Day of the Dead and Cinema

Since we are in that time of the year, the Día de Muertos celebration, as a Mexican film production we have decided to dedicate this post to discuss the birth of a new tradition influenced by cinema. 

You’ve probably seen the photographs and videos while scrolling through your facebook and instagram newsfeed in this time of the year. The Mega Day of the Dead Parade takes place each year in Mexico City, parading on the streets of the Centro Histórico and the Paseo Reforma. 

The Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) is a national  holiday that has been celebrated through Mexican history since before the Spanish Conquest. The purpose of this ancient tradition is to remember and honor our deceased family members. However, the Day of the Dead parade only started taking place a few years ago, in 2016. The story of how this new addition to the traditional Day of the Dead came to be is a fascinating one.

It was 2015 when the James Bond film 007: Spectre premiered and its pre-title sequence featured an extravagant Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City. In this sequence, Daniel Craig’s title character is seen donning a skull mask as he makes his way through a crowd of revelers in order to pursue one of his targets. The gigantic floats,  sugar skulls, dancing troupes, mexican music, cempasúchil offerings, grim reapers and Catrinas that conformed the  mise-en-scène left quite an impression on the film’s audience all over the world. Sadly, at the time this parade was only fictional since it was created exclusively for the cinematic universe of agent 007 by filmmaker Sam Mendes and his crew. 

Many foreign tourists and visitors from different parts of the world expected to see the parade happening when they travelled to Mexico City. The next year, due to the interest raised by the James Bond film in the Día de Muertos tradition and the government’s desire to promote the pre-hispanic culture, the federal and local authorities finally decided to organize a real parade on October 29th, inspired by the one featured on the Spectre film. Even some of the discarded props and costumes used in the film were repurposed by the city and reused for the actual parade attended by 250,000 people. 

The Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico City have expanded in recent years to capitalize on growing interest in the holiday. Besides the parade, temporary art installations in public spaces and colorful weekend events can be enjoyed by the public. Meanwhile, the parade has been expanding slowly through the years since it was made a reality. Each year troupes belonging to different states of the county are invited to join the festivities. Mexico’s Day of the Dead traditions vary greatly between each state, so having different troupes from outside Mexico City participating in the parade allows the onlookers to experience our country’s cultural richness.

As we all know, year 2020 has proven to be a challenging one due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To protect the health of Mexico City’s population and avoid a massive COVID-19 contagion, the actual Day of the Dead parade was cancelled. Like many other events, the Mega Day of the Dead parade had to be made digital. According to some sources the parade will be available on streaming through the app “Xóchitl”, a platform that will let you interact with the programme of the celebration and it will be available internationally. Many other states have also invaded the digital media with their Day of the Dead traditions. While there still is no official release date of the “Xóchitl” app, you can follow us on our social media to keep yourself updated on this info and to keep track of the different digital celebrations that other states will be having.

The Day of the Dead parade is the result of the symbiosis between cinema and culture. Films are continously inspired by ancient traditions and in turn new traditions are born as an effect of cultures being inspired by cinema. The Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City may differ greatly from the original traditions observed by our ancestors. One could say that this is an amalgamation that combines both old and new traditions alike. The more purists will say that foreign influences have no place in our traditions. However, even though we didn’t do this originally, this is something we can adopt so that our customs won’t get lost.  Although this is a new festivity, the invitation to other states to bring their own deeply-rooted rituals allows us, as onlookers, to experience the revered and long standing traditions of our country in a way that we may have never been able to do so before. It seems like this new tradition might be here to stay.