As in most professions in the entertainment industry, people of color have for too long been underrepresented in animation. When creative careers seem like improbable paths, few attempt them – and that those who do don’t know how to get started. How does one get a job in the field? Do you need to know how to draw? Do you need to have attended a renowned art school? How do you break in when you don’t have any contacts?
To break down some of these questions, Disney’s Latinos in TV Animation panel –a session at NALIP’s recent media summit – brought together four accomplished men and women who found unconventional entry points into animation. Francisco Angones (Co-Producer and Story Editor, DuckTales), Pilar Flynn (Producer, Elena of Avalor), Illya Owens (Lead Editor, Mickey Mouse), Jose Zelaya (Character Designer, Mickey and the Roadster Racers and The Lion Guard), and moderator Silvia Olivas (Co-Executive Producer and Story Editor, Elena of Avalor), work for one of the most celebrated and influential brands in the medium, and doing so they prove that doors are slowly opening.
Owens, who is the winner of four Annie Awards (the highest honor in animation), was a teenage mother when she skipped college and found a way into her dream career; Zelaya escaped war in El Salvador and battled bullying with his skills; Flynn chose to use compassion as her main advantage even when told it was a weakness; and Angones pushed so that his children would grow up with a Latino superhero on screen.
No preexisting route applied to them. Instead each took whatever opportunities were present at the time to carve out a space for Latinos in animation. By sharing their sometimes troubled but always uplifting stories, hopefully they inspire others to follow. TV animation is a big component of children’s education, and to have multicultural voices behind it is imperative for a more inclusive society. Of course, they still have to be fun, and in the highlights below you can see that their sense of humor shines through even in adversity.
Pilar Flynn on How ‘E.T.” Made Her Feel Connected to Other People
The first moment I knew I wanted to be in the industry was when I was 6 years old. I remember – I’m Chilena and Ecuatoriana- it was the first time I’d left Chile. We went to visit some family that lived in England. I’d never been in a movie theater before in my entire life and I remember walking in and seeing the grandiosity of this huge theater, all the people lining up, and I didn’t speak a word of English back then. I remember going in and seeing my first movie ever, “E.T.” Even though I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying, I understood every moment in the story, the emotion, the music, and the special effects.
I remember taking a moment to look around and realizing that all these diverse people from different walks of life were experiencing the same emotion as me. At the end when everybody bawls their eyes out, I was bawling my eyes out too. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, this is so powerful. What a beautiful thing that all these people from different areas that don’t know me at all are experiencing the same thing as me right now.” That was the moment when I thought, “Whatever that is, that’s what I’m going to be when I grow up.”
Pilar Flynn on Turning a Weakness Into a Strength
Something that I think is really embedded in me because I’m Latina is my sense of family. For us Latinos family is everything – our lifeline. When I finally decided to come out here to pursue my dream I had to leave all my family behind on another continent. That was really hard, but I think to survive that I just very naturally fell into making my co-workers and my crew my family. I really see them that way. From the beginning they were just my brothers, sisters, and cousins.
At first as a young PA coordinator I was told that was a weakness. I remember the day my producer and bosses pull me into their offices and told me, “Pilar we have some feedback for you,” and I was like, “What is it?” They were like, “We just want to let you know that you are very smart, you are going to get far here, you work harder than anyone else, you are the last one out, but there is one thing you are going to need to work on. You are not a motherfucker.“ I was like, “What? Is that a bad a thing? I’m so confused?” They said, “ You get too close to the artists.” I remember thinking, “How is that possible? How can you get too close to the artists?” They said, “You got to show them who is boss. You got to get out there and be a jerk.” I was like, “Oh my God, I really want to be a producer. I guess I have to do this.”
I went out there and for one week I tried to be a jerk. That entire week I just felt sick to my stomach. It felt just so unnatural. At the end of that week I thought, “Ok, if that’s what I have to be to be a producer then I can’t do it. That’s not me.” But the second I let that go and I embraced who I was and who I wanted to be, that was when I started getting noticed and that’s when I started getting promoted.
Continue onto Remezcla to read more about these inspiring Latino artists.