special thanks to @sanktnikolais for editing my messy thoughts, i adore you
As a Colombian woman, it really warms my heart to see how many people are loving Encanto—all the positive reactions and the praise the movie has received not only from the critics but from the audience in general make me happy beyond measure. I, as well as pretty much everyone in this country, have always resented the negative representation we have had in the media.
For instance, "Narcos" is one of the best examples of this hurtful representation that continues to profit from some of the darkest moments of recent history, events that we all would like to bury in the past.
Nonetheless, the discourse I have seen about Encanto, especially on Tumblr, has disappointed me greatly. Most people have focused on coming out with headcanons about the characters' sexuality and gender, or writing Camilo x reader fics (do you realize he’s a teenager? please stop) shifting completely the real focus of the movie. Listen, I am not going to tell anyone what to do or to gatekeep these characters. The fact that you think Isabela is a lesbian doesn't bother me; what I'd really like to remind people of, specially queer white folks, is that this movie isn't for you.
This movie was made first and foremost for Colombians and Latinos. Therefore, when a movie like Encanto, which excels in every aspect and has finally given us the representation that we have been dying for, gets its every valuable aspect outshone by these woke and for the most part ridiculous takes (Bruno is autistic bc the knock on wood thing? Tell me you are white without telling me you are white.) It is expected that people like me won't feel happy.
That being said, in this post I want to tell you about the amazing job Disney made at representing the armed conflict in my country and what this representation and the song "Dos Oruguitas" mean for Colombian people.
As expected, when Disney announced Encanto as its 60th animated movie there were two kinds of people: the ones—including me—who couldn't contain our excitement and decided to trust Disney and cross fingers while saying "please don't mess this up"; and the ones who were convinced this would be a silly and stereotypical movie with zero to none cultural accuracy.
I still remember waking up very early the day the first trailer was set to be released and waiting impatiently the whole morning, until it was finally there after two years of waiting, and I couldn't contain the tears. The trailer broke down Colombian twitter, everyone was posting threads with all the references to our culture, the animals, the plants, the clothing, the food, the real places who inspired the movie. Disney had finally done it right this time.
And yet still, some people weren't content. “This isn't Colombia," they would say. “They aren't showing our long history with war and violence..."
This, of course, pissed me off deeply because for the first time we had something to feel proud of, something to show to the world that allowed us to say "this is who we truly are", they expected a war documentary from a children's movie. It was very clear and widely accepted that this movie wouldn't include any references to our violent past and present and that we all should be fine with it, because there are other types of content in which we can explore that on a deeper level; but to everyone's surprise, we were wrong.
Encanto opens up with Abuela telling Mirabel the story of the family's miracle. I saw the movie the day it premiered in my country, I can't remember seeing the cinema so full of people since Avengers Endgame. When Abuela explains how she and abuelo Pedro were forced to flee their home, everyone stopped talking. I'm sure we were all thinking, "Is this really happening? Did Disney just address one of the most painful events of this country?"
And the answer is yes. For the first time Disney decided to reference real life conflicts and not just any conflict, and I can't think of any different or better approach from the one the Encanto team chose.
The armed conflict in Colombia
I am aware that explaining a 70-year conflict in a Tumblr post is extremely difficult, even more to people who aren't citizens of this country. For this reason, I will try to oversimplify things as much as I can to get to the main point of this post. However, I will link some sources in case you want to do your own research, which I encourage you to do.
Over the last 70 years, Colombia has been devastated by the armed conflict. I am absolutely sure that there's no one in this country whose life hasn't been affected in one way or another by it, me and my family included. The Registro Único de Víctimas (RUV) recognizes 9 million people as victims of the different violent incidents that have taken place during the war. This number includes murders, enforced disappearances, kindappings, sexual assaults, massacres, terrorist attacks, tortures, forced recruitments, among other forms of violence. According to El Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, between 1958 and 2018, 261.919 thousand people were murdered in the context of the armed conflict.
This is how it started: Violent times in Colombia go back in time as far as 200 years ago, when members of the liberal and conservative parties began hostilities. Most people think that tracing the conflict to the 19th century is an exaggeration, but the truth is that the bipartisan violence never ended, it only shapeshifted and continues to nourish all the future conflict the country would face.
In 1948, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the liberal presidential candidante, and the most popular among the people was murdered in the capital. This was a breaking point in history that was followed by a wave of violence that quickly spread to the whole country and lasted until the end of the 50s. This period is known as "La Violencia''.
During this time, a group of peasants of liberal tendencies who had fought during "La Violencia'' and had been forced to flee their homes, settled in Marquetalia with their families, and founded "a free republic" with no loyalty whatsoever to the current government. By 1964 they had a considerable armed force and political power and already had rejected demobilization. As a consequence, the army attacked their settlements, forcing them to flee once more.
This, of course, had the opposite effect since two years later, the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) were created; the biggest guerilla in Colombia and the principal assailants of the armed conflict. A product of its time, the FARC - the cold war and revolutionary movements in Latin America - they adopted the communist ideology.
At the same time and inspired the Cuban Revolution, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) is also established, Years later, other guerillas such as The Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL), the M-19 would also take part in the conflict.
