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40 Essential Latinx Films to Watch Year-Round

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The Latinx experience in cinema is composed of many dualities. You can have a light-hearted romantic comedy just as much as you can come across an unapologetic critique of injustice. Latinx Heritage Month serves as a reminder that such stories from Latinx creatives hold so much weight and value that often goes ignored. But with the cultural shift we’ve seen in recent years, more and more of our voices and faces are being heard and seen in the media. This change is probably what many of our younger selves needed. Now there is an opportunity to broadcast the reality of many of these countries, experiences, and realities through an authentic lens.

Here, we have chosen films—from Latinx actors, directors, creatives, and more—that we consider to be essential viewing, all year round.

Selena directed by Gregory Nava

It wouldn’t be Latinx Heritage Month without a mention of the Tejano Queen, Selena Quintanilla. This biographical drama is a staple and considered to be a classic in many Latinx households because of the amount of pride they feel while watching it. Selena documents the titular artist (played by Jennifer Lopez) throughout her career while also painting an intimate portrait that showcases her heart, compassion, and her deep pride for her heritage. In addition to opening doors for Hispanic artists to succeed in the global music industry, Selena is also celebrated for her successful crossover into the American mainstream—and her drive to achieve the American Dream is a tale that stands the test of time. —Juan Mojica

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado, directed by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch

Let’s be honest: It’s rare to be Puerto Rican and to have never heard of the cultural and fashion icon known as Walter Mercado. As someone who didn’t completely know about the famous astrologer’s life, this documentary does a fantastic job explaining his past acting career, why he is seen as a vital figure of Puerto Rican culture, how he went against traditional gender norms to live his life fluidly, and so much more. Walter was a force of nature who taught an entire generation that they need to live their lives authentically and with love. This project is not only a celebration of his life, but also a perfect representation of his worldwide impact and the cultural bridge that he was able to create with everyone. —Juan

Watch Now on Netflix

I Carry You with Me, directed by Heidi Ewing

I had the pleasure of watching this film in late November last year, and I am still captivated by how good it is. This is a beautiful story and a powerful depiction of the immigrant experience. Its approach to discussing the struggles and fears men within the LGBTQ+ community suffer in Mexico, and how they hide who they are to try and “pass” within Mexican society, was very well handled. Its message of what hope, pain, love, and ambition can do was very special. It’s quite refreshing to see a new LGBTQ+ film involving the perspective of Mexican culture. —Juan

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Coco, directed by Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich

When I first saw Coco, I was emotionally moved from beginning to end. While it was not intended to have a strong political message, due to the timing of its release in 2017, the film ended up providing hope to a lot of members within the Latinx community. When the former 45th president of the United States was eager to construct a border wall to divide the U.S. and Mexico, Disney and Pixar’s Coco showed the importance of building a bridge to unite us and begin the healing process to close the cultural gap. Through its use of breathtaking animation, vibrant colors, and heartwarming music, this love letter to Mexico and its culture discusses the importance of family, love, and remembrance. It also explores the reality and the risks of becoming an artist, including the sacrifices you have to make, to the types of people you meet along the way, and how the industry can take you on an emotional rollercoaster. Coco is a must-see for all audiences because it is a film that can resonate with everyone. —Juan

The Book of Life, directed by Jorge Gutierrez

The Book of Life is an enchanting film that is rich in its love for Mexican art, culture, and lore. At first, it appears to be a love story based on the Day of the Dead, but it transcends romantic love. The story is told like a fable and tackles what would normally be considered a dark subject through a positive lens that blends heart, humor, and music. The beautiful message at its core is meant to show audiences how we can love those who have left this earth by not only remembering them, but also by learning from their mistakes or regrets to better ourselves. With its magically illustrated animation, The Book of Life is essential because it reminds us of the importance of living our lives, to love everyone around us, and to embrace our respective cultures that define our uniqueness. —Juan

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, directed by Mariem Pérez Riera

