Sunday, December 5, 2021

Charise Castro Smith brings Latin experience to ‘Encanto’

NEW YORK (AP) — Charis Castro Smith, the first Latino woman to co-direct a Walt Disney Animation Studios film, admitted that she felt intimidated at times. But when the opportunity came to work in ‘Encanto’, he had no doubts.

“I said, ‘I have to do this. I have to,'” Castro Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press. She joined the project as a writer and never held a directing role.

Castro Smith, who has a young daughter, said, “To me it’s the world for little brown kids to see themselves everywhere and to represent and feel themselves in a positive way. ”

“Encanto”, which she co-directs with Jared Bush and Byron Howard, is set in Colombia—the land of magical realism—and follows Mirabel Madrigal, a teenage girl who manages to help her family without magical powers. Deals with the frustration of being the only member. . It opens in theaters on November 24.

Castro Smith and Bush also shared writing credits with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who composed the original songs for the film. Led by Argentine-American actor Stephanie Beatriz (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “In the Heights”), the cast includes Diane Guerrero, John Leguizamo, Wilmer Valderrama and Colombian Angie Cepeda.

“Encantoi is undoubtedly a major step forward for Castro Smith, who debuted as a playwright and is credited as a writer for “Divious Maids”. He is the author of “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Exorcist”. She was also a producer and writer.

As a woman who grew up in a Cuban American family, her approach proved useful for the job.

“Charis was a godsend from the time she joined ‘Encanto’ and built the foundation of the heart, vulnerability, and authenticity upon which the entire film is built,” Bush said in an email to the AP. “From day one, she wanted to create a unique, flawed and utterly human character in Mirabelle that spoke to the experiences of so many Latinas, while at the same time being relatable to audiences around the world.”

He was initially brought in as a writer to collaborate with Bush, with Castro Smith being asked to become co-director seven or eight months later. “So it happened organically and it was amazing.”

She in particular credits her bond with her Cuban grandmother as a source of inspiration for Abuela Alma, who is voiced in the film by Colombian actor María Cecilia Botero.

Castro Smith recalled his own Abuela, saying, “I just remember watching that (talk) show ‘Christina’ with her.” “She encouraged me a lot. She was a wonderful woman. Actually, the play I wrote recently (‘El Huracán’, or ‘The Hurricane’) is about her.”

Although Alma is “really really different than my grandmother … that bond and that closeness I think was something that really informed me when I was writing,” she said.

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Howard could see this too.

“From the beginning, Charis knew who was going to be Abuela Alma of Encanto, inside and out,” he wrote in an email to the AP. “Charis’s writing depicting Alma’s bravery and struggle became the emotional heart of the film, and I know that much of this intimate connection with the character comes directly from the strong women in his family.”

“This unique talent for telling advanced, supernatural storytelling to the emotions of real life comes naturally to Charis,” Howard said. “She always writes with a sense of emotional truthfulness.”

Castro Smith was raised in Miami and attended Brown University as a graduate student and later Yale School of Drama, where he earned an MFA in acting.

Growing up, storytelling was a big part of his life.

“My mom used to tell stories about how, when I was little, I was like doing the plays I wrote in the living room and my grandmother really encouraged it,” she recalled. “Then I went to see my first music when I was in third or fourth grade… and from that moment on I was like, ‘I have to do this, I have to join in.'”

Castro Smith said that in addition to the opportunity to bring on screen characters to whom children of color could relate, he was also attracted to “Encanto” by the idea of ​​a protagonist who was initially able to accept himself. May not be, but learn to watch and embrace your own worth.

“I think it’s a powerful message that I wanted to give to everyone,” she said. “But especially the fact that it’s a Latinx character, it was so personally important to me to have it on screen. That’s why the world matters to me for working on it.”

In terms of representation, she feels hopeful that “Encanto” and other upcoming projects will pave the way for more productions led and focused on minorities.

“It is important simply because we validate what we see; we can empathize with what we see; we can put ourselves in the place of what we see,” said Castro Smith Said. “I feel that what I do as a storyteller and what we all do as storytellers are fundamental to the fabric of society.”

And Castro Smith has found its own worth

“It turns out I really like directing,” she said. “I want to keep doing this even after this.”


Sigal Ratner-Arius is on Twitter


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