Photo Credit: Edna Valencia| Facebook
Edna Valencia: The Afro-Colombian Woman Behind The Black Characters Of Disney's Encanto
Disney’s Encanto, an animation film inspired by Colombia, pays tribute to the country’s beauty and diversity. To authentically portray characters, places and history, Disney put together a team of experts to help them understand Colombian dynamics. Edna Liliana Valencia, an Afro-Colombian journalist who has focused her professional and personal life on the importance of Afro representation, was a member of that team and played an important role as a consultant in Afrocentric representation.
“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.
The journalist siad she worked a lot on the costumes, as well as the hair and the features of the characters.
“For me, it was important that the Afro-Colombian characters not be caricatured in an exaggerated or stereotyped way,” she explained.
She mentioned in the interview that within the work process, which for her was a year and a half, seeing each idea materialize on the screen was “exciting”, and seeing the final work was even better.
“Today, seeing the film is wonderful because I don’t know if people in Colombia had ever dreamed that Disney would make a film inspired by Colombia. Those Colombians who grew up watching ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Aladdin’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ have never imagined the moment when the protagonist would be a Colombian in the Cocora Valley, in the coffee zone, eating arepa with cheese and ajiaco ”.
“We used some self-concepts about Colombia and about the Colombian girls and boys who are going to watch the film. 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. 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. To me, it is something historical ”.
But her work was not only managing character features. Valencia provided information about the history of the region where she was born, the Chocó.
“I never thought they were going to listen to me with that. I told them that the Chocó tropical forest is one of the most biodiverse in the world. I am very happy that my department, which has been so invisible and abandoned by Colombia’s government, is represented in Encanto.”
Within the film, there are other details such as the chonta marimba, the African braids with colored shakiras and more that helped to reflect the different regions of the country throughout history.
“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,” said the journalist who has already seen the film on several occasions with the team, and her family.”.
It took five years to build the story of Walt Disney’s Encanto, in which the directors toured different areas of the country, from Santander, Zipaquirá, Cartagena and Palenque, showing how the expressions, ways of dressing and musical rhythms changed in each of them.
“I am very proud of the work, the research group deserves applause, there were many of us. The architects who made the house, which is a character in the movie, made every window, door and cobblestone, as well as the architecture of the town. Felipe Zapata worked in the botany and biodiversity area, each species of tree, plant, bird or animal that comes out, was designed because it is in Colombia ”.
As Infoeban reported, Valencia recently decided to leave her job as a journalist to dedicate herself to her personal projects, focused precisely on the representation of Afro-Colombians.
“I confess that this job was one of the reasons why I made that decision. I never sent my resume to Disney because it never occurred to me that they noticed me, but they looked for me and this showed me that beyond the news set there are other more direct, more precise jobs, more than the hand of the community. Now I am working on a book and an Afro-Colombian aesthetic center ”.
She concluded by saying that the identity reference portrayed in Walt Disney’s Encanto will never be taken away from the Colombian people.
“Disney’s Encanto shows a beautiful Colombia, a Colombia of unity, a Colombia without drugs, prostitution. Definitely, the image of Colombia will change from this moment on. I am not saying that it is the solution to Colombia’s problems, but when we see Colombia with a different look, it begins to change and this film contributes a lot to that.”