Growing up Puerto Rican, I knew the name Rita Moreno, but I didn’t know much about the early years of her career. However, when I heard that there was a Rita Moreno documentary premiering at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, I knew that I needed to see it as soon as I could. This is an excellent one-of-a-kind documentary that covers the icon’s start in the Golden Age of Hollywood as a Latina, the prejudice she faced, and her activism as much as her struggles and triumphs. This film also paints a detailed portrait of the entertainment industry from the point of view of a proud Puerto Rican woman who was seen as an outsider who had to overcome many hurdles to achieve her dream. Anyone who knows Rita Moreno’s work should see this documentary to get the full perspective on why she means so much to so many within the Latinx community. —Juan

Watch Now on Prime Video

El Secreto de sus Ojos, directed by Juan José Campanella

When I first saw El Secreto de sus Ojos in my senior-year Spanish class, I didn’t think I would consider it one of the best crime thriller films I have ever seen, but here we are. The 2009 film, which won the Academy Award for Best International Feature, uses its nonlinear narrative to explore a rape and murder case, as well as the effects people can feel when haunted by their past mistakes and missed opportunities. One of the things I appreciated about this film is that it doesn’t shy away from showing the best and the worst of Argentinian culture, and also manages to blend a crime mystery with a love story which in a really well balanced way. It also gave me an adrenaline rush—one chase scene, shot in a single take, made me feel like I was actually there. I consider this to be one of the first international films that I truly enjoyed. —Juan

Beatriz at Dinner, directed by Miguel Arteta

I didn’t know what to expect when first watching Beatriz at Dinner, but what was presented to me as a comedy felt more like a satire wrapped in barbed wire. I was intrigued. Puerto Rican director Miguel Arteta brilliantly directs a movie about a Mexican immigrant trying to build a career as a health practitioner who ends up getting invited to a dinner where she goes head-to-head with someone who represents everything she despises. The result is one of the tensest dinner discussions I have ever seen. Salma Hayek’s titular character sheds light on issues in American society regarding race, class, and culture as she interrogates her fellow guests and tries to gain a better understanding of who’s sharing her company. The sharp and timely social commentary is meant to discomfort audiences and get them to reflect on what they would do if they were in Beatriz’s situation, dealing with of what would now be seen as members of Trump’s America. —Juan

Watch Now on Prime Video

Mala Mala, directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles

I first discovered the documentary known as Mala Mala when I took a course called “Communication & Sexualities,” and it became one of the most important examples to help students better understand the importance of gender identity. Released in 2014, Mala Mala invites viewers to explore the world of drag and trans life in Puerto Rico and is still relevant today. This documentary sheds light on a diverse community that is continually silenced, as it takes us through the day-to-day lives of individuals who are navigating their own sexual identities, struggles, and battles with discrimination. This film is essential because it reminds us about the importance of acceptance, listening, and treating people with kindness. —Juan

Guava Island, directed by Hiro Murai

The moment I see Rihanna is a part of any film or music project, I try to experience it as soon as possible. I fell in love with Guava Island from the moment it began, with Rihanna narrating its beautiful hand-drawn animated opening sequence. What I also love about this film is how it doesn’t present the Caribbean as the illusion of glamorous paradise it’s usually portrayed to be. It instead showcases the realities of island life and spotlights a more accurate depiction of the Caribbean experience. And when it comes to fashion, this film has a really great representation of Caribbean culture, but there is one look in the final scene, where Rihanna this beautiful blue garment, which is completely jaw-dropping. This hour-long music video has breathtaking scenery, amazing music by Childish Gambino (AKA Donald Glover), and a beautiful message; it’s definitely something you should check out if you haven’t already. (Seriously, the scene where Gambino performs “Summertime Magic” to Rihanna alone is enough to consider it a must-watch.) —Juan

Watch Now on Prime Video

Vampires vs. The Bronx, directed by Oz Rodriguez

I grew up loving everything that had to do with creatures, monsters, vampires, werewolves—you name it. However, I never once saw people like me be the heroes fighting the monsters, which is why this film holds a special place in my heart. From everyone coming together to battle vampires to characters using Adobo as a weapon, Vampires vs. The Bronx has a lot of heart and represents the community beautifully while also offering adventure and commenting on gentrification in New York. It’s the type of film that I needed as a young child, to see myself as the hero of the story rather than a minor character. ―Gabriela Burgos

