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In my corner of the world, people continue to be interested in the movie Coco, especially after its nomination for an Oscar in the category of best animated feature film. Personally, I started to think about this movie again due to my mother’s recent passing.
Coco narrates the story of a little boy named Miguel, a member of a family that due to past wounds decided to ban all music from their lives. The problem is that Miguel feels called to be a musician. He has it in his blood. In fact, his calling is so strong that he decides to sit in a secret place of his house, a space where he plays his guitar, and where he learns about past musicians. When his grandmother finds Miguel playing his guitar, she destroys the instrument. This event sends Miguel searching for a new guitar, and for ways to live his calling as a musician. This search happens in both the land of the living and the dead. While visiting the land of the dead, he learns a significant family secret that eventually allows him to come back to the land of the living, and bring peace and music back to his family.
From a general Mexican perspective, the movie appropriately portrays the cultural traditions and religious understandings of many Mexicans. In fact, family and friends reported that the movie was well received in Mexico. The worldwide opening happened in Mexico on Nov. 2, day that many Mexicans observe El Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, as a way to remember and honor their ancestors. Here it is important to highlight that in Mexico most of the population is Catholic, and that their Catholicism, to a certain extent, represents a particular syncretism involving Christianity, cultural traditions, and native, pre-conquest religions.
From a Protestant perspective, this movie presents some challenges. The main challenge is related to the worldview that the movie portrays — one where the dead come back to the world of the living, and a living person (Miguel) is able to travel to the land of the dead. In this worldview, dead people stay alive in the afterlife as long as living people remember them. If the living forget them, they eventually experience eternal death. Due to these perspectives, some evangelical pastors discouraged or forbade their church members to watch this movie.
However, the movie also presents some learning opportunities. Here are some things to consider:
Since the United States’ dominant culture tends to degrade, ridicule and/or ignore the Mexican perspective and culture, I applaud Disney’s inclusion of Mexican characters, culture and values. All the characters were brown, and no white person was the hero, the smart one, or the one who saved the day.
Even though the worldview is challenging for Protestant people, the movie presents some good values. One of them is the importance of family, which appears in the movie as something that should take priority in one’s life. It does not matter how rich, famous or successful a person may become, if family is not by his/her side sharing and celebrating these successes, the person will not feel content or fulfilled.
Furthermore, the movie also highlights the importance of making peace with one’s family by knowing as much as possible about their past. Often, deceased family members continue to be present, not in a bodily form, but through memories and family dynamics that we have inherited from them. Since we live in family systems that tend to replicate themselves, in both the good and the bad, these relatives seem to stick around, affecting our lives. On the one hand, the inherited good traits need to be celebrated and nurtured. On the other hand, the bad traits need to be challenged by: 1) becoming aware of these detrimental dynamics; 2) gaining knowledge of alternative, positive patterns of behavior; and 3) implementing changes in our lives. All this requires honesty and courage as we face our family truths. Sometimes there are family secrets (as with Miguel’s family), that when brought into the open, liberate a family, allowing them to live a fuller and happier life.
A second value that is important to highlight is the idea of following your dream. Miguel’s dream was to be a musician, but to do this he would need to overcome many barriers. Nevertheless, he persisted until he opened the space to achieve his dream. As a Baptist woman in ministry, I immediately identified with Miguel’s pain and frustration when his family and community told him that he could not be a musician. His persistence inspired me because many times I have heard that because I am a woman I could not preach, teach, or be in ministry. However, with God’s blessings, and much persistence, here I am, doing what God has called me to be: a woman in ministry.
In addition to these two values, the movie invites the Protestant Christian to learn about a different worldview in order to be more effective in the sharing of the gospel. In the movie, people have eternal life as long as they are remembered by the living. If they are forgotten, they will eventually experience eternal death. As I was faced with my mother’s passing, I remembered this notion, and I thought: I am so glad that my mom’s eternal life does not depend on my memory, but on God’s memory. God is the one who remembers the ones who have been saved through Jesus, and whose names are recorded in heaven (Luke 10:20). This is good news, indeed!
Furthermore, learning about others’ worldviews allows us to find connecting points with people who think differently from us. If approached in a wise and caring way, these connecting points can turn into a true dialogue, and eventually, into an opportunity to share the gospel.
While it is true that movies like this present some challenges, I believe they also provide us with positive learnings. Here I am reminded about the apostle Paul who invited the Christians of his time to test everything, and hold fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Moreover, in Athens Paul modeled a ministry where he engaged seriously others’ culture in order to find a connecting point that led him to share effectively the gospel (Acts 17:16-34).
In spite of the challenges, I am grateful for Coco because it offers an enriching opportunity to consider, evaluate and cherish, even more, the treasures that we have in our Christian faith.