Sunday morning political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz joyfully announced via Facebook that he was working on the new Disney Pixar Day of the Dead-themed animated film, Coco.
ESPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: I have been sitting on this news, but it’s finally time to let you know that I am on the team creating the new Pixar Day of the Dead movie titled “Coco”. [link]
I responded “Firme,” which is Mexican slang that loosely translates to “cool.”
What I didn’t write was that I was kinda surprised and may have raised an eyebrow or two. I’ve been following Lalo’s art since the ’90s and when I met him him years ago at the Pocho Hour of Power event I asked him to sign the calendar I bought and took a picture with him. I don’t want to say I’m a fangirl, but I’ve cut out and saved my share of La Cucaracha cartoons over the years.
Lalo’s political cartoons first made me laugh when I saw them in the LA Weekly. He critiqued mainstream Hollywood and racist/xenophobic practices alike.
While some people brought up Muerto Mouse, — more on that — I thought way earlier to Migra Mouse. From Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration, a collection of Lalo’s political cartoons:
“Migra Mouse represents the corporate interest of the Walt Disney company, which donated money to then California Governor Pete Wilson’s re-election campaign. Wilson was exploiting the illegal immigration issue in the most divisive way, so I felt it was necessary to point out that wholesome Disney was affiliating itself with Wislon and Proposition 187, a xenophobic state ballot.”
A lot changes in 20 years… or even two years.
In May 2013, Disney made the epic blunder of trying to trademark “Día de los Muertos” in anticipation of the movie. Rightfully, this pissed off Chicanos and Latinos everywhere who were tired of seeing the appropriation of DDLM without respect for its roots. Lalo made Muerto Mouse, a mock poster for the movie, that was quite popular.
With this history, there were some people who were understandably scratching their heads. Like, what gives, man? Lalo explained himself when questioned. The patent attempts were dropped because of the pressure, Disney listened. Isn’t this what we want, greater representation and diversity in mainstream Hollywood? With him as part of the creative team he could to his best to ensure the culture was respected. And, I thought, he’s an artist who has the right to make the best decisions for his career and his family. I’d be a hypocrite if criticized Lalo for making a move to advance his career after just doing that myself by going from a public university of an elite private university. I can’t deny that compensation and career advancement were not part of my decision. Bills don’t pay themselves.
Later that day I saw this come up in my feed.
On Monday morning, Lalo posted this:
Something bothered me about Lalo and others’, namely Gustavo Arellano, response to the critics. It was the abject dismissal of the haters and tying it to an ethnic trait, even if jokingly. Being critical is hardly exclusive to Mexicans. Furthermore, it begs the question. If I share the same background as you, do I have to always approve or like the work you’re doing be it in politics or art? Do white people get accused of crab mentality if they say anything other than “Awesome! Congratulations!”? Perhaps “You are not expected to support culture produced by someone of same race” should be added to Peggy McIntosh’s invisible backpack of white privilege.
And were people really that critical? No!
I went back to Lalo’s initial announcement to see if there was a backlash I missed. The first thing I noticed was that the news got a ton of likes and shares. There’s no way to know if these are all positive, so my rudimentary research focused on the comments. Of 450 comments, most were congratulatory. In fact, since I like making charts and playing with Excel, I looked up some common words to see their frequency.
There are 323 total mentions of the words I searched; some of these were surely mentioned by the same commenter (“Congratulations! This is awesome news! Good luck!!!!”). I also searched for Muerto Mouse (<10 mentions; some by Lalo himself) and Migra Mouse (1 mention). The comment that garnered Lalo’s “so it begins screenshot” wasn’t representative by any means. And no one called him a tío Taco (sell out or Uncle Tom) except one lady. When he posted about his critics or haters, the vast majority of people responding to the critics sided with Lalo and lauded him with more praise. I doubt he deleted comments.
I favor constructive criticism and debate. In a medium like social media, everyone can share their opinion. Chicanos and Latinos do not, nor should they, all agree that Day of the Dead traditions need to be shared in mainstream entertainment. We are not a monolith. I have mixed feelings on DDLM going mainstream but have also purchased sugar skull patterned bags, clothing at the mall and stamps at the craft store. I’ve enjoyed Lalo’s art for many years and hope his humor will come through in inside jokes or Easter Eggs as is common with Pixar films. As for Disney/Pixar, I usually love Pixar movies and grew up watching lots of Disney movies in the ’90s. Toy Story is one of my favorites and the Lee Unkrich/Darla Anderson producer/director team made me cry last time I watched one of their animated movies, Toy Story 3. I go to Disneyland occasionally, wear Minnie Mouse ears, and sing Disney songs to my son. I like that Coco, which features a little boy named Miguel, may be one of his first moviegoing experiences.
What I’m not down with is exaggeration and blanket statements, but I’ll do one of my own. Maybe Jerezanos* like Lalo and Gustavo just attract more hate than others. And if that’s the case, then I’m wondering when I’ll get a share of that hate.
[*Jerezanos are people from Jerez a city in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. Lalo, Gustavo and I all have roots there.]