hereafter — not unlike aspiring guitarist Miguel in “Coco,” who’s guided by his late ancestors when he crosses to the other side during Day of the Dead, she says.
While it was “joyful,” she says, to give voice to the artist who helped her find her voice, exercising that personal voice, when speaking out about the mistreatment of women, has brought pain — especially when even some of the men closest to her have rejected her beliefs. To her, that was worse than being physically harassed at a club. “I got wrecked, berated … [by men] telling me: ‘Machismo doesn’t exist. You guys have equal rights.’ ”
In the wake of the sexual misconduct scandals, Cordova-Buckley sees good that can come from what she calls an unprecedented reckoning.
“It is about erasing the culture that created these men — we definitely have to give names to these men,” the actress says. “We have to bring them to justice.”