Representation matters, and modern audiences are seeing the diversity of the world reflected in the media they consume more than ever, and it's not enough to simply diversify the background extras. Many production companies and outlets are taking measures to boost minority representation, and Disney is no exception. One step being taken? Turning down projects that don’t meet their new diversity requirements, even if the scripts in question are solid.
Disney Television chairwoman of entertainment Dana Walden has said as much, revealing at an April discussion panel hosted by Glamour and Chapman University (via Washington Examiner) that Disney had just turned down a potential television series, despite the fact that the script was "well-written" because the show’s main characters would have been white, with the only minority representation coming from supporting characters. Dana Walden explained the reasoning:
That's not going to get on the air anymore because that's not what our audience wants. That's not a reflection of our audience, and I feel good about the direction we're moving.
It’s not just talk. Disney-owned channel ABC has already instituted new diversity standards. Half of the actors and characters of all new programs must be members of previously underrepresented sects. Similar guidelines are in place for crew members, production staff, and writers. This is good news, considering that Disney has come under fire in the past for lack of minority representation.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier star Anthony Mackie commented on the homogeneity of Marvel’s production crews, as did fellow Avenger Brie Larson. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has consistently given Disney films low ratings. Many fans were disappointed when Star Wars characters Finn and Poe never got their onscreen romance, and the promised LGBTQ representation came in the form of two background characters with five seconds of screen time. But change is happening.
Some of Disney’s recent and upcoming releases are definitely steps in the right direction. Disney’s most recent animated feature Raya and the Last Dragon took place in the fantasy land of Kumandra, but the country was inspired by Southeast Asian cultures and starred Kelly Marie Tran as the titular princess. Tran’s co-star Patti Harrison made history as the first openly transgender woman to voice a character in a Disney film. The upcoming film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be the first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to star a Chinese superhero.
We can only hope that Disney’s new standards will continue to be reflected in its upcoming projects. Even though Disney had to alter its plans for theatrical film releases due to the pandemic over the past year, the company has debuted some strong projects on the TV end that reflect changes in the industry, with the latest high-profile project being The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which set the stage for Anthony Mackie to have an even larger role in the MCU moving forward.