Watch Now on Netflix

In The Heights, directed by Jon M. Chu

Despite the valid criticisms this film faced, there is no denying that it showcased the culture in a way it was never seen before. Many times, Latinx characters are subjects of trauma or are swept to the side as a secondary character whose only purpose is to be a token of the story. In In the Heights, we saw people celebrate their culture and be proud about who they are. I had never seen the Puerto Rican flag being waved with such pride in a movie before, let alone a big-budget film. To me, this one is important because it does not rely on stereotypes, and it’s a just celebration of the many Latin cultures. ―Gabriela 

Y Tu Mama Tambien, directed by Alfonso Cuarón

The best way to describe this film is, “no thoughts, just vibes and sex.” Coming-of-age films tend to look the same: White high school students navigate love and friendships and don’t have that much depth in terms of social commentary. But Alfonso Cuarón delivers a different take on the genre by creating a road trip saga that comments on México’s political climate and how it affects young people still trying to figure out their place in the world. It is such a vivid portrait of life in México, told from the perspective of one of the most prominent Mexican filmmakers, who highlights the country in ways not everyone is familiar with. —Gabriela 

Language Lessons, directed by Natalie Morales

In the rough year that we’ve all been living in, a certain film can come around and feel like a ray of sunshine. Language Lessons was not only work that I related to a lot, but it also showcased a beautiful friendship we don’t often see in media today. A vivid portrait of love and loss, Language Lessons shows how people come into our lives when we need it the most. There’s so much I loved about it, including the chemistry between the two leads, Cariño (Morales) and Adam (Mark Duplass), as well as how the entire film is set up like a long Spanish class, which also brought me so much comfort and joy. At the end of the day, it’s a beautiful story about how learning new things will lead to incredible friendships and relationships that can change your life for the better. —Gabriela

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Perfume de Gardenias, directed by Macha Colón

This film is a portrayal of the Puerto Rico that exists now, and the one that is rarely presented in onscreen. Perfume de Gardenias premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival and quickly became one of my favorites of the event. It was inspired by real-life events and was released during a very interesting political time in Puerto Rico. I won’t spoil it, but seeing that aspect of our culture deeply moved me because despite it not being the happiest of topics, there was someone talking about it and exposing audiences outside of the island to the reality that we live in. —Gabriela

Learn more here.

Pelo Malo, directed by Mariana Rondón

Even with the inherent beauty of Latinx culture, some not-so-beautiful things still prevail, like homophobia, racism, and misogyny. Those aspects of the culture are what director Mariana Rondón addresses in her film Pelo Malo. The plot follows a young boy who has thick curly hair but wishes to straighten it to look like the rest of the boys in his class and to recreate the hairstyle of his favorite singer. The boy’s wish causes a lot of drama because his family thinks that straightening hair, or doing anything to it, is something that’s only reserved for women. It brings forward important conversations about the internalized misogyny and homophobia that prevails in many families to this day, and many other taboo topics. I’m so glad that this film exists. —Gabriela

Watch Now on Prime Video with FlixLatino

In the Time of the Butterflies, directed by Mariano Barroso

a. The Mirabal sisters have become a symbol of revolution, for they were known for being strong opposers of the Rafael Trujillo dictatorship that had taken over the Dominican Republic. Their vocal disagreement and activism against Trujillo resulted in their murders, which transformed the history of the country. The siblings have become martyrs and are remembered as some of the many people who have lost their lives defending their country from an abuse of power. This film documents that moment in history, and it reminds us that the Mirabal sisters should not be forgotten. —Gabriela

Watch Now on Vudu

Amores Perros, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Much like Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu is a filmmaker that always makes sure to include details of life in México without sugar coating or romanticizing the struggle. To me, despite the heavy concept and graphic violence, I consider this film to be a perfect example of how to combine multiple stories that are all brought together by a single event, as well as an extraordinary commentary on class inequality. It’s devastating but it stays with you, and that is why I consider this film as one of Iñárritu’s best. —Gabriela 

