Disney & Diversity

Explore the diversity in Disney animation.

Graphic by Emma Liu ’22/Staff

Undoubtedly, Disney is an iconic part of many people’s childhoods. Kids around the world grow up surrounded by Disney amusement parks, movies, toys, and songs. Although Disney has become such an integral part of growing up, until fairly recently, Disney’s collection was not representative of the wide-spread diversity we see in the world. In recent years, Disney has made conscious efforts to become more inclusive, and things have definitely changed since the release of Snow White, the first Disney princess movie, back in 1973. Disney continues to release movies starring a diverse set of heroes, but they still have a long way to go. 

Disney has three main beliefs concerning diversity which underline that, “inclusion is key to market relevance, [Disney is] a better company when [characters] at all levels reflect the life experiences of our audiences, and [the company thrives] when ideas and decisions from all people are valued and encouraged.” In order to carry out these values, Disney created the Reimagine Tomorrow initiative in September 2021. The purpose consisted of “amplifying underrepresented voices and untold stories as well as championing the importance of accurate representation in media and entertainment.” In the past two years there has definitely been an effort to create more inclusive films. 

Back in 2009, Disney finally began progressive action to create diverse films. Disney produced a movie with their first Black protagonist, Tiana, in The Princess and the Frog. The fact that it took Disney until 2009 to create a movie with a person of color as a princess is rather appalling. Furthermore, the movie received backlash for being subtly racist due to the fact that  past characters of color had been represented as villains or animals and in Princess and the Frog, Tiana spends most of the movie as a frog. Since then, Disney has focused on becoming more inclusive and ensuring they portray other ethnicities in a sensitive way.  

In October 2020, Disney released the film Soul. It had an endearing plot about the big question: what is the meaning of life? The movie focused on the life of Joe who is  a middle school band teacher, but yearns to be a professional jazz musician. The movie presents these heavier topics through family friendly animation. Most importantly, the cast is predominantly black and highlights many aspects of Black culture. Jamie Foxx, the voice actor for Joe explains, “To me, Joe represents a lot of people who aren’t being seen right now.” Throughout the creation of the film, the studio made the effort to get input fromBlack employees to ensure that they were telling the story authentically and truthfully. 

More recently in November 2021, Disney released Encanto which soared to popularity with its beloved soundtrack. The animated musical, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, tells the story of Mirabel Madrigal who is the only person in her family that does not have magical powers. The movie explores many aspects of Columbian culture in terms of food, music, clothing, and family. More importantly, the movie became a hit across generations, not just for young kids. Additionally, its popularity on TikTok helped the movie reach a wide range of audiences. Alex Barajas, a freshman at Utah State University remarks, “making movies like ‘Encanto’ lets children know that not all princesses or heroes have to be white.”

Disney is far from a perfect company. For decades it released movies that only featured predominantly white characters and ignored diversity completely. However, movies like Soul and Encanto have helped Disney move away from their strictly white characters and become a more diverse platform. 

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