In early July, Disney announced that they are casting Halle Bailey as Ariel in the upcoming remake of the 1989 classic, The Little Mermaid. Bailey will be the first person of color in this role and we, at Colorful Pages, are beyond excited! She has proven to be a very talented actress in grown-ish and there have been multiple videos showcasing her amazing vocal cords.
Unfortunately, even though there is huge support for Bailey, the casting has also been met with some racist backlash. We are in FULL support for Bailey and disgusted by the hate that people have been spewing.
Therefore, to celebrate Bailey’s new casting, we are dedicating our Fast Five Friday this week to Halle Bailey and listing Five Animated Disney Movies Featuring Diverse Characters. These are great films to watch during a classroom party, indoor recess, or even at home with your own little ones! Let’s go ahead and start Celebrating Disney Diversity:
1. Moana (2016)
This movie tells the story of Moana, who is the daughter of a chief of a Polynesian village. Moana is chosen by the ocean to get the demigod Maui to return something he took from a goddess. Her oceanic journey is filled with songs and action while also celebrating the importance of family and culture.
To be honest, I cry every single time I watch this movie. When I was little, I always loved Disney movies, but the only princess that came close to looking like me was Jasmine. As soon as I watched Moana, I felt like I was suddenly six-years-old again and was starstruck: Here was a princess that actually represented my family and me! [Disclaimer: Moana is considered a Disney princess, but she is actually a Chief, which is incredibly more powerful and inspiring!]
I love how the directors of Moana found voice actors who were from Poleynesian descent, Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson. In addition, it is reported that the directors and producers went on research trips to islands in the South Pacific Ocean to learn about their culture. There is also a Hawaiian-language version of this movie that I have yet to see (trying to brush up on my ‘olelo first!). Moana will always have a special place in my heart and I know that, if you and your little ones haven’t already watched it, you all would love it too!
2. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Lilo & Stitch is about a Hawaiian girl named Lilo and her adventure with a blue alien named Stitch. Lilo is being raised by her sister Nani after their parents passed away. In the beginning of the movie, she is painted as a quirky girl who is just trying to find a friend. Then, Stitch, a blue alien, literally crashes into Lilo’s life. Stitch is on the run from the alien authorities and pretends to be a dog in order to seek shelter at Lilo’s house.
This movie came out when I was little and is pretty special to my family. My family and I loved the Hawaiian cultural references to ohana and hula because it allowed people to see the importance of those things to us. In addition, my parents always used to call me Lilo and my brother Stitch because of our tendency to get into trouble as a team.
While this movie does not feature Hawaiian voice actors for Lilo and Stitch, Nani and David are voiced by two actors from Hawaii, one with actual Hawaiian descent. In addition, I love the animation of this film. Lilo and Nani are drawn with actual Polynesian-like features that are far more realistic than previous Disney-drawn heroines. Moreover, Nani is a strong female role model that any child could learn from. She puts family first and does anything (from working several jobs to understanding Lilo’s quirks) for her little sister. Overall, Lilo & Stitch is another great movie that any child could relate to and learn from.
3. Big Hero 6 (2014)
Big Hero 6 tells the story of Hiro Hamada, a young teenager who has a gift for robotics. Hiro forms a superhero team consisting of his older brother’s healthcare robot named Baymax and their colleagues from a prestigious robotics program. Together, the superhero team combats a masked villain wearing a Kabuki mask.
I believe that Big Hero 6 is a very underrated Disney film. This movie has amazing representation and an action-packed plot. Big Hero 6 is also the first Disney movie to feature an explicitly biracial character! Hiro Hamada, the main character, is biracial and voiced by Ryan Potter, a biracial voice actor. In addition, Big Hero 6 features a grand array of characters, who are as smart as they are diverse! I have shown this film in my classroom countless times. My students love it and soak up the great messages about science, diversity, and mental health!
4. Coco (2017)
I am sure you have seen Coco or, at the very least, heard its famous song, “Remember Me”! Coco is about the adventures of Miguel, a 12-year-old boy who has an intense love for music, during the Mexican Día de los Muertos holiday. Miguel’s family has forbade any kind of music. While trying to play guitar in the Día de los Muertos festival, Miguel is accidentally transported to the land of the dead where he has to figure out how to return before time runs out!
Coco centers around the cultural traditions of Día de los Muertos. Viewers learn about the Mexican culture while also enjoying the storyline and vivid animation. Coco is also the first film with a nine-figure budget to feature an all-Latinx principal cast! The talent in this movie is inspiring.
5. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
In 2009, Princess Tiana joined the elite Disney princess crew, which was a win for diversity everywhere. The Princess and the Frog is inspired by the Brothers Grimm fairytale, “The Frog Prince”. It is set in 1912 in New Orleans and follows Tiana, a hard-working waitress who dreams of opening her own restaurant. While catering an event for her rich friend, she meets a talking frog, who says he is a prince and promises to help her achieve her dream if she kisses him. Unfortunately, things do not go as planned and Tiana is turned into a frog too. The rest of the movie is spent with both Tiana and the frog prince trying to figure out how to reverse their curse.
Princess Tiana was the first Black princess in the Disney world! I love her character because she is incredibly hard-working and, in the end, achieves her dream without heavily relying on her eventual prince, which is abnormal for ANY pre-2009 Disney princess.
Unfortunately, there are still some negative stereotypes present in this movie, which then begs the question: Is the positivity of a Black princess worth combating the negative stereotypes of the Black community? I believe the positive representation of Princess Tiana is worth it if one also addresses the negative stereotypes of other characters and combats them with other positive representation. Princess Tiana is beloved by Disney fans and a good role model for every child, but I would caution viewers to ensure that this is not the only representation of Black characters you show in your class. [hint hint: once the new Little Mermaid with Halle Bailey comes out on DVD, maybe you could do a double feature!]
I know Disney has a long way to go in terms of diversity and inclusion, but I believe they have shown a hopeful commitment to increasing diversity over the last few years.
Remember, it is important to have Colorful Pages beyond just the books you read to your students and children. Movies that feature characters of color will also help build cross-cultural empathy and cultural empowerment in our little ones. We cannot wait to see Halle Bailey in her upcoming role!!