La Vida de los Peces, directed Matías Bize

Growing up and leaving your home to follow your dreams is part of life, but what happens when you return home after being away for so long? Enter this Goya Award-winning film, where we find out just what it’s like to come back home and be confronted with all the things you left behind. It’s a very simple story with a lot of heart, as it showcases the unforgettable feeling of the first love. It’s one of the few Latinx dramas/romance stories that have stuck with me the most, because of how personal it feels and how gut-punching the dialogue is. I don’t think you have to be Latinx to feel its impact. —Gabriela

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Vivo, directed by Kirk Demicco

a. It is so important for young Latinx children to see their cultures represented from a very young age, because that way they grow up knowing that their culture is beautiful and important and something to be proud of. I grew up never seeing anything related to my culture in any of the media I consumed, and I felt that it just wasn’t important enough to show on the big screen. When Vivo came out, not only was it a beautiful film about family, following your dreams, and being who you are, but it also represented Cuban culture in such a beautiful way with a focus on the diaspora, reassuring people that their identity is valid even if they were not born in the same country their family was. —Gabriela

Watch Now on Netflix

Antes Que Cante el Gallo, directed by Arí Maniel Cruz

Rooted within the mountainous villages of Puerto Rico, there’s a saying that goes “le cantó el gallo”—her period has arrived. This coming-of-age story blends horror into the reality that’s quite hushed about within the rural side of the island. Working up-close and personal with the camera, director Arí Maniel Cruz isn’t afraid to explore highly sensitive and complex themes, showcasing the good, the bad, and ugly of Puerto Rico that we haven’t seen before. —Ana Sofía Cintrón

Tigers are not Afraid, directed by Issa López

We are in the renaissance of horror cinema, and there’s no denying that women form a big part of it. In this dark fairytale, Issa López brings a new take on the genre: sometimes it isn’t about zombies, ghouls, or werewolves, but rather the reality that we live in. Exploring the dark side of humanity, Tigers exposes the violence, corruption, and the human trafficking that happens not only in México, but around the world. —Ana

Watch Now on Shudder

I Am a Director, directed by Javier Colon

There’s probably been a point in most film lovers’ lives where we dream of creating our own film. However, we get lost in the daydream and tend to forget how complicated the process of making one can actually be. I Am a Director is a mockumentary that shows the struggle of being a filmmaker in a very humorous way. It’s relatable for up-and-coming filmmakers but especially for those that live in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the question comes up is usually: “Should I make my movie in English or in my native tongue?” The film is a refreshing take on the Puerto Rican film industry and doesn’t give in the stereotypical Puerto Rican comedy. —Ana

Watch Now on FlixLatino

Bacurau, directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles

Bacurau is like that present you didn’t know you were going to get on Christmas morning. Much like an onion, this movie is deeply layered; it’s composed of a variety genres such as horror, western, and even sci-fi to build its cultural context. It’s a pure case study of the effects of corruption and colonialism in places that are long forgotten by their own government. Even though it takes place in Brazil, there’s a sense of familiarity and the message is universal. Bacurau starts off very silent, but slowly descends to chaotic madness. The best way to view this film is basically not knowing what it’s about at all, and I think those are the best presents that you could ever get. —Ana

The Mole Agent, directed by Maite Alberdi

Shot like a feature film, The Mole Agent is a documentary that exhibits a refreshing new take on the genre. As we follow 83-year-old Sergio Chamy going under cover in a retirement home, we get a glimpse of what it’s like to live in one. Starting off as a quirky detective story, we see Don Sergio as the life of the party, filling the home with his love and charm. However, the documentary gradually transitions into a different, sadder story about the abandonment and loneliness within these homes. Director Maite Alberdi seamlessly handles this sensitive topic with compassion and care. —Ana

Watch Now on Hulu

La Llorona, directed by Jayro Bustamante

In this new rendition of the Latin folktale, La Llorona uses horror to open up a conversation about Guatemala’s political discourse. Using magical realism to shed light on the crimes that have been committed to the indigenous communities, it highlights how the scars from the past never truly heal. Jayro Bustamante’s attention to detail manages to create a visually striking film that is subtle yet powerful. —Ana

