Mija is a Disney Original Documentary by Isabel Castro about Doris Muñoz, a child of immigrants trying to make it in the music industry. Just before Doris was born, her parents came to the United States without documentation. She was born a citizen but her parents and her older brothers were not; one of her brothers was deported to Mexico several years earlier and their parents, who have been struggling to apply for Green Cards for years, haven’t been able to see him since. Doris, like the children of so many immigrants, isn’t just fighting to support herself, she’s in it for her brother, his family, their parents, and her whole community.
Mija could have found no better home as a documentary than Disney+. It’s a fairytale of a documentary, both in the presentation and the story. No documentarian or its subjects could begin a venture in the style of Mija, where it simply follows Doris’s life to see where it goes, knowing what kind of footage or even what kind of circumstances will arise. The Covid pandemic, for starters, has made its mark on virtually every documentary that began filming in late 2020 and early 2021. Neither Doris nor filmmaker Castro could have scripted the journey Doris takes personally or professionally. And on both accounts, especially personally, they were enormously fortunate.
At Mija’s start, Doris is managing Cuco, a friend she met when they were still brand new to the music industry and who, together, rocketed to stardom. With success and rising fame came money, and for these two children of immigrants, Doris in particular, it meant not only the chance to support herself but to support her entire family. It’s certainly not an uncommon story for children of immigrants who out-earn their parents to wind up supporting them financially. And whether this phenomenon is familiar to you as a viewer or not, it’s told in an incredibly emotional and compelling way. You will be instantly drawn into Doris’s family, loving all of them and feeling deeply for all of their ups and downs.
There’s an ethereal overtone to the whole film, with lighting and sound that feel billowy and a soft voiceover now and again from Doris. This editing, married with a dad to die for, an uplifting story, and above all, the way the saga concludes, give a very Disney quality to the project in the most complimentary of ways.
It leaves me hoping that Disney can produce more of these types of diverse narrative documentaries and continue to demonstrate the breadth of human experience in ultimately positive, uplifting, and creative storytelling. Mija makes you feel hopeful, like awful situations can turn out alright, and just overall really good by the end. Time skips and selective narration can occasionally leave you feeling like you’re not getting the full picture now and again, but it leaves you with more than enough to fill in your own blanks and stay focused on the bigger emotional moments.
While the part that sticks with me the hardest is Mija’s familial story and the reasons why Doris puts so much pressure on herself to succeed in the music industry, the documentary is meant to be just as much about the music world too. The film starts with Doris’s relationship to Cuco, but that relationship doesn’t last. The real crux of her industry journey is about her finding a new path and a new partnership. She happens upon Jacks Haupt, an unknown artist at the time who Doris believes could be her next Cuco success story.
The parts of the film focused on Cuco, Jacks, and the music in general all stand well on their own. Cuco and Jacks’ personal stories reflect the same themes of hope, aspiration, and overcoming reflect the film’s overall themes perfectly. I particularly appreciate the time the film takes to basically create its own music video within itself using footage of Jacks performing early in her career, paralleling and juxtaposing an actual music video Doris goes on to help her produce. These parts of the film just sometimes feel a little disjointed from the rest of the movie.
Perhaps it is because of how they’re edited in more experimental styles and the amount of time that passes between scenes is often unclear. It’s certainly contributed to by a few scenes that feel a bit awkwardly contrived—like they were perhaps staged more heavily than all of the very candid-seeming footage of the rest of Mija. And perhaps too it is simply an artifact of that part of Doris’s life is presented as less certain so, within the film, it has less structure.
The filmmaker likely knew what the endpoint for Doris’s family’s story might hopefully be. But breaking off from Cuco and enduring a pandemic meant that any direction there may have been initially regarding Doris’s music industry career had to be altered. It leaves the music, which in its own right is fun to watch and full of great personalities, feeling more like a means to Doris’s familial ends than a fully realized focal point for the documentary.
Fortunately, this occasional feeling of being disjointed doesn’t detract from the enormous emotional impact, creative editing, and overall enjoyable experience that Mija has to offer. While I wish the music industry parts of Doris’s life felt a little more realized in the documentary’s presentation, knowing how clearly central to her life it is and given the strength of what is there already, the production as a whole is still deeply moving. I hope Disney invests in more diverse, personal, and creative documentaries like Mjia from here on.
Mija is coming soon to Disney+.
While I wish the music industry parts of Doris’s life felt a little more central in the documentary’s presentation, knowing how clearly central to her life it is, the production as a whole is still strong and deeply moving.