Opinion | By: Kiana Maria
"And you're watching... Disney Channel!"
Most of Gen Z’s childhood memories consist of watching the Disney Channel with a lineup of actors tracing Mickey ears and saying that iconic phrase. As nostalgic as that is, Disney as a whole has needed a reboot when it came to more representation in both their TV shows and film. Between past mistakes with films containing racist comments and microaggressions and a lack of representation, Disney needs a new edge. In recent years, the company has added more representation in their theme parks, however, it isn’t enough for the people who can’t identify themselves with beloved Disney characters.
When talking about Disney, many children think of animated movies first. Children deserve to find themselves in stories that are close to home and really represent them to the world. Being a Disney fan isn’t easy when you can’t identify with those on the big screen, myself included. There has yet to be a Hispanic Disney Princess. Many young girls know of Belle and Cinderella. They have great stories to tell and show girls to be brave and follow your heart, however out of the twelve Disney Princesses, only five are not from European descent. These five are Moana, Mulan, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Tiana. Each of the five mentioned are all from different countries. This would mean that seven out of twelve are of European Descent. (The seven isn’t even including Elsa and Anna who aren’t technically a part of the official line up.) Young girls need to have a chance to view heroines and queens who look like them. It gives them self-confidence in thinking “if she can do it, so can I.”
Disney isn’t all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to its past. The riskiest and racist film that Disney has made is considered to be The Song of The South. This is the film that gave the inspiration to be the classic ride at Disney World called Splash Mountain. The movie is said to portray African Americans in a very racist and offensive way. The movie is even banned from being on Disney+. With everything going on, between the social injustice, and the protests, it seems as though Disney wanted to reveal some news they’d been holding on to for a while. Earlier this year, Disney decided to announce their plans to change the interior of Splash Mountain to feature the 2009 film, The Princess and the Frog. This is a huge step for the theme park because The Princess and the Frog are about Disney’s first official African American Disney Princess. This is a giant moment for more representation, however there is way more that needs to be done.
Even though Disney brought us Mulan, a woman from China who takes her father’s place in the war due to him being too fragile to fight, Disney has faced backlash for the way they showcase Asian characters. Two instances where Disney seemed to poke fun at Asian people are in Lady and The Tramp, and The Aristocats. In Lady and The Tramp, the audience is introduced to a pair of Siamese cats who have a mockingly Asian accent. In the movie, the cats sing a song that has been deemed to be racist. In The Aristocats, there is a scene where a cat plays the piano mimicking a Chinese accent and hitting the keys with chopsticks. The lack of Asian representation is still an issue today. The fact that so far there has only been about five movies from Disney that showcases an Asian main character is absurd, and it’s time that changes.
On Disney+, Pixar has debuted some short films under the series called Sparkshorts. Two notable short films from the series that support the representation of the LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities are Out, and Loop. In Out, a young man goes through the struggle of admitting to his family that he is gay. He undergoes the odd process of switching bodies with his dog and soon finds that there was nothing to worry about in telling his parents. In Loop, a young boy and girl go on a field trip. The young boy gets to understand the perspective of the young girl who is a non-verbal autistic child. She channels her emotions through music and colors. The young boy gets the chance to realize that even if she can’t respond, they can still communicate through the power of color and music. The representation of the two communities is greatly underrepresented and the world needs more of these types of stories, especially of people with disabilities! Luckily, Pixar announced that in 2022, one of two featured films will include the main character who has a disability.
Children look up to Disney stories, and it is a shame that many children don’t see themselves in these films. Between the past mistakes and the new stories that will hopefully arrive, Disney has a lot of work headed its way. Hopefully, Disney takes the opportunity to share stories and create heroes for all walks of life.