Your Silence is Required
or, why they don't want us to talk about Bruno
Every month I host a ‘Faith & Film’ discussion with people from my church. We’ve covered a wide range of films and documentaries - everything from ‘13th’ to ‘My Octopus Teacher’ to ‘Minari’ etc. January’s film was a documentary about end of life care called ‘Being Mortal’ and I was kindly asked for one that was less depressing for February. I happily obliged and offered our first animated film - Disney’s ‘Encanto.’ Last night we had a wonderful discussion and, because I have a 4 and 6 year old, I have watched this film and listened to this soundtrack no less than a dozen times (this is a very conservative estimate).
When I selected this film, I imagined a conversation about family, trauma, and the struggle of finding our place in the world. But, as with most things, my brain went spiraling around and landed in the mess of power structures and the abuse of people within those structures.
I want to start by saying: Abuela is not a villain in this story. She is a complicated human who, like Mirabel, was not given a gift. She suffered a terrible trauma and made choices to protect her family. Unfortunately, when we do not heal from trauma- our fear turns into a kind of control that will inevitably cause harm to those we love the most.
The dynamic created from that fear and control reminded me of things I have seen and experienced in various structures (the church, patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism etc).
Look at all the gifted women in this family who serve the needs of “the family” regardless of how exhausted they are or how much they don’t want to do it. Luisa is called upon to carry the literal weight of everything - and no one (save Dolores) seems to notice she’s not okay (hello, moms who are expected to keep giving when they are burnt out). Isabela, master of “keeping up appearances,” is willing to get married even though it’s not what she wants- like the good pastor’s wife who keeps a smile on her face despite the fact she’d like to say what she’s thinking just once!
And, there’s Mirabel, who works twice as hard to get half as far through no fault of her own. She doubts her own worth because of a structure that was created by and for people who possess privilege she does not have access to (lookin at you, ‘merica!).
The real villain in Encanto is that in some ways “the family” has stopped meaning the people who make up the family and has instead become an idea or power structure that must be maintained. Anytime an institution stops being about the people who make up the institution and becomes about an idea or a thing- we are in dangerous territory. And people being used for what they have to offer with no regard for their mental and emotional well-being because it’s “for the good of the (insert power structure here)” is predicated on a code of silence amongst its members.
‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ is an amazingly crafted song which my 6yo performs in her one woman show (changing her voice and facial expression to reflect each member of La Familia Madrigal) but it is so much more. It’s a not-so subtle reminder of the code of silence around anything or anyone who challenges the power structure in place. Bruno, like all prophets, speaks from the margins. He is an outsider because he sees the cracks and is accused of not loving the family. The truth is, Bruno desperately loved his people and wanted them to be okay so he worked to repair the damage they weren’t even aware of. When Mirabel sees the cracks and starts asking questions- she is shut down and warned not to cause trouble like Bruno did. Her place in the family depends on her silence. Dolores, who hears everything and knows Bruno never left, keeps her mouth shut to Abuela because she knows the cost of speaking the truth. People who see the cracks in things are unwelcome and labeled as problematic (divisive etc etc)— and the rest of us learn to keep quiet even if we see it too.
Next time you are told not to talk about Bruno remember: your silence about abusive people, structures and systems is required to keep them in place.