The Queer History Behind One of ‘Coco’s’ Most Heart-Breaking Songs

in Movies, Pixar

Mama Imelda in Coco (2017)

Credit: Pixar Animation/Disney

Coco (2017) was a colorful, exciting, and heartbreaking film that focused on the importance of family and tradition.

The Disney/Pixar film follows Miguel as he tries to break free from his family’s ban on music and follow in his favorite musician’s footsteps. Along the way, he finds himself crossing through to the Land of the Dead, meeting Ernesto de la Cruz, who isn’t who Miguel always thought he was, and finding his actual great-great-grandfather, Héctor  Through his adventures, his family finally relinquishes their stance on music, and Miguel reconciles his great-great-grandmother, Imelda, and Héctor, reuniting the family.

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) in 'Coco' (2017)
Credit: Disney/Pixar

The turning point of the film is when Imelda realizes she has the chance to help save Miguel and Héctor from Ernesto, and does so by singing “La Llorona” on air in front of thousands of residents of the Land of the Dead. While the song in the film is both heartbreaking and pop-y, the actual song comes from an iconic Latina musician.

(left) Mariachi band member being threatened by (center) Abuelita Elena Rivera, while Miguel (right) looks shocked, from Coco (2017)
Credit: Pixar Animation/Disney

Chavela Vargas was born in Costa Rica in 1919, although she spent much of her life living in Mexico and identifying with the Mexican culture and people. She popularized many Mexican rancheras, or traditional songs, but also contributed a lot to Latin American music. In her younger days, she frequently dressed as a man, smoked cigars, drank, and overall defied gender expectations of the time. She carried this one step further by refusing to change the pronouns of the rancheras she sang, which were often written from the perspective of a man to a woman.

Chavela Vargas with Frida Kahlo, laying on the ground and laughing
Credit: Making Queer History

Although the lyrics of the songs she sang were directed towards women and she often dressed more masculine, Vargas didn’t publicly come out as a lesbian until she was 81. She was rumored to have had affairs with Frida Kahlo (who features as a prominent cameo in Coco) and American actress Ava Gardner. Although Vargas wasn’t officially out until later in her life, her queerness resonated with many fans and she became an icon for the queer movement and music industry in Mexico. Vargas is credited for recording the most popular version of “La Llorona,” which is the version that viewers hear in the Disney film. If it hadn’t been for such an iconic, radical, and unflappable woman, Coco may have been just a little different.

What’s your favorite song from Coco? Share your choice in the comments below!

in Movies, Pixar

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