In Disney’s recent film, Encanto, we are given a story that seems light-hearted on the surface what great representation of Latino and Afro-Latino culture. However, within the story we learn about the toxic expectations in the form of generational trauma that elders have passed down upon the family, the idea that one must be useful in some way to deserve their right to exist and earn their keep, and an understanding of the harshness of family power dynamics in some situations.
More importantly, we learn about the isolation of one individual within the family Madrigal who is scorned for his gift of divination and being able to see the future because of the way in which people choose to interpret it.
The character in Question is Bruno, a tall, thin character with tan skin not unlike my own and a head of curly hair who is often seen wearing a forest green garment known as ruana, which is similar to a Poncho.
Like most of the movie’s Madrigal family, he was given a supernatural gift or miracle at a certain age: being able to see the future. This gift when misinterpreted by the family and villagers resulted in the shunning and isolation of Bruno.
I offer a spoiler warning for those who have not seen the movie but will dive into an analysis of the character, and how autistic people may find the character relatable to their struggles and experiences in life.
Bruno was shunned by the family in a number of ways, but primarily due to the family’s matriarch Abuela. Abuela in the movie was overprotective of the family to the point where her behavior had become toxic and those who would consider to be harmful to the family, even her own children, were banished in a way.
Bruno, although leaving for his own reasons, was mistreated because his gift to see the future was thought to be bringing misfortune upon the family and villagers. When looking at Bruno’s gift of being able to foresee the future and prophesize, we can see that this is relatable to Autistic pattern recognition.
Autistic people can often predict patterns in the world around them and in people through in-depth observation. It isn’t quite seeing the future, but gets Autistic people in similar trouble. Our honest and often-blunt observations are often looked down upon by society, resulting in isolation from friends family and our peers.
Basically, we can often see what others can’t, and if they can’t see it, they either think we’re lying, have no idea what we’re talking about, or sometimes accuse us of being psychic– in a negative way. Sometimes we isolate ourselves like Bruno did in the movie. Bruno, for lack of better words, was the outcast, the black sheep, the scapegoat.
Bruno has a few Autistic traits. In the movie, he developed the form of ritual based off of a combination of superstition and possibly sensory stimming. He would “knock knock knock on wood” all around him which is a way of asking for protection in many cultures from certain spirits.
Knocking on wood also was thought to ward off evil in some cultures, but that wasn’t the case in the movie. In the movie, the knocking had become habitual during Bruno’s isolation living within the walls of the family’s house all alone.
Bruno would also avoid stepping on cracks in the foundation of the family’s house. The way in which Bruno knocks on wood, and then his own head, and the way in which he not only refuses to step on the cracks but avoids them entirely is very similar to certain forms of sensory stimming repetitive actions and developed routines that autistic people hold to help themselves regulate.
Bruno quickly learned to befriend animals rather than people, which is something many autistic people can find relatable. Bruno befriended the rats within the walls who became his only friends and watched the family from the shadows.
Bruno also expressed a special interest in theater and acting. At times, he would keep the cowl or hood of his ruana over his head, or a bucket, and act as if he were someone else. More often than not, we as autistic people act as someone else in the form of masking in order to survive in neurotypical society. I found this to be interesting as well.
In the movie, Bruno wanted to interact with the family and community who had sent him, but because he was different, he felt it was better to stay away rather than think he might cause harm by being present. He also felt he was not useful to the family– a feeling that is too relatable for so many Autistics who struggle day-to-day because of the way the world perceives us.
Bruno was taught through a kind of self-exile due to shunning from his mother (the character known as Abuela) and the family and townspeople abroad. He learned that because his gift of seeing the future was not useful, therefore that meant that he was not useful as a human being. This led him to isolate himself even more.
To quote Bruno, “My Gift wasn’t helping the family, but I love my family,” who explained to Mirabel, Encanto’s main character, that despite the mistreatment, he still loves the family. He explained the reasons for his disappearance and self-isolation– reasons which I will not spoil– but are clear to those who have seen the movie.
Another Autistic trait that I perceived in Bruno, not only as an Autistic human being but as a Latinx Autistic of mixed ancestry, is the need for a specific safe place that works well with his sensory needs. Within the movie, Bruno explains to Mirabel that in order to use his ability of divination to help people, he needed a wide open space.
The space that he initially had was destroyed, but he later found a wide open space in nature in which to try to see the future again to help Mirabel. It is not uncommon for autistic people to need a certain degree of room and a place of comfort in order to self-regulate and thrive.
For some of us, this is a big open space; for others, it’s a small space that makes us feel safe– but either way, it is a trait in Bruno that is required for him to thrive and use his abilities.
As a motif within the movie, Bruno as a character will be relatable to autistic and neurodivergent relationships and how they can clash with neurotypical ideals, rules, and social norms, and mistreatment that can come from the lack of understanding that some family members can harbor against those who are different.
The feeling of being an outcast– as Bruno was in most of the movie– is not something that Autistic people are strangers to. It took the interference and the reaching out of one rather extroverted main character in order to help bring Bruno back into the fold if only to aid in the ultimate goal of helping the family thrive again and repair broken relationships.