Have you seen trailers for that new Day of the Dead movie, “The Book of Life”? I’d seen some trailers for it this summer, so when it came time to plan a Halloween activity for the boyfriend’s kids, I recommended a trip to the movies.
The plot seemed simple enough: Two deities make a bet on which of two boys will marry a girl both boys are in love with. Life and death stakes and journeys through fantastical afterlives as a bonus.
I was looking forward to beautiful animation, kid humor and a movie that focused on Mexican cultural heritage. As a bonus, I got a movie that was chock-full of awesome, independent female characters.
The first is Maria. She’s gorgeous and charming, but not content to be a simple love interest or prize. She’s the hero in her own story here, and she’s not afraid to assert herself. When a pig liberation runs amok, her father declares she must become a proper lady. Her response is, “Why?” When others refer to her as one of the male character’s “woman,” she makes it clear she belongs to no one. And when a suitor tells her it’s okay to accept his proposal because her dad already gave his permission, she is anything but happy with her father.
To top it off, she reads books, fences and knows kung-fu. And she rallies the troops when the town is threatened. If she marries anyone, it will be her own choice, and it will be someone who respects her as an equal.
I mean, the Maria toy comes with a freaking sword.
Then there’s La Muerte, ruler of the Land of the Remembered, a gorgeous, strong and wise deity. She juggles her duties as ruler of the Land of the Remembered and her tense marriage with the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. She’s a fabulous matriarch who is always five steps ahead of her rivals.
And then there’s the twins, Adelita and Nina, I believe. Their roles are fairly small, but they quickly became the boyfriend’s favorite characters (and possibly mine). These rambunctious skeletons fought in the revolution, “and we won,” they tell their cousin.
I loved that these two women didn’t have love interests, and it didn’t bother them in the least. What they cared about was fighting for their cause, and how good they looked in their boots. They have some of the best comebacks in this film.
I’m pretty sure this film passed the Bechdel test on multiple occasions. And there are plenty of other women and girls I didn’t mention. The men in the film range from emotional to macho, too. Plus, directed and written by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo Del Toro, with many Mexican voice actors, it isn’t a movie about Mexican culture that’s been coopted by white Americans.
It’s also funny, beautiful, memorable, and boasts a great soundtrack. I was really glad we took the boyfriend’s daughter because this was a movie with some great role models.
So if you’re looking for a good Halloween movie (and totally not scary), I recommend “The Book of Life.” As a feminist, it was a joy to watch.