Watch Now on Shudder

Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Children of Men is one of those movies that you have to see at least once in your lifetime. Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón gives us a masterclass in visual storytelling, where he uses exposition through worldbuilding—a perfect case of show, don’t tell. When Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki unite, there’s no stopping this perfect duo. They deliver realistic, jaw-dropping long takes that immerse you in the story. Although the film takes place in a made-up futuristic world, there’s a sense of reality that’s not too far away from ours. However, in all the bleakness, there’s always a small beacon of hope. —Ana

Maldeamores, directed by Carlitos Ruiz Ruiz and Mariem Perez Riera

If you want to get a sense of the day-to-day life of a Puerto Rican, this movie is for you. This dark comedy tells three different stories that reflect on the hardships of being in love—the betrayals, acts of passion, and the unavoidable pain that comes from it. But what makes Maldeamores unique is how it perfectly encapsulates the Puerto Rican character: the way we speak, act, and react to situations that are out of our control, even if it’s a bit exaggerated. It’s a comedy that’s filled with personality, but, most importantly, that sazón puertorriqueño. —Ana

Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Highly inspired by his childhood memories, Roma is Alfonso Cuarón’s most personal film yet. The movie relies on sound as well as a sense of time and space to preserve the authenticity of México from Cuarón’s reflection. It’s a personal portrait of the women who raised him, and it’s handled with the utmost care. As an audience, we feel like a fly on the wall, watching incidents from his life that are so intimate, it almost feels like we are meddling. Using breathtaking long takes to feel the time pass with such elegance and grace, the film is allowed to be raw and vulnerable. It is a cinematic experience. —Ana

Watch Now on Netflix

Like Water for Chocolate, directed by Alfonso Arau

When you’re invited to a Latinx household, don’t you ever deny their food, especially that of las abuelitas. Cooking for our guests is one of our many love languages where we can transmit our feelings through our cuisines, much like we see in the film Like Water for Chocolate. We follow our protagonist, Tita, as she fills her ingredients with love—and sadness—using magical realism to turn something so mundane like cooking to a mystical experience. Watching this movie felt like a dream. It’s a recipe filled with passion, melodrama, and a pinch of sensual cinema. —Ana

Watch Now on Prime Video

Real Women Have Curves, directed by Patricia Cardoso

With an entire scene dedicated to women celebrating their bodies, their stretch marks, and their cellulite, nothing compares to Real Women Have Curves. This coming-of-age tale follows America Ferreira as Ana García, a first-generation Mexican-American girl that is trapped by the views of her family, especially her mother. We see her find her own path as a young woman through a very specific lens. There’s just something so beautiful about the female gaze, and this one is up to the brim with it. Patricia Cardoso explores the beauty of growing up and fitting into the expectations that are set upon Latinas in a society that often wants to see us fail. —Josie Meléndez

Extraterrestres, directed by Carla Cavina

Carla Cavina’s film is what I consider to be a pinnacle of Puerto Rican cinema! After having been gone for seven years, Teresa Díaz visits her family in Puerto Rico to invite them to her wedding. The catch? She’s marrying her girlfriend, Daniela. In a country so often lost in its own prejudice as much as its pride, being able to witness a queer relationship on the big screen in such an honest way was impactful. It’s an emotional concoction of star-crossed views on life, family, and relationships as it celebrates the differences that make us up. —Josie  

Lo Que le Pasó Santiago, directed by Jacobo Morales

A breath of fresh air. Lo que le pasó a Santiago is a cultural jewel, serving as a slice of life in 1980’s Puerto Rico. It is important to note that Morales’ film was the first from Puerto Rico to ever be nominated for an Academy Award and unfortunately the last after a rule change deemed Puerto Rico ineligible to compete anymore. That alone should be a reason to watch it! Unfortunately, its availability online is quite limited. Despite this, Lo que le pasó a Santiago stands as one of the most notable treasures of the island’s cinematic history, and I hope this serves as a call to action to make this film accessible to more film lovers! —Josie

