Club 55 hosts discussion on diversity in Disney productions

Riya Mody, right, a representative from the South Asian Student Association, talks about Disney’s “Aladdin” with her table group. KALI HOFFMAN Photo Editor

In an effort to address some of the underlying concerns in the very films that they love, Club 55 organized an open discussion in Argyros Forum Nov. 14 in coalition with diversity groups on campus, to hold Disney accountable for their errors and analyze its shortcomings. Clubs present included Black Student Union, Asian Pacific Student Association (APSA) and Chapman South Asian Student Association.

“We all love Disney and it brings us joy, but there are things that Disney does wrong,” said Stephani Sommer, a sophomore communication studies and public relations and advertising double major. “It’s a big corporation and a big part of that is representation, and with it being Indigenous People’s heritage month right now, we thought it would be a good time to talk about what Disney does wrong in movies.”

The conversation was timely, with the recent launch of the highly-anticipated Disney+, Disney dove into the realm of instant streaming. The online media archive gives viewers access to all Disney-owned movies and shows. The service went live Nov. 13, raking in 10 million subscribers within the first day of its international launch, according to CNBC, 2 million more subscribers than HBO or CBS.

Attracting generations of Disney fans, the streaming service has stewed in controversy surrounding racial and ethnic prejudices presented in various classic animated films. To tackle social disgruntlement, Disney attached a written disclaimer underneath certain films such as “Dumbo,” “Peter Pan” and “The Jungle Book.”

Students of all backgrounds congregated and rotated from diversity club to club, listening to various presentations on how their own culture was depicted and misrepresented by Disney.

Speaking on behalf of her Asian identity, Allie Chow, a sophomore global communication and world languages major and Asian Pacific Islander co-chair within APSA, outlined her own lack of relatability onscreen.

“Asia is such a broad and diverse continent and it’s more than just East Asia, so we need even within Asian representation, more representation of different ethnicities” Chow said.

Following the group rotation, Tim Topper, program coordinator of the Cross-Cultural Center, took to the stage to speak personally about his own feelings of misrepresentation with his Native American background. “Pocahontas” served as the major argument against Disney’s representation of Native American culture, specifically with its warped lens of the actual story of Pocahontas, which outlines a 12-year-old girl who was sold into marriage by John Smith to barter for tobacco and later died in Europe from disease.

“Historical accuracy was one of the biggest complaints about that film,” Topper said. “Regardless of how much we all like ‘Colors of the Wind,’ a lot of it was incomprehensible with what we’re thinking about how we’re rewriting storytelling.”

The film has yet to be added to the list of movies accompanied by a disclaimer on Disney Plus, to some viewer dissatisfaction.

Fans applauded the company’s steps forward with new movies such as “Moana,” with a Polynesian protagonist and “Coco,” with a Hispanic protagonist expanding the horizons of the company. Kaylee Snow, the co-president of Club 55 and sophomore communication studies and theater technology double major, pointed out that this trend seems to be more focused in the realm of Pixar.

“I know Pixar coming forward is doing way more especially after ‘Coco.’ Some of their shorts are also addressing more serious subjects, but they’re also subjects that need to be addressed,” Snow said.