Disney’s Filipino Christmas Ad: Why Cultural Representation Matters

Representation matters, even in the smallest of ways.

This year, Disney UK released an animated Christmas advertisement entitled “From Our Family To Yours.” Directed by Angela Affinita, the ad centers around a Filipina grandmother, her granddaughter, and a Mickey Mouse plush doll. Affinita shared the project on LinkedIn in November, adding a personal note:

I am so proud to present this to the world. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard on this ... And thanks to my Lola for being an inspiration.

Angela Affinita, Director of Brand and Creative Marketing - Consumer Products, Games & Publishing EMEA at The Walt Disney Company

The ad begins in 1940 during Christmastime in the Philippines where colorful, star-shaped “parols” (Filipino Christmas lanterns) are decoratively hanging in the village streets. A wide-eyed girl rushes to greet her father and does the “mano po” gesture (a gentle touch of her elder’s hand to her own forehead) as a sign of respect. The father gifts his daughter a Mickey Mouse plush that she immediately adores (cue sentimental music from Griff).

Time jumps to Christmas in 2005 (presumably in the UK), where the young girl has grown into a grandmother, or “lola.” She shares both her beloved Mickey plush and her cherished tradition of making parols with her small granddaughter. But over time, the magic fades as Mickey’s left ear is gradually torn from its seams and the granddaughter’s interest in holiday customs fades, leaving her lola with the Christmas blues.

Eventually, the granddaughter recognizes her lola’s low spirits and surprises her with a dazzling display of handmade parols that awakens childhood memories of Christmas in the Philippines. Tears are shed as lola opens her present: the Mickey plush with his re-attached ear (sewn on by the granddaughter). This restoration of a family heirloom communicates the universal importance of upholding traditions with loved ones.

Many Filipinos were moved by Disney’s decision to showcase the culture in their holiday advertisement, commenting on everything from the significance of Filipino nurses to the parol decorations associated with “Simbang Gabi.” These enthusiastic responses convey the value of people and stories representing you both on-screen and off-screen, no matter how big or small the project. And one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is an effort to make them feel understood, respected, and loved.

Being Filipina myself, I had a very emotional reaction to this ad and admittedly spent about ten minutes bawling after I watched it. For me, representation often leads to a kind of joy that is physical and visceral; it manifests itself through warm tears and the feeling of my heart glowing with pride. There was something so moving about seeing a family like mine on screen. Several small details reminded me of my grandparents’ home, from the cookie tin that doesn’t actually contain cookies to the china cabinet housing dainty, untouched plates. Unlike the lola in the ad, my grandma was never a nurse, but both she and my grandpa also left the Philippines for a new country and worked hard to give their family better lives. Two generations later, they made it possible for me to get an education, like the granddaughter whose graduation picture was proudly displayed on her lola’s shelf. And although parol-making is not one of my family’s traditions, it made me recall my own love and appreciation for holiday rituals.

Unfortunately, progress often coexists with antagonism. Last month, Sainsbury’s released their Christmas ad, which featured a black family sharing their annual Christmas traditions. The UK supermarket chain received heavy backlash for using a black family in their commercial, as many expressed their deeply-racist opinions of the advertisement. This resistance towards witnessing a happy black family on-screen reveals the need for more and more inclusion of minorities in media. We must normalize viewing Christmas from different perspectives and recognize how all types of families celebrate this time of love and giving.

‘Tis the Season to:

–Maya Santos, Content Creator

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