The Shape of Diversity

A Matter of Voice and Capital

By Jorge D. H. Prósperi, 2019

After viewing a series of 21st century movies, I arrived at an intersection posing critical questions rather than just commenting on the artistic merits of each movie.

“Coco” – Pixar (Disney)

Each movie stirred my soul. Coco was in living color while Roma was in stark black and white. Both allowed me to relate and hear my ancestors – their joyous and oppressed lives (tears of joy and sadness intertwined from opening scenes to closing credits – heart and spirit dehydrated).

As Latinas/os our places of origin differ representing 20 Spanish speaking Latinidades. But differences meld – Latinas/os nodding as tears cross soft smiles recognizing el día de los muertos (day of the dead), antepasados (ancestors), tradición orál (oral tradition), familia (family), ’la criada’ (servant, maid), niñera (nanny), servidumbre (servitud), dominadores (masters of status and class), resiliencia (resilience), coraje (courage), esperanza (hope) – soñadores todos/as (dreamers all) – corazones palpitando juntos (hearts beating as one).

A diverse audience of all colors watched… connected – disconnected – instant inherence for some – latent awareness for others – remnants of colonizer and colonized identities trying to decolonize. So much to talk about and feel during the drive home – exhaling exhaustion.

Coco and Roma were but two movies that stirred my soul. Both reminded me of other movies. Some were current while others required rewinding. What did The Help, The Green Book, Beautiful Boy, Boy Erased and Shape of Water have in common? Some made me sweat, cry without pretense, identify. Some reaffirmed, while others taught. Some made me scream “So much needless pain!” “Please, please stop!” “We must be better!”

Certainly they were all thought-provoking and worthy of discussion ad infinitum. As I thought about each movie singularly, I could not help notice that each spoke of the capital of voice. It was evident that some protagonist carried a megaphone while others lived in silence. It became evident which voices had more weight on the scale of justice and equity. Specifically, what voices had worth – value and therefore unequivocal access to power and control.

Critical questions followed. What voices have the power to be heard without restraints – without concerns of being silenced? Who gets to have a megaphone? Who is made to whisper? Who is silenced? Who at birth has the greatest risk of having their vocal cords severed?

The majority of the films directly point to answers by way of protagonists as victimizers, victims, plots dealing with different forms of victimization, redemption and resiliency. Women, victimized for their pre-existing condition of being women – gays for their pre-existing condition of being gay – immigrants for their pre-existing condition of being colonized – boarders living within and outside of truncated borders.

Instead of dealing with each movie, let’s analyze The Shape of Water. Don Guillermo del Toro presents a mute/deaf woman, an African American woman, a gay graphic designer and the alien aqua man. Talk about pre-existing conditions!

Del Toro focuses, with laser precision, on four individuals with little or no capital – powerless. Throughout the movie they find each other – discover a common desperate cause – “survival.” They begin pursuing a greater good – selflessness – voicing other forms of “capital”… goodness, compassion, empathy and love. Power is transformed, as well as its control.

The Shape of Water

One major element that all of these movies emphasize is empowerment. All of the characters go through the journey of liberation, validating identity, and struggling against the forces of oppression. At the same time, the language, scenes and plots empower the audiences as well.

The dynamic between victimizers, victims and victimization provides opportunities to recognize one’s own self-righteousness, notions of superiority, delusions of grandeur, lack of tolerance and our socially constructed -isms and phobias. Guillermo del Toro eventually turns the camera on each of us – up close and personal. To what degree do I step on another’s throat squelching voice?

In contrast, to what degree do we unmute – advocate for others to tell their stories of worth validating their dignity, resiliency and hope without the fear that our own identity will be diminished? The capital – the true power of voice… empowerment.