Meet Marcela Davison Aviles: The Latina Behind Pixar’s Smash Hit ‘Coco’

You may have never heard of her before, but Marcela Davison Aviles is behind some of your favorite Latino content on Disney. As Disney/Pixar’s lead cultural consultant, she’s helped guide the company in the creation of Handy Manny, Elena of Avalor, and now, everyone’s favorite holiday movie: Coco!

Coco - Marcela Davison Aviles

A first generation daughter to Mexican parents, Davison Aviles worked hard and graduated from Harvard University before moving on to study law at Stanford (no big deal). Born in the border town of Nogales, she has since seen her hard work pay off with a 25-year career spanning everything from executive director to executive producer. She brought her first-hand intimate knowledge of Mexico straight to the big screen as the lead consultant on Coco, and the authenticity and care given to the storytelling cannot be ignored. Davison Aviles told HipLatina that she is thrilled that audiences of all kinds have been able to, “Rejoice in the stories emergence into the popular culture to finally present our community the way we know it is in terms of who we are as members of society.”

Coco is Disney’s first big “Latino” hit, but one of the most incredible parts of Coco’s success has been how it has resonated so deeply with the Mexican, Mexican-American and Latino communities across the world, while also managing to appeal to an international and non-Latino U.S. audience. Coco is second only to Moana in largest openings for Disney/Pixar and is on track to break records for box office sales in China. Davison Aviles helped craft a story specific enough to speak to every Mexican and Mexican American who went to see it, but broad enough to tug on the heart strings of anyone who loves their family. “You’re always going to have to be very thoughtful when you’re storytelling about a culture or a topic that some of the audience may have no identification with,” she says. “In this instance, we needed to be multiple facing: We needed to create an homenaje to Mexico that was honest, and true, and beautiful and then we had to translate that knowledge to our compadres who are not in our community in a way that they would get it.”

So, what took so long to get here? “It’s ironic because what we’re here trying to do is be storytellers about our culture, for our culture, by our culture, but at the same time to do that you have to realize that you can’t just do that in a vacuum, you’re going to need help. Getting your own footing and your sense of place takes time.”

Hollywood has been historically unkind to Latino narratives, and Davison Aviles points out that not only are Latinos facing the traditional roadblocks of stereotypical depictions, and unfamiliarity with our culture and language, but it’s especially tough for women of color to break through. But things are different now:

“I’ve been pitching the entertainment industry since 1999, and back then the demographics weren’t that different than they are now. But the barriers to entry have just exploded due to the Internet and social media. Folks are owning their agency online in a very positive and powerful way.”

Another key to Davison Aviles’ success has been the legacy of women supporting women. Nancy Kanter (EVP content and creative strategy at Disney Channels Worldwide) and Darla Anderson (legendary Pixar producer) both played pivotal roles. “It’s a really good story of women helping women and definitely lead to me being selected as lead consultant on the film.”

Coco has been a huge hit for Disney/Pixar, does it signify a general cultural shift as far as Latino content across film, TV and even the broader media is concerned? Davison Aviles sees the film as a watershed moment. “I can see the healing through the Facebook posts, tweets, and emotional testimonials from the Latino community and that’s been amazing to see.”

She feels things may be different with this film and perhaps moving forward with Latino representation in the media because of the universal appeal of the story behind Coco: “We knew that once audiences saw and felt the story, that ‘Aja’ moment would happen that we’re all really in this together and the world really is our family and music really is our language.”

At the end of the day, Davison Aviles is happy to have helped create a story that has blazed a new trail for those who come after her. “I’m hoping that the doors we want to have opened as storytellers will open more widely now,” she says thoughtfully, “And when we go into those rooms to pitch we’ll get folks that see the success of Coco and understand it now and feel the relevance of these stories.”




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