An Afro-Colombian journalist worked behind-the-scenes for Disney to ensure its “Encanto” film told the story of her native Columbia in all of its rich Afro heritage and culture.
Edna Liliana Valencia, who’s focused her career and personal life on highlighting the importance of Afro representation, brought her expertise with her to Disney when they reached out for her help with the 2021 animated story.
According to Travel Noire, she shared her contributions to the animated movie in an interview with Infobae. While working with Disney; she supported directors, producers and animators to create the most accurate representation of the Afro-Colombian people.
“Colombia is an extremely diverse country, where there are Afro, indigenous, and peasant farmers. Even between Afrocentric regions, there are differences, because there is no homogeneity in Afro-descendants in Colombia,” Valencia told Infobae.
In the film, a family lives in a magical home in the hills of Colombia. Each of the family members has a super power—except for one child.
“For me, it was important that the Afro-Colombian characters not be caricatured in an exaggerated or stereotyped way,” she shared. She also stated that Columbia is an extremely diverse country where no Afro-descendant is exactly like the other.
Over the year and a half process, Valencia contributed to the characters’ costumes, as well as hair and other features. For her, “Encanto” is historical because Colombian children now have a movie of their own to look up to.
“The people of my generation grew up with the reference of a distant Disney princess, who did not look like us, who lived a life of queens that we could not have,” she said. “Now, the girls of this generation are going to grow up with a Disney character that looks just like them, dress just like them, with curly, wavy hair, who eats arepa and plays shuffleboard … it gives us the chance to believe that we are the protagonists of history and feel that we are part of that international narrative.”
Other Colombian-inspired details in the film included Chocó, the region where Valencia was born, and chonta marimba, African braids with colored shakiras. Valencia said she’s seen the movie many times with the team, as well as with loved ones.
“In the end, I could take each character of the Madrigal family and compare it with someone in my family and I think it is something that can happen to all Colombians.”