Diversity in the world of Disney

Disney has created some of the most prominent and significant films in cinema history composed of fairy tales, myths, and, following into the 21st century, culture. 

Films such as Pocahantas, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Dumbo, and Mulan stirred up talk involving diversity, accuracy, and representation, which has now led to Disney being a popular subject when it comes to the topic of diversity. Past and current projects that the company has produced has led many to question what diversity actually is and how impactful it can be. 

For me, diversity is representation. Seeing who we are on screen. Letting the world see who we actually are rather than the stereotypes that have been forcefully labeled onto many minority and diverse groups. 

Being represented accurately on an emotional and historical basis is what matters to us. 

I am a first generation Mexican American college student. Not once did I see myself represented in any Disney films growing up. I never saw myself represented as a Disney princess, or a fun protagonist on an adventure or journey of self-discovery. I really never saw myself represented on screen until Pixar released Coco, a film about a boy who is determined to follow his dreams with his extended family being involved into the mix. 

It was the only film that I have seen that represented my culture correctly. Sure, it sounds a bit stereotypical that when they make a film following Hispanic culture, they immediately tie it to Dia de los Muertos, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was seeing people like myself, my family, and our culture being shown on screen.

And to make it more emotional, the film won an Academy Award, so maybe people like me do matter.

But it was just my culture and my people. Other cultures, races, and ethnicities want to be seen and represented just like I was. For the past few decades, Disney has created a lot of misrepresentation from their first few animated projects. Both Peter Pan and Pocahantas have received criticism for their portrayals of Native American people and their culture;Peter Pan especially, as it had very little historical accuracy, offensive phrases and words, and included stereotypes that have been shown in the media for decades now. It greatly mistreated the portrayal of Native people, but it didn’t stop there.

Other Disney classics such as Mulan, Aladdin, and Dumbo were bashed for the stereotypes that we implied into them. It may be fiction but Disney created these stories using other peoples’ cultures. 

Throughout the years, Disney tried its best to be diverse by making sure its audience felt seen and heard, and it has come a long way. It has released several films with characters coming from many different backgrounds and it has also covered several other sensitive topics in its films. It even expanded its diversity by creating shows and movies, both live action and animation, that have been released on its well-known app Disney Plus. 

Disney has strongly been promoting its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion through its content and throughout its workforce. 

Leading up to today, Disney is still working to make sure its audience is seen. However, they have landed in hot water several times since then, and that is for the development in live action remakes. The company received backlash for casting Halle Bailey, a black woman, for the role of Ariel in the Little Mermaid. The reaction for the casting was very mixed as half of the people claimed that they were no longer represented, while the other half claimed that they were joyful to see themselves being portrayed. 

I, myself, was very intrigued with this new change, and after watching the live action remake, it instantly became one of my favorites. 

Disney followed the path of having new spins for their live action remakes, but it was once again followed with controversy when the castings for the live action remakes of Snow White and Lilo & Stitch were revealed, which made many question what diversity truly is. 

What about you? What does diversity mean to you? 

Write to Anahi Zuniga at anahi.zuniga@mnsu.edu

Header Photo: Peter Pan, released in 1953,  is one of many Disney movies known to have problematic depictions of race and ethnicity. In 2020, disclaimers were added to films. (Disney)

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