Around the 80s, the FARC had the objective to take over the government. Simultaneously, the ultra right wing, the army, politicians, landowners and even drug traffickers supported the creation of paramilitary units to fight the FARC and other guerrillas. As expected, this only deepened the violence because the paramilitaries fought the guerrillas but along the way they started murdering people in the country side and social leaders. These events coincide with the peak of drug trafficking in Colombia, which brought more harsh attacks against the people of this country but also money that at some point helped finance both groups.
From that moment on, war has worsened. Think of any violation against human rights and for sure it has been registered during these past 70 years . The majority of victims were civilians, men, women, and children of all ages were murdered, kindapped, raped, conscripted.
No one was spared.
Even after a peace treaty was signed between the government and the FARC, violence does not seem to stop. It is a combination of inequality, corruption, government neglect, a bad distribution of wealth, social injustice and drug trafficking, who continues to finance this very profitable business called war.
How is all of this related to Encanto?
One of the most devastating consequences of war is forced displacement. As I mentioned above, the majority of victims were civilians—specifically from the countryside, the zones the government has neglected for decades—who found themselves in the middle of the relentless violence; they had no choice but to flee their homes leaving all their belongings, their lives behind them except for what they could carry in their backs or hands.
They ran away because they were afraid they would be killed if they didn't, they ran away because their home had become a war zone. They ran away because they were afraid the guerrillas would take their children.
Some of them are “lucky” if you can call that luck, and they can leave before war knocked on their door, while some families weren’t. They didn’t always have a chance to escape. Most of them had seen their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons being killed or tortured in front of their eyes; their wives, daughters, and sisters sexually assaulted. Sometimes they even took one of their relatives and then it was certain they will never know what has become of them.
This is the wounding reality of this country. The more I think about it, the more I realize that it would have been impossible—even ridiculous—if Encanto prided itself on being true to Colombian culture if it hadn't included any reference to the armed conflict. No matter how traumatic and shattering this part of our reality is, it is still ours.
The story of Abuela Alma, a woman who had to flee her home in the middle of the night, with her children in her arms, a wife who saw her husband murdered in front of her eyes. She had to hold on to whatever strength was left inside of her to wake up day after day to raise three children and somehow try to come to terms to the traumatic events that forever changed her is not something that belongs in fiction. The scene when Alma falls down, powerless and helpless as her husband's life is brutally ended in front of her and their children, isn’t there because its purpose is to generate an emotional response in the audience. It is there because it has to be, because it is time the world knows what this country has endured.
This is the story of thousands of mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and all the strong women who somehow have been resilient enough to keep living after having suffered the unspeakable. The generational trauma in the family Madrigal is the heart of this film as much as it is their unconditional and enduring love for each other, as much as it is our music and our vibrant colors, as much as it is our grief but also our resilience.
Disney understood why it was vital to represent all of this in Encanto, and that’s why I cannot just sit here and watch how most people erase the heart of this film, you do not get the right to do it.
I love my country.
I love my country and I am proud of this blessed land, the second most biodiverse country on earth.
I am proud of our culture, our music, our food, our diversity and all the beautiful details that make us who we are.
I am proud of all the things you got to see and love in Encanto but I won’t lie and say living in the country is the most mesmerizing experience.
Colombia is the second most unequal country in Latin America, the health care system is a disaster, corruption reaches ridiculous standards, people get killed for defending their rights, there are no jobs, not enough opportunities for real progress, and we have one of the most devalued currencies in the region—all of that in the eyes of a government who couldn’t care less about the citizens of this country.
In addition to that and as I mentioned in the first lines of this post, there is no one whose life hasn’t been affected by war and violence. I can count myself lucky, my whole life I have lived in the city, and never got to endure what people in the countryside have gone through. But during the peak of drug trafficking war, when Pablx Escxbar would set car bombs in the cities every now and then, when people were too afraid to set a foot out of their houses, I almost lost my aunt and my dad—he almost died from being crushed by a wall when a car bomb exploded in front of his workplace, and then I wouldn’t be here, writing this post.
We constantly wake up with news of a new massacre somewhere in the countryside and some days it is really hard to find a reason to smile. I won’t pretend a Disney movie can solve all these problems because it really doesn’t. But in the middle of all these tragic events, it gives us—me—a reason to smile.
The Encanto soundtrack was released before the movie, I had heard they were pushing Dos Oruguitas for the academy award for best original song so that was the first song I listened to. I couldn’t stop crying. And even before knowing what scene it would accompany, this song felt like a gift, like a warm embrace that brings hope for a country that needs it desperately and for my people who remain strong and resilient in spite of it all, a country who dares to dream of a better tomorrow.
p.s 1: If you read this far, you are amazing and i love you
p.s 2: When Abuela Alma and Mirabel embrace they are surrounded by yellow butterflies, this is a reference to our nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his novel “One hundred years of solitude”.
In case you want to read more about the armed conflict:
A more detailed explanation of the armed conflict in Colombia
If you are a spanish speaker, La Comisión de la Verdad released this podcast where victims of the armed conflict tell their stories
An amazing documentary by DW about what has happened in my country after the peace treaty with the FARC:
Some pictures by Jesús Abad Colorado, a photographer who has dedicaded his life to accompany the victims and their grief. The pictures are in black and white, and while they don’t include blood, they could be somewhat sensitive for some people.