How 'Coco' Actress Found Her Voice Thanks to Frida Kahlo (Guest Column)

Bullies silenced Natalia Cordova-Buckley as a child, but she grew into her own in part by reading the diaries of the Mexican artist.
Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Mexico-born actress Natalia Cordova-Buckley is known for her role as YoYo Rodriguez on ABC's Agents of SHIELD, and voices iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in Pixar's Coco.

There I stand, in the middle of the playground swallowing my voice. I'm six years old, and minutes earlier my classmates had declared, "Let’s play tag. Boys against girls. 1, 2, 3, go!"

The girls take off running, our arms flailing in the air, the boys right behind us. The other girls scream, their voices screeching, and I scream as best I can, the only way I can: low and husky.

A boy stops dead in his tracks and says to the rest, “Don't chase her.” He turns to me and declares, ”You sound like Godzilla.”

The next day, the bell rings for recess and tag is the chosen game again. I walk up to the boys and promise, “I won’t yell, but please, let me play.” This was the first time I silenced my physical voice, and the silencing of my internal voice wouldn’t take much longer.

The teasing continued through the rest of my youth. I grew into a young woman who turned out to be a little too rebellious for what was expected of me. I was called radical, intense, crazy and dramatic by the all-and-powerful "they." The heavily patriarchal culture of Mexico in which I was raised led me to fear speaking up, to stay silent if I disagreed, hushed if my soul protested.

But one man refused such behavior and championed my voice without respite: my father. He challenged me to debate my beliefs no matter whose leering eyes lay waiting to pounce in my surroundings. He introduced me to one of Mexico’s treasures, Frida Kahlo, an artist whose passion for freedom helped me feel less alone. I became infatuated with her essence, with her ability to be herself no matter what. I read her diary again and again. I carried her voice in my heart.

She taught me the value of being an "outcast." She made me realize that I had quite a bit to say and that there were many who would listen. My evolution as a woman with a voice began, in earnest ready to challenge anyone who would lay obstacles in its path.

Cut to this year…

On January 21, 2017, I took part in one of the greatest protests humanity has ever witnessed, The Women’s March. It was one of the most moving days of my existence. Women from all walks of life, from a plethora of cultures, ages and ethnicities formed ONE booming voice that cascaded through the world. I screamed, I protested, and “they” were absent that day and have been ever since. We were heard.

This gave birth to a movement that has no end. As we have witnessed over the past weeks, women have come out as a collective roar against not just certain men, but the system that created these men. Due to the sheer number of sisters pouring their empowering tales, we have seen that when thousands of booming voices become ONE united booming voice, things change.

This one voice speaks of many things. Primarily it yearns to end sexism, otherwise known as machismo. It's a plague that has not only harmed women, but men as well. It has forced men to cut off their vulnerability and castrate any sense of emotionality that bubbles under the surface. Machismo has corralled some men into believing that the female voice should remain cut off in its own solitude. It relentlessly whispers in the ears of men to fear the unparalleled power of our voice.

Voices like that of Frida Kahlo, a human who through the memory of how she lived, helped liberate the power behind my voice.

So, one can imagine how taken aback I was when I booked the role of voicing her in Disney Pixar’s Coco. It's an honor beyond the primitive power of words, it is a badge of honor I shall forever wear.

Imagine, a young girl rejected for her voice, transforming, many moons later, into the woman she would become: unafraid to unleash what she has inside of her, despite what “they” have to say. May every young girl and woman out there disregard the "they,” find their own Frida and join the chorus of voices courageous enough to live out loud.

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