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The topic of diversity in Hollywood has become a significant source of discussion in recent years. Even in the realm of animation, a film like The LEGO Ninjago Movie has enlisted a delightfully eclectic ensemble of performers to bring its ninjas to life. There are benefits to representation outside just giving different types of actors roles, too. I recently had a chance to ask Ninjago voice actor Kumail Nanjiani about the benefits of this diversity, and he explained that it helped create a better sense of creativity and synergy in the recording booth. The Big Sick star elaborated:
When you're casting people from different backgrounds, you're getting different perspectives. Especially in a movie like this where there's a lot of improv. If you're casting people from different backgrounds, the improv they're going to do is going to have a different feel. So it's not just diversity in terms of the talent or the actors behind the scenes, but it's also diversity in point of view. You can come up with scenes that you wouldn't. I think that's why it's so important to have writers be from different backgrounds, because they'll bring a point of view to the story you're telling that will be fresh and new. I mean, we've seen this year like Get Out was so cool and nobody but Jordan could've made that movie. I hadn't seen a horror movie like that.
Based on Kumail Nanjiani's remarks during our conversation, in a project like The LEGO Ninjago Movie, the core benefit of enlisting a diverse cast of performers isn't necessarily the fact that different races, genders, or ethnicities receive representation on the big screen. After all, in the final product, every LEGO figurine will be the same size and shape. The real benefit of diversity is in the point of view that each performer brings from their own life experiences -- which subsequently translates into more interesting improv in the recording booth. With each member of the ensemble bringing an entirely different perspective (personally and professionally) to the film's ample improv, it creates jokes and story opportunities that a homogenous writers room couldn't develop.
Citing Get Out as an example of how this can work highlights the importance of creative diversity arguably better than any other film released in 2017. Noted for its unique take in addition to its skillful execution, the horror film feels firmly rooted in a point of view that has gone relatively unexplored in the genre. As a result, Jordan Peele has handily become the first African-American director to cross the $100 million mark at the worldwide box office, while also delivering a phenomenal return on Blumhouse's investment. By embracing that diversity of thought and point of view as much as diversity of race or ethnicity, studios can find stories that haven't been told before. Taking the baton from Peele, The LEGO Ninjago Movie is now endeavoring to do the same in animation.