Why Little Latina Girls Need To See ‘Cars 3’

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I’ve long been a fan of Disney movies as a child and tried to find pieces of myself in various characters from Belle to Jasmine. As a mom of two very young movie fanatics, it was inevitable that we’d make it a habit and a tradition of going to the theater to watch every new animated film. The fun part is always seeing them root for their favorite characters.

Yet something changed in my enjoyment the day we went to see Disney’s “Moana.” I cried and cheered for the heroine who looked like me, was cultured like me, and was raised strong-headed and fearless in the same ways I felt I was. I literally cried and my sons cheered for this way-faring princess and still sing their hearts out to “How Far I’ll Go.”

On Friday, we went to see “Cars 3” when it was released and in a very unexpected turn, I cried… again. Well, not so unexpected given that I can remember a small slither of movies I have not cried for, and the Cars franchise is usually one of them. But I was literally shedding tears of joy again. I thought I was taking them to cheer on one of their all-time favorite characters and instead I uncovered a new void that had been filled. So often in films, women of color are utilized in a supporting role, rather than a leading role and fail to acknowledge the consequences of advancing a stereotype that women can’t lead, literally in film and in life. “Cars 3″ changes the dynamic of what a supporting role looks like and has transformed the face of this franchise for the future.

Major Spoiler Alert:

Cruz Ramirez is a trainer who is appointed to help Lightning McQueen compete with all of the younger racers who are using innovative technology to perform; almost in the same fashion athletes now train in multi-million dollar facilities. Voiced by Cristela Alonzo, a powerhouse who is the first Latina to produce, write, and star in her own U.S. network show, Cruz Ramirez is a young, unapologetic Latina―take the two names as an example―with the capability of teaching any car new tricks. She’s unapologetic about her music, the names she gives to her tires, her tough love and methods of motivating, and her drive to succeed.

Throughout the movie McQueen is constantly seeking old school ways of racing better and faster. Cruz goes along for the ride, always qualifying herself as a trainer and not a racer. Lightning McQueen is also chasing the memory of the mentor he lost, Doc Hudson, and thought it was Hudson’s racing prime time that kept him fulfilled when really it was the moment he coached McQueen.

When Lightning McQueen realizes he must pass the torch and give Cruz the chance she needed to show the world what she denied herself all along, I cried because I saw a figment of myself. A young Latina in college and graduate school who had a mentor who saw potential in me before I ever saw it in myself. As Latinas and all women of color, too often we deny the limelight and push other people to success and silently smile despite having denied ourselves the opportunity to shine.

Highlighting the cultural differences between McQueen and Ramirez, this movie is a lesson in mentorship coming from the most unexpected places. A lesson in allies as being the most genuine type when they are willing to risk their own success to give you an opportunity. A lesson in inclusion; meaning that your gender, age, background, and experience only crystallize ability and talent when you are given the capacity to grow. And it offers a lesson that intentional diversity in Disney movies―in any movie―makes a difference.

Remember, Cruz, a Latina racer, came out on top in a movie that was targeted to little boys all over, showing them what it truly means to step aside and allow a woman to earn her success (AND that you don’t have to be romantically involved in order to do so!) Giving my own boys—and all of the other overwhelming amount of boys in the theater—the opportunity to cheer for an animated Latina character on the big screen was probably the most sentimental part of my movie going experience. My sons already love Elena and Moana but to them in that moment Cruz Ramirez changed what it looks like to be on the same track as the guys and be victorious. They now take their Cars-themed toys and scream “Cruz!” as they zoom and crash and play.

My Disney movie fanatics


Photographed by Cynthia Estremera

My Disney movie fanatics

So take your daughters and sons to go see the film, because for me and my boys, it meant everything to see Cruz Ramirez literally do a Salsa flip gracefully across that finish line and claim her throne as the next big Latina star in the world of animated films.

Cynthia Estremera is a PhD. Candidate in English at Lehigh University and the Community Engagement Liaison at a consulting firm, Strategy Arts. Email: cze105@gmail.com Twitter: @futuredrcin #LatinasInAcademia #PhDmama

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