Disney’s latest award-winning feature film Encanto has taken social media by storm since its release on Disney+ and by now, you’ve probably seen more than a few Encanto-inspired TikTok reels and Instagram posts. Admit it, if your brain doesn’t randomly play the refrain from “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” on repeat, then it’s definitely got “Surface Pressure” on a loop.
Why representation matters
Besides having an unforgettable soundtrack, Encanto’s colorful cast of Colombian animated characters and family-centered story has reaffirmed in so many ways why it’s important for children and adults alike to see themselves in all forms of media. Plenty of sociologists and researchers agree that what we see on-screen has power. The real magic of this film is not only in getting to experience the fun of dancing and singing along, but in people seeing and hearing the characters that represent them tell their own stories in a familiar way–and every little detail matters. From Julieta’s perfect arepa-making technique, to Félix and Pepa’s vallenato and cumbia-influenced choreography, to the array of curls and curl-types on the characters’ heads.
Take a look at these four examples of curly-haired people who are celebrating seeing themselves in – and bear a striking resemblance to – the Family Madrigal.
1. Maribel Martinez
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One of the break-out stars of Encanto is the brawny middle-sister Luisa who’s gifted with super strength and carries both the family’s physical and emotional burdens. When Maribel Martinez, 23-year-old mother of two, started creating TikTok videos of her dancing and lip-syncing in costume as Luisa, her clips were soon attracting millions of views on the platform.
"Our people are all shades and I love that they included curly hair."
“Growing up as a middle child, I felt so much pressure to take care of my siblings and handle adult responsibilities. I never really had the opportunity to just be a child. I was my mom’s emotional support and a role model to my younger siblings,” Martinez told Buzzfeed. And on the topic of hair and culture, she tells NaturallyCurly that she very much appreciates the variety of Latinx representation in the film. “I feel amazed that they made characters in all shapes and sizes because that’s what representation is. It did resonate with me being a brown-colored Latinx [person], it’s amazing to see that we are now getting recognition and representation. Our people are all shades and I love that they included curly hair.”
2. Kenzo Brooks
One adorable 2-year-old warmed the hearts of many online with his reaction to seeing his resemblance to the youngest character in the Madrigal family, Antonio. “To see his reaction when connecting with the character Antonio, we were taken aback by how connected and understanding he was of the moment,” Kenzo’s father, Keith Brooks, says. “Although he can’t express verbally what he was feeling, his facial expression and body language showed he felt the connection in seeing himself on screen.”
Brooks explains that he and Kenzo’s mother have always had conversations with each other about race and empowering their young Black son in a world with unequal opportunity, and he believes movies like Encanto are empowering for all Black and Brown children in their ability to allow them to see themselves received in a positive light.
"We want our son to love himself and all of his physical attributes and [to find] comfort in the way he looks."
“When thinking of race and representation, not only does it connect to skin color but also other physical attributes such as hairstyle and texture,” he states. “Kenzo’s afro, we have been asked by people if we will cut it soon, and we always reply ‘no’. We want our son to love himself and all of his physical attributes and [to find] comfort in the way he looks.”
3. Madisyn Rivera
Photos courtesy of Madisyn Rivera
From the time the trailer for Encanto was released, cosplayer Madisyn Rivera says her phone was flooded with messages from family and friends telling her how much she looked like the main protagonist Mirabel Madrigal.
“I was expecting this character to be a side character but was blown away when I saw that a curly-haired hispanic girl, just like me, was the main character! I have never seen an animated character look like me before, let alone have my hair texture,” the 20-year-old film major says. “Her [Mirabel’s] curls add so much to her character, and that resonates with me deeply.”
"I have never seen an animated character look like me before, let alone have my hair texture”
For Rivera, as with many other people with textured hair, understanding and loving its natural state was a slow process. “When I was younger, I didn’t know how to take care of my curls and was the only grandchild to be born with curly hair. So for many years I straightened my hair to make it ‘easier’ for other people to deal with. But as I got older I took the big chop and happily grew back my curls. I am now passionate about keeping my natural hair healthy, as my curls are a part of my identity,” she says. “I wear my curls proudly the same way Mirabel Madrigal does, and that is something every curly girl now gets to see represented on a media [platform] as big and influential as Disney.”
4. Jasmine James
Also known in the cosplay community as “CutiePieSensei”, Jasmine James’s roster of cosplays is deep. Having portrayed the likeness of hundreds of animated characters, Dolores Madrigal is one of her most recent additions.
“It was cool to see actual important/main characters with curly natural hair; not just Dolores but even her father Félix with even kinkier textured hair, as well,” James explains. “It’s not common enough and I feel like if I had representation like that as a child, I probably would’ve felt more confident in my own hair back then. I cosplay a lot and not many ‘main’ characters look like me so it’s nice to have that and feel included.”
"not many ‘main’ characters look like me so it’s nice to have that and feel included."
How did you feel about the curly hair representation in Encanto? What animated characters do you feel represent you? Let us know your thoughts below.