GAEL GARCIA BERNAL, who voices a leading character in “Coco,” is impressed with how the Pixar film even seeks to build cultural bridges with those who might speak against Mexicans and Mexican Americans.
In “Coco,” the path to and from the afterlife involves a border checkpoint, and those trying to cross illegally — including Hector (voiced by Garcia Bernal) — are quickly scooped up by “immigration” guards. The moment is played for laughs, but the Day of the Dead scene is especially resonant because of the real-world political climate, including President Trump’s promises to build a border wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico, and his comments such as, “The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”
Bernal, who is from Jalisco, Mexico, is fascinated with this storytelling approach, especially as “deeply conflicted” politics play out.
“In the time that we’re living in, with the social and political discussions that are going it in the United States — and with the United States vs. the rest of the world — it’s really interesting to see how people like [co-director] Adrian Molina and other American [Latinos] are engaging and making themselves heard,” the Golden Globe-winning Bernal (“Mozart in the Jungle”) says recently during a trip to Washington.
“They manifest who they are in an impressive, culturally potent way,” he continues, even while “engaging in a discussion with an irrational mythology that is criminalizing them” in the United States.
(Worth noting: In “Coco,” Hector — following his attempts to cross the hereafter’s border illegally — becomes a redemptive character.)
Certain themes can appeal even to people who cheer Trump’s insults toward Mexicans, says Bernal — including “Coco’s” emphasis on being close to generations of family, however one chooses to define it. “It is the founding portion of society,” he says, “and family is the place where experimentation and openness and curiosity are fostered.”
Sitting for an interview being held just north of the White House recently, Molina, a Californian of Mexican descent, points to the power of narrative for building bonds across animosity and bigotry.
“That’s why making this film is so rewarding, because I am able to express the things about what I value and what I think is important about the idea of family and the idea of remembrance,” he says of “Coco,” which is Pixar’s first film to feature multiple leading characters of color.
“A lot of that comes from my culture, and I think it’s good to be able to share that, so that other people can recognize it and relate to how common it is. … This feels like a great example of that cultural exchange for hopefully a better world.”