200 Cartas, directed by Bruno Irizarry

You have Jaime Camil, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Dayanara Torres all in one place. Need I say more? 200 Cartas is a fun romantic comedy and a Spanglish delight, following the life of Nuyorican comic book artist Raúl as he falls for a woman named María Sánchez who’s visiting from Puerto Rico. Obviously, boy falls in love with girl and decides to have his own Cinderella moment. He sends out 200 letters to all the women of the same name and travels to the island in hopes of reuniting with his one true love. It’s got tons of laughs, heartwarming moments, and a close-up look at trying to find love in the island of enchantment even when a lot of disenchantment ensues. —Josie

Algo Azul, directed by Mariel Garcia Spooner

Picture this: you’re about to get married, and you want to be somewhat traditional. So, of course, you’ll need something new, something old, something borrowed stolen…And that’s where things get tricky. Algo Azul, or Something Blue, is an enchanting Panamanian romantic comedy about a young woman named Ana that decides she must get married ASAP with an expensive dress that she just so happened to steal. I was able to watch this film at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, and it has found a home in my heart. Described as a reflection on true love, this is the ultimate comfort film, and I can’t wait for everyone to experience it. —Josie

In theaters on October 21 in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic.

Executive Order, directed by Lázaro Ramos

There is no other way to put this: Executive Order by Lázaro Ramos should be a mandatory watch. When Brazil’s authoritarian government forces all citizens of African descent to move to Africa after a lawyer sues for reparations, chaos ensues. Only one man is left standing by the end, or so we think. Ramos takes it upon himself to not only analyze what it means to be Black in a Latin American country but to also question what really makes up a home. Are you defined by where you live, where your parents lived, or where your great ancestors came from? While this is an ever-present question in Latin American cinema, Ramos takes it up a notch and puts it under a microscope in hopes of finally addressing the complex and multi-layered identity of many that form part of South America and the Caribbean. —Josie

Coming soon.

La Guagua Aérea, directed by Luis Molina Casanova

Be still my beating heart! This is an obligatory rewatch every Christmas for me. Casanova’s piece is an adaptation of various works by the playwright Luis Rafael Sánchez. It follows various strangers that find themselves on a voyage from Puerto Rico to New York during the holidays and even went on to have its premiere on a flight following the same route. It is charming as much as it is heartbreaking, serving as a reflection of the ever-evolving search for better opportunities elsewhere—a theme very common in Latinx households. The film is truly ageless, a soft-spoken reminder of how where we come from will always be with us no matter where we might find ourselves the next day. —Josie

Watch Now on YouTube

El Cuartito, directed by Marcos Carnevale

Five tourists. One immigration room. Plenty of baggage. Much like La Guagua Aérea, El Cuartito follows individuals as they’re forced to get to know each other—and themselves. Mixing different cultures, beliefs, and aspirations, director Marcos Carnevale’s exploration of human nature is a touching story that highlights how life would be much simpler if we would take down the literal and metaphorical borders we build up around ourselves. It also takes a moment to criticize the Trump presidency and its effect on Puerto Rico, given its colonial status, which rarely gets uplifted in film. —Josie

Available on HBO Max in Latin America.

Half Brothers, directed by Luke Greenfield

When Renato discovers he has an American half-brother named Asher, the two must go on a road trip together for Renato to finally learn why his father never came back for him in Mexico. Half Brothers is an emotional story about belonging, challenging our perception of what really makes up who you are as a person. What does family really mean? And to what extent are you willing to protect it? If you’re looking for a film that’s full of heart, look no further. —Josie

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Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, directed by Rodney Rothman, Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti

It’s impossible not to include this animated instant classic. Miles Morales is a beloved character by many. He is the embodiment of the representation of both Black and Latino culture at its finest. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which took home a Best Animated Feature Oscar, is both universal in its storytelling yet so beautifully, culturally specific. Nothing makes me happier than being able to watch this with my younger cousins and witness the joy on their faces when they feel seen on screen. —Josie

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