As we all know, Disney has played a pivotal role in many children’s lives, teaching us subconscious positive messages such as believing in yourself, trusting others, and appreciating those around you. But how many of these stories remain untold? Recently, Disney has been bringing these tales to life, including different cultures and perspectives that introduce a “whole new world,” to the next generation of kids. Some of these movies include Coco, Moana and the new and upcoming Disney movie, Raya and the Last Dragon, premiering on March 5th, 2020, both in select theaters and on Disney +.
This movie centers around a young Southeast Asian girl trying to save her city from ancient monsters while simultaneously searching for the last dragon to unite her people. This will be the first Southeast Asian story and princess story told by Disney. Not only is this a big step for Southeast Asian people, but is important for kids from all backgrounds to be exposed to a new culture that they might not have been familiar with before.
Representation in movies has been on the rise in the last decade, with people of color demanding to be heard and seen on screen. During the 2015 Oscars, the hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” began to trend after awarding all 20 acting nominations to only white actors for the second consecutive year. The term was coined to show how little diversity there really was in movies. A study showed that during the years 2007-2015, only a total of 26.3% of all speaking characters were from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group in a popular movie. Obviously, this is not because all good movies have a predominantly white cast, but rather because both now and in history, diversity has been used as an option instead of a necessity.
Prior to the 21st century, movies seldomly used people of color, and in the few times that they did, they were seen as a stereotype or a comic relief rather than a complex character. Due to these stories being told unfairly, it perpetuated an already dangerous narrative that would only continue to discriminate against minorities even more. However after the increased awareness, we are starting to see more diverse casting incorporated into big budget films, with growth of 10% more racially underrepresented lead characters since 2018. With all this being said, children’s entertainment is often the last medium to embrace these ideals.
Although children’s movies have been a little bit late to diversity, for older audiences, Hollywood has been telling stories that have never been heard before. In movies such as The Last Black Man in San Francisco a young black man tries to buy back his grandfather’s house after his neighborhood gets overtaken by gentrification. Or in the South Korean, four time Oscar winning movie, Parasite where you watch as a poor family gradually inserts themselves into a rich family’s home, leaving you feeling both gratified for the poor, but also feeling empathetic towards the oblivion of the rich.
But fortunately now, kids movies are catching up, and with the release of movies like Raya and the Last Dragon from Disney, it allows more discussion about topics that are long overdue. For kids who haven’t been exposed to Asian culture, this movie could be a great window into their experiences and culture. For Asian American children, this movie will allow them to see their own culture depicted and celebrated on the big screen, possibly for the first time.
From a more personal standpoint, I remember when Coco had come out in 2016, and my siblings were the perfect audience for this particular movie. I had decided to sit down and watch it with them to see what it was all about, and was shocked at how much I related to it. I lived with my grandparents that immigrated from Mexico for a good portion of my life, and did not realize how many cultural differences that had caused me to have, such as holidays that we celebrated, music we listened to, and traditions that we had participated in. It gave both me and my family a sense of community and belonging that we wouldn’t have felt if that movie would not have been made. This is just one of millions of stories where movies have connected with people in a visceral way, and just to think of the endless possibilities of stories that are yet to be told is an exciting feeling.
As a society we are beginning to embrace the rich diversity that our county has to offer and it is exciting to see different cultural perspectives in our entertainment. I am hopeful for the future of movies and films that get to tell stories and let people dream the same way that Coco did to my family and I, because at the end of the day, you have to see it to believe it.
Heijh is a senior at San Marcos High School…