"Encanto" took home the Best Animated Feature Oscar this year, but Latinos produced three out of the five nominated animated features in creative and leadership roles.

Los Angeles Times reporter Carlos Aguilar joined host Lisa McRee on “LA Times Today” to share the stories of the four Latino animators.

What You Need To Know

  • Three of the five films nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2022 Oscars were produced by Latinos in creative and leadership roles

  • “Encanto,” a film about a Colombian family, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature

  • Producer Yvett Merino and co-director Charise Castro-Smith say it is important for them to create works that represent Latinos to inspire future generations

  • Animation gives filmmakers the space to show stories that reach across generations and demographics

Though Hollywood has a way to go when it comes to representation, Aguilar said these animators are an example of progress in the animation space.

"It's definitely the category at the Oscars that has the most Latino representation. It is so historic that there are Latinos in leadership positions in three of these animated features. 'The Mitchells vs. the Machines' also has other Latinos in below the line roles that are important. So it definitely feels like it's a moment for Latinos, particularly in any mission that we hope to see elsewhere in the industry as well."

One of the animators Aguilar spoke with is Yvett Merino, who was a producer on "Encanto."

"[Yvett] is the first Latina to be nominated in the Best Animated Feature category, and now the first winner of that Oscar," said Aguilar. "She is from Norwalk and she mentioned that growing up, she had no connection to the entertainment industry. She went to school for sociology and eventually got a temporary job at Disney 25 years ago. She has been with the company for 25 years, and this is her first producing credit after having many roles in different productions like 'Tangled' and 'Big Hero 6.' I love to hear her story about how, little by little, she kind of gained ground. Her story is really powerful. It lets you know that that people can come into animation, into the industry from all walks of life, and she realized that you don't have to be a director or a writer. There are many other roles that you can have in the industry and still be important."

Charise Castro-Smith was another Latina who worked on "Encanto." She is of Cuban descent. Aguilar talked about her story as well.

"Charise was a playwright and an actress. That is how her career started, and she found herself being interviewed for a writing position at Disney on 'Encanto' and got the job. She is credited as the co-writer and co-director of 'Encanto.' Her story is also very interesting because she had no idea how the animation industry worked. She came from another side of the industry. But her guiding light was always to create content that would represent Latinos in a better light and stay away from stereotypical roles that are demeaning for the community. With 'Encanto,' I feel like she achieved that."

Both of Merino and Castro-Smith talked about how important it was to see people that not only look like them on the screen to motivate the next generation, but also to create compassion and empathy from people who are not Latino.

Phil Lord, who's also of Cuban descent, has a pretty impressive resume. Aguilar talked to the Oscar-winner about his work on "Mitchells vs. The Machines" and "Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse." Lord's film, "The Mitchells vs. the Machines," is the latest in his boundary-pushing movies that showcase underrepresented several groups.

"Phil grew up in Miami, and he talks about going to animation showcases that introduced him to animation all over the world, and then moving to LA and starting a career with his partner in crime, Chris Miller," said Aguilar. "Their first movie was 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' and then 'Spider-Verse.' He won an Oscar for 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.' This was his second nomination. He is definitely the one that [has] always wanted to work in animation and has stayed there. I feel like he really has done a lot for trying to bring new voices into the field."

Carlos López Estrada was a co-director of Pixar's "Raya and the Last Dragon."

"Carlos was born in Mexico City and has been in the U.S. for a long time," Aguilar said. "He also comes from a different role. He made indie hits like 'Blindspotting' and 'Summertime.' He was directing live action movies and came to Disney to direct this film and now has more projects in the pipeline. He talks about how it was very impressive for him to be part of a machine that has hundreds of artists working on the film and coming from independent filmmaking where it's you and a few other collaborators

All four of the filmmakers said they were proud to show their work to their families because of what it would mean to them.

"That was a really a common denominator for all of them," said Aguilar. "Merino talked about taking her parents to the premiere and her dad being shocked and moved. He was attending the Hollywood premiere for a movie that his daughter had produced. The same with Charise. Her father, watching one of the pivotal scenes of 'Encanto' recognized that there was something, something she wrote. Carlos talked about how his mother, who is a producer in Mexican television, has been sort of enjoying the nomination and the recognition for his work more than even more than he has. Phil Lord also talked about when he won the Oscar calling is his Cuban family and being very moved by the generational sacrifices that were made for him to get to that point."

Even with their accomplishments, these filmmakers recognize that there is more progress to be made. They want hiring at all levels and mentorship for Latino filmmakers who want to break into the industry.

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