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Diversity In Disney Films

Walt Disney’s Production Company recently released Beauty and the Beast and it has already reached an extraordinary $170-million in its first week. This film is Walt Disney’s highest domestic debut for a live-action film and the seventh in Walt Disney Studios history to reach over $150 million within its initial release. Disney has been successful at recreating old cartoons into live action movies with the recent releases of Maleficent, Cinderella and The Jungle Book and it’s rumored that Dumbo, Aladdin and Mulan could be next in line.

Although, Beauty and the Beast has been a huge success, the releasing of the film has caused major controversy due to a change to one of the movies main characters. Bill Condon revealed in an interview with Attitude Magazine that the film would contain an “exclusively gay moment”. The sexual orientation of LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick, and the crush he has on the villain was hinted at throughout the movie but the scene referred to in the interview was received as very ‘underwhelming’ compared to all the controversy it had caused.

The biggest question raised by Disney’s portrayal of its first homosexual character is: Can we expect to see more diversity in Disney films?

Over the last few years there have been statements made that represent a dedication to increasing diversity. In May of 2015 John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios (purchased by Walt Disney Company in 2006), was asked if Pixar planned to release a film with a black protagonist and his response was “It’s very important to us…to have female and ethnic characters,” he then went on to say, “It’s grown in importance over the time. As you’ll see in future films, we’re really paying attention to that”.

Recent releases like Moana have been a direct reflection of “trying to reach out and find origins of legends all over the world,” as Lasseter cited. Both Disney and Pixar have released films with strong social messages; Inside Out which addressed mental health in an extraordinary new way and Zootopia was a strong allegory about racism.

However, it is hard to ignore classic Disney films that adopted racial stereotypes. Adored films like Dumbo and Peter Pan included racist caricatures of African Americans and Native Americans. And it would be careless to forget the infamous 1946 Song of the South, a testament to the dark past it seems Disney is trying desperately to leave behind.

Disney has created family movies for decades and the company has uniquely situated itself in a position to reflect the diversity of its viewers and mold the world’s definition of normal and change its own history . The president of Disney’s motion-picture productions, Sean Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter, “Inclusivity is not only a priority but an imperative for us, and it’s top of mind on every single project.”

Hopefully, in the future we can expect for all children to be able to watch a Disney movie and find some representation of themselves.

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