Disney’s Encanto is a magical tale of a gifted Colombian family that showcases the importance of family, community and home. The film boasts a talented cast and crew, many of whom have Latin American roots.
Released in November 2021, the animated film snagged the 2022 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture-Animated. And its song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” written by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, is Disney’s biggest hit since 1995, reaching the ranks of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Colors of the Wind.”
Two Pomona College alumnae played parts in making Encanto come alive on screen.
Rose Portillo ’75
One of her latest endeavors is voicing Señora Guzmán, one of the characters in Encanto. Over a two-year period, she was also part of developing the character of Abuela Alma for the film.
“From the beginning, I found the script deeply moving. It was evident that care had been taken with culture and character — a story about family and community that does not shy away from missteps, trauma and the difficult road to healing,” Portillo says. “The creative team I worked with was deeply thoughtful. And that’s part of what made it so joyous. Every time we worked together, anything I brought up was heard. As an artist, to be seen as a thoughtful, conscientious human being, to not have to prove myself, that trust is pretty unique.”
Encanto writer and director, Jared Bush, describes Portillo as a “dear friend and acting genius who was fundamental in building Encanto.”
Rose allowed us to try so many different approaches to [the character of] Alma...she is just the kindest, most giving and fearless person I’ve ever met. Encanto could not have happened without her, Bush says.
Finding creative spaces that showcase the talents and expertise of people of color is often difficult in theater and film. Portillo says that throughout her career it has been an uphill battle for representation in these art forms.
“There’s no doubt that there’s more representation now, but we’re still lacking producers, executive producers, people in positions of power who can actually make sure that projects specific to culture happen. We have many more playwrights and writers who are being innovative. The stories are there. We have so many diverse storytellers who are so innovative,” Portillo says.
Portillo also notes the significance of mentorship in breaking down barriers to make way for more diversity in performing arts. And she provides that in the classes she teaches at Pomona College.
“What I do at Pomona is build community with younger students. You can use theater as a tool for building community, which is really about social justice and healing, ultimately, giving voice to the ‘unheard.’ I suppose that was Abuela Alma’s original intent and what Mirabel actually does in Encanto,” Portillo adds.
Jasmine Reed ’12
Jasmine Reed ’12, a media studies graduate and Posse alumna, began her career at Walt Disney Animation Studios after graduating from Pomona and has called the studio home for more than nine years.
Reed served as an editorial production supervisor on Encanto. She collaborated with directors and producers to maintain a global schedule of the film. At the studio, they would screen the film multiple times developing the story. Partnering with the Story Department, she led a team that ensured the editors received all the materials they needed to put each version of the film on the big screen.
“While at Pomona, I took advantage of the resources on campus and in Los Angeles to break into the entertainment industry, ultimately interning at Walt Disney Studios, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and All My Children.” says Reed. “In addition, the opportunity to serve as a resident advisor my senior year helped develop communication and leadership skills critical to success in my current role.”
As a person of Puerto Rican and Guatemalan descent, this project has special meaning for Reed.
“It’s been an honor to be along on the journey as the Madrigal family evolved from numerous story discussions to debuting on the big screen,” she says. “For the first time, I see so much of my own upbringing in terms of values, environments and characters — not just in their skin tones, hair textures and costumes, but in their relationships with one another. For the first time, I see me on screen,” she says. “I hope all the little brown girls and boys who never identified with their heroes finally feel seen on the big screen.”