What can the legal profession learn from Encanto?

A powerful lesson lies behind the film’s chart-topping success
Melissa Kluger
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I’m kind of obsessed with Encanto. The new Disney film with music by Lin-Manuel Miranda and gorgeous animation has won me over. Any chance I get, I’ll happily tell friends and family about how effectively the movie explores themes like intergenerational trauma and the complexity of sibling relationships. Although the film is about a family in Colombia, it resonates with me a lot. 

And of course, I’m not the only one. Even if you haven’t seen Encanto, you’ve probably heard of its many accolades. The film reached number one at the box office and one of its original songs made it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Not to mention the adoring fans on TikTok. 

In past films, Disney has tried to capture diverse cultures on screen. But most of its efforts have fallen short, often relying on stereotypes. Encanto, however, has won praise for accurately capturing the lives and struggles of a Colombian family. 

This was no fluke. In 2018, Miranda and the directors travelled to Colombia on a research trip to better understand the local culture. If someone was going to eat soup in the movie, the directors wanted to be sure it was a soup that they saw someone eating on their trip. To get the dance sequences just right, they filmed real Colombian dancers. The music was made with traditional Colombian instruments and composed to reflect the country’s range of musical styles. Back at home, they relied on a pre-existing group of Latinx Disney animators, who offered their own experiences and insights to help make sure the film rang true. That extra care resulted in both a beautiful movie and a successful one. 

I kept rewatching Encanto while we were working on the cover story of this issue of Precedent. In the article, writer Luc Rinaldi takes a deep look at the legal profession’s efforts to advance diversity over the past decade. The conclusion? Well, we haven’t come very far. Consultants have consulted, policies have been drafted and unconscious bias has become part of our lexicon. But in the end, the upper echelons of private practice still look a lot like they did 10 years ago. Meanwhile, lawyers continue to confront subtle acts of exclusion at work. 

If law wants to make more progress, it can take inspiration from Encanto. Remember that Disney hardly has a perfect record on diversity. But it kept trying, and that repeated effort eventually led to something amazing. In the face of weak results, law ought to show the same dedication. Although we haven’t come as far as we expected, I hope that firms will continue to strive to find what works and what makes them better. Patience, understanding and a genuine investment in diversity will help our profession achieve its own sort of box-office success.

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Melissa Kluger
Publisher & Editor
melissa@precedentmagazine.com
@melissakluger

Are you making law better?

As we roll into the spring, we’re kicking off our annual search for the next winners of the Precedent Innovation Awards. We’re on the lookout for legal trailblazers who have found creative solutions to the thorniest problems in the legal world. If you’ve implemented an original initiative that improves the profession, tell us about it. 

To submit an application, head on over to precedentmagazine.com/innovationawards. The deadline to apply is Wednesday, May 4, 2022. We will feature the winners in our winter issue. 

This story is from our Spring 2022 Issue.

Photo by Ian Patterson.