Is Disney finally committing to their pledges for diversity? We take a look at The Walt Disney Company’s recent actions that highlight certain changes implemented to champion inclusivity, particularly with their film and Disney+ offerings.
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The Walt Disney Company’s first full-length animated feature film, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937) by Walt Disney Pictures changed the animation industry with its ground-breaking animation, giving the company its iconic association with stellar storytelling and highly-curated, quality experiences. Ever since Walt Disney’s first foray into that world of animation a hundred years ago now, Disney has grown exponentially — growing to include everything from the world of superheroes in the Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), science fantasy in Star Wars and Lucasfilm, to James Cameron’s “blue alien” Avatar film franchise, and even pioneering 3D animation with Pixar Animation Studios. Disney even dominates with their world-leading international theme parks — from Anaheim, California’s original Disneyland Resort, to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, to Disneyland Paris, the Tokyo Disney Resort, the Shanghai Disney Resort, and Hong Kong Disneyland.
What was Disney’s pledge for diversity?
The Walt Disney Company has been a longtime advocate for diversity and inclusion, introducing initiatives like “Reimagine Tomorrow” that help underrepresented groups and foster a more “inclusive culture” within the company. Dedicating themselves to providing more diverse content for younger audiences is also another way that they’ve pledged to aid in inclusion efforts. However, they’ve received their fair share of criticism for utilizing a certain brand of “corporate diversity” speak and “pink-washing” or “rainbow-washing” their brand to come across as inclusive and diverse without actually committing to those ideals.
How has Disney failed to showcase “diversity” in the past?
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Disney has notably stated to be champions for diversity and inclusion, but actually failed to see diverse and inclusive projects through. Famously, the sudden and unfair cancellation of the much-loved animated series, The Owl House, which showcased the company’s first ever openly gay teen romance, has led to several intense reactions from upset fans — as well as explicit call-outs from its very own showrunner, Dana Terrace, for their overall mishandling of the show. It was likely internal changes that contributed to The Owl House‘s axing, with ex-CEO Bob Chapek’s focus on streaming and the Disney+ platform leading to its end.
On the other hand, new ventures like Pixar’s Lightyear (2022) and original animated film, Strange World (2022) have also boldly hit cinemas despite bans from more LGBTQ-unfriendly countries. With Strange World‘s central character Ethan Clade (voiced by queer actor Jaboukie Young-White) being in an openly gay relationship, The Walt Disney Company marked another first. Strange World however, was not given much marketing for a Disney original — and thus did not do as well in the box office as compared to other reboots and remakes that Disney has put out in recent years. Was this an attempt to deliberately bury the film, yet still claim that they were putting out inclusive, original work? Only Disney truly knows.
In what ways has Disney actually committed to diversity and inclusion?
As Adrienne Gibbs over at Forbes also recognizes — The Walt Disney Company has been surprisingly committed to diversity in seemingly small but effective ways. For Black History Month in February, many streaming platforms are prone to releasing collections of content featuring Black people or stories. Disney+ however, has decided to go a somewhat different route.
Disney+’s collection titled “Celebrate Black Stories”, is in fact, not a new grouping of content cobbled together specifically for the month of February. Instead, Disney+ has had this collection in the bag and ready to go for a while — choosing instead to remind viewers of their current, diverse content’s existence. It’s a surprisingly lowkey, almost “humble” move from the media conglomerate (however mega cultural-zeitgeist-dictating factories like Disney can be “humble”), where instead of giant optics-pandering, rainbow-themed Pride parades over June, February is instead marked by relatively small reminders of inclusion on their streaming platform.
Alongside new projects attempting to eliminate past wrongs — see: the upcoming Peter Pan reboot with re-tooled Native American Tiger Lily and diverse casting, and complete overhauls of existing theme park rides like Splash Mountain, originally built around outdated IPs like Song of the South — this is a slight, effective shift that isn’t plastered in rainbow stickers and loud proclamations of inclusivity.
Could this be marking Disney’s newfound ability to actually commit to diversity? Is this a fluke or just another calculated corporate move? We’ll get to make up our own minds in the days and years to come — especially as Bob Iger navigates Ron DeSantis descending upon the Floridian Walt Disney World Resort.
What do you think about Disney’s commitment to diversity and inclusion? Share your thoughts in the comments below!