Disney Brings Wonder Across Racial Lines


You have to witness it, the wide-eyed wonder verging on tears that will happen if he doesn’t stop blinking to check if it’s real or another of his countless fantasies.  created while experiencing a book, a comic, a television show, movie or role-playing game. His culture accurately depicted his ethnic background so often a footnote handled with supreme respect, in short, a mirror of the viewer.


Imagine a blind person given sight, handed a mirror and sees themselves for the first time and loves what they see. That formerly blind person would stare at themselves for hours on end.


That’s what I witnessed when I watched Disney’s Coco an audience connected by Mexican heritage mesmerized by what is sure to be a classic for Pixar.

We arrived at the AMC Emeryville cineplex to find the movie on multiple screens sold out, hard to imagine in an area with a wealth of theaters’ next day we crammed into a theatre and witnessed the cultural wonder, Coco opens with the producers speaking of their pride in creating this film’s Land of Dead fully aware of its power. The audience gasp at its beauty.


Creating something for its movie audience beautiful and unexpected is nothing new for Disney. however, that audience has been was exclusively Eurocentric. Historically Disney’s efforts toward people of color has been largely hostile.

To quote  Hope Schieber in the Complex article, The Most Racist Moments in Disney Cartoons “Maybe you think Disney is getting better because we finally do have a Black Princess. Maybe you think it’s just appeasing us because of how whitewashed Frozen turned out to be. Whatever you believe now, we can all agree on one thing: early Disney cartoons were racist as hell. They employed caricatures that helped educate children on how they expected other races to look and act. They slipped racists jokes easily into their scripts even into the ’90s and 2000’s When Disney’s attempts at cultural depictions always included the “wink, wink” element that thing that reminded the viewer that this was a white production disguised as a person of color.

Chief Roy Crazy Horse of the Powhatan Renape Nation,  stated 1995’s Pocahontas “distorts history beyond recognition” and “perpetuates a dishonest and self-serving myth at the expense of the Powhatan Nation”. Roy claimed that Disney refused the tribe’s offers to help create a more culturally and historically accurate film. Source

Eddie Murphy’s voice as a cartoonish dragon in the otherwise elegant 1998, Mulan.

The white features of the prince and toothless firefly, a representation of a Cajun stereotype in 2009, the Frog Princess.

But then Disney had its “Woke,” moment when it decided to be inclusive, maybe they figured out it was the right thing to do or because from a business perspective it was the smart thing to do.


For kids under the age of 5, the day the United States became a minority-majority nation has already arrived. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014 there were more than 20 million children under 5 years old living in the U.S., and 50.2 percent of them were minorities.

Parents who identified their child as white with Hispanic origin were the largest minority, making up 22 percent of the 19.9 million children under age 5, followed by African American children, who make up 15 percent. The minority population is expected to rise to 56 percent of the total population in 2060 source


Strategically it makes sense some of its largest films are targeted toward the African American and Hispanic populations

“They are really killing it across the board in terms of the depth of the bench and the commitment to an inclusive slate,” DuVernay told Vanity Fair in the article The Year Disney Started to Take Diversity Seriously “You have an amazing executive of color, Tendo Nagenda there. And you’ve got this really, forward-thinking Sean Bailey [president of the production] and Alan Horn [chairman of Walt Disney Studios] . . . they don’t even have a conversation about a movie unless they‘re talking about how it should reflect the world.”

That approach is where the wonder began For Coco, the filmmakers turned to an array of outside Latino cultural consultants to vet ideas and suggest new ones — upending a long-running studio tradition of strict creative lockdown. That approach was formalized after an early misstep in 2013, when lawyers for Disney applied to trademark the phrase “Día de Los Muertos,” a working title for “Coco,” and ignited a backlash online.

“We don’t normally open up the doors to let people in to see our early screenings,” Darla K. Anderson, one of the film’s producers and a longtime Pixar admiral, said of working with external consultants. “But we really wanted their voice and their notes and to make sure we got all the details correct.” source


This inclusion of differing worldviews does not fit the traditional Disney mold and trusting and being open to that vision will be the template for bringing wonder to untapped markets.

One look at the mythical city of Wakanda in Marvel’s the Black Panther and you will see that Marvel created a wide-eyed sense of wonder that has created great anticipation for Marvels first Black Superhero.

“I think Disney has woken up and is seeing the power of waking up others,” Nair says. “And that’s great . . . but the real test will be in the years to come, whether Queen of Katwe will continue to stand out as this rarity alongside other movies they’re now committing to, like Wrinkle in Time and Moana and so on. Or whether it will be one out of many—and I want to be one out of many.”

For those of you who cant conceive of what wide eyed wonder looks like, Check out the clip below of the cast of Black Panther seeing footage from the movie for first time.


A. J . Harper  @harperworx writes about race and pop culture. In Concert, the latest novel in his Tales of Urban Horror Series will be released May 2018



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