Oscar-nominated Latin animators on change in Hollywood

Phil Lord, Oscar winner for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” produced the nominee for this year’s animated feature “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” released by Netflix.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Since the 2009 release of his directorial debut, ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs’ – alongside his longtime creative partner Chris Miller, who had also collaborated on the MTV series ‘Clone High’ – Lord has is established as an almost infallible force in animation.

The Miami native, who grew up in the 1980s, remembers waking up before dawn on Saturday mornings to watch the animated series ‘GI Joe: A Real American Hero’ and ‘Pac-Man’ with her younger sister. Although their artistic quality, he now thinks, is questionable, they completed a media diet that included the famous astrologer Walter Mercado, the Univision variety show “Sábado Gigante” and the Cuban talk show “La Mesa Redonda “.

“I grew up with some of the worst animation, but I couldn’t stop watching. I was always fascinated,” he said.

A turning point came years later in the form of the International Tour of Animation, a showcase of animated shorts from around the world screened across the country, including an arthouse theater near from the University of Miami. “I would ask one of my parents to drag me there. That’s how I was first introduced to The Simpsons, Bill Plympton, Brothers Quay and all the entertainers in Eastern Europe,” he said.

Moving to Los Angeles after college, Lord and Miller began writing on comedy shows until their own projects came to fruition. They directed ‘The Lego Movie’ and the ’21 Jump Street’ live-action franchise, and produced ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ and the previous Oscar-winning animated feature ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider- Pour”. The latter, where the hero, the Afro-Latino teenager Miles Morales, speaks English and Spanish, remains a particularly proud project for the creator.

“One of the luckiest chances I ever had was to be able to write the movie ‘Spider-Verse’ and take my experiences growing up in two cultures and try to write some of that for Miles” , Lord said. . “I had something from my life experience to apply to that, and it brought life to a lot of people who watched that movie.”

Katie, Rick, Linda, Aaron and Monchi are "The Mitchells versus the Machines."

Abbi Jacobson voices Katie Mitchell, far left, the heroine of ‘The Mitchells vs the Machines’.

(Netflix/Sony Pictures Animation)

In “The Mitchells,” the title character, Katie Mitchell, is the first queer protagonist in a studio animated feature film. Lord hopes such groundbreaking feats will become obsolete as on-screen depiction spreads into the real world. “What can be so powerful about inclusion is that you’re not altering anyone, you’re just saying that’s how some people are, that’s what a protagonist can be,” he said. -he adds.

Having appeared on countless panels on inclusion in the entertainment industry, Lord thinks there are two questions people in positions of power should ask themselves if they really want to change: “Are we doing a good enough work to find people, adults who are willing to work and invite them to these productions? And are we doing a good enough job of training the next generation of people? »

With that in mind, supporting organizations like LatinX in Animation, a group that operates across multiple studios to showcase emerging talent in this subset of the industry, has become a priority for Lord. “I realized that there was a limited number of people who occupied the position that I was in, where you have the possibility of hiring people or speaking in front of others and making them want to hear what I have to say. Other key positions on “The Mitchells” have also been filled by Latinos, including production designer and lead character designer Lindsey Olivares and head of story Guillermo Martinez.

Reflecting on his 2019 Oscar win for “Spider-Verse,” Lord describes the euphoric moment as a tribute to his Cuban family. “The only time I was really moved that night was when my little cousin sent me the video of the whole family, 25 of us in a room, reacting to the win,” he said. he remembers. “I watched this video and started to cry, because I thought about everything everyone had gone through to start over in a new country.”

As a Cuban-American, Lord is aware of the class barriers that keep people from entering this field and of his own economic privileges. That his Cuban mother obtained a doctorate in psychology allowed him to pursue a career in cinema. Immigrants from most countries, and their children, often do not have similar opportunities.

“Cubans are really lucky; When my mother came to this country, she got a scholarship to go to university. She got legal status. She was considered a refugee from communism. She was well received and these advantages have benefited our family. Not all immigrants have these benefits, and I think how much better this country I love would be if we welcomed everyone who came here equally.

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