Image for post
Image for post

To Diversity & Beyond?

“There seems to be no sign of intelligent life anywhere.” — Buzz Lightyear

I found myself quoting Buzz Lightyear this morning. After lying in bed for a while hoping beyond belief that my place of work had spontaneously combusted in the night, I checked my Google Feed to see what I may have missed and ended up reading something that made me wish I’d burst into flames in the night as well.

Diversity Isn’t A Black & White Issue — It Affects Dinosaurs and Potatoes Too

Diversity within popular culture has been a highly controversial subject in recent years. Whether it’s the complete absence of actors of color among Oscar nominations or a huge under-representation of women in speaking roles, the lack of diversity in popular culture can’t be denied. And we are right to challenge it.

The issue has been publicly addressed in TV shows like South Park. The show introduced a character called ‘Token Black’, whose name refers to the politically-correct idea of including a ‘token black guy’ in TV shows for diversity purposes.

But with the news that Toy Story 4 has come under fire for its apparent lack of diversity among lead characters, I’m truly struggling to think of any logical explanation as to why this woman’s argument is being entertained. I can only assume that she has a snake in her boot (see what I did there?) and the excruciating pain from a snake bite has led to delirium.

The House Of Mouse Has Always Been Remarkably White

This isn’t the first time that Disney has faced backlash for a lack of diversity in its films. It isn’t hard to see why considering the number of films which feature a white princess, who falls in love with a white prince and lives happily ever after in their (more than likely) white castle. But in recent years, films such as The Princess and The Frog and Moana have gone against the grain, featuring characters from different ethnic backgrounds in the starring role. Whether this comes down to a genuine change in culture at Disney or is merely an attempt on their part to mollify critics remains to be seen, but things are improving.

I agree that diversity in popular culture is a necessity. But I take issue with the forced inclusion of diverse characters simply for the sake of appearing to promote diversity. Such as when the author of the world’s best-selling book series revealed on Twitter that one of the lead characters was gay after the book had been released. Or when the same author responded to a fan question on Twitter confirming the presence of a Jewish character in her books, despite this character never being mentioned. At least they were discussing the diversity of actual people, so it has more merit than this argument.

Did I Mention These Films Are About Toys?

I love the Toy Story films. I grew up watching them, and now that I’m older and have children of my own, I get to relive the magic of watching them for the first time through my children’s eyes. Truth be told, I’m probably more excited than either of my kids to go and see Toy Story 4. So imagine how I felt reading an article about a debate discussing the lack of diversity among its lead characters, who incase you’re unaware, are toys. The main character is a cowboy, who’s best friends with a spaceman, a talking potato and a dinosaur! I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get much more diverse than that.

If any of the Toy Story films were really about the children, versus the toys themselves, a diverse cast of characters would be essential. But the human characters in the films have always taken a backseat. In the few scenes where the action is focused on the people, the films do a good job of promoting diversity. In Toy Story 3, there is a scene where the toys are eagerly awaiting to be played with by the children at the Daycare Centre. If you pay attention, you’ll see that this scene depicts children from several different racial backgrounds. But this isn’t a story about those children.

It’s a story about the toys and the adventures they go on, facing insurmountable odds to overcome adversity. Granted, they take on human characteristics, but they are toys nonetheless. Does it matter that Woody is white? Or that Mr. Potato Head isn’t in a same-sex relationship with another Mr. Potato Head? The majority of the characters were introduced almost 25 years ago. The world was a very different place when Woody and Buzz first graced our screens. Do you think anyone was upset about the lack of diversity when the original Toy Story released in 1995? I don’t think so. And while new characters have been introduced as the series goes on, using minor roles to shoehorn a sense of diversity into the franchise would come across as nothing short of ‘Token-esque.’

Diversity Doesn’t Always Have To Be In Your Face

Bashing Toy Story 4 for a lack of diversity among its lead characters achieves nothing, apart from making a mockery of what is a very real issue when it comes to films that are based on actual people. Why aren’t we instead spending our time celebrating the elements of diversity that the film does demonstrate? Like the inclusion of actors Jordan Peele, Ally Maki, and Carl Weathers, each of whom is an actor of color. Or, as reported by the Evening Standard, the inclusion of a young boy wearing a cochlear implant.

Image for post
Image for post
Disney Pixar ©

Social media is going crazy with praise for Disney Pixar over this, for what I’m sure is a subtle piece of inclusivity that probably went unnoticed by the majority of fans. But I’d bet my bottom dollar that children who have a cochlear implant saw it. I can only imagine some of the hardships faced by children with hearing difficulties, so for them to see a character who represents them in a Hollywood film must feel incredible. Isn’t something as subtle as this so much more powerful than say, if the child in this image were replaced with a black child? That isn’t to say there would be anything wrong with that, but I feel that something which is perhaps not as obvious is a much more effective way of promoting a sense of inclusion.

Are We Asking Too Much Of Films?

I have no issue with diversity in popular culture. It’s necessary that characters resonate with the audience, especially when that audience is primarily children. But when we get to point when we are debating a lack of diversity among toy cowboys, aliens and dinosaurs, enough is enough. Why can’t we just let our kids be kids, without every film, cartoon or television show feeling obligated to teach them a lesson? The point of films and television is to entertain. Shouldn’t the benchmark they are held against be whether or not they put a smile on a child’s face? Because right now we seemingly expect our children to come out of the cinema equipped with the answer to all life’s questions and a moral compass to shame the Dalai Lama.

Let kids enjoy Toy Story 4 for what it is. A children’s animation featuring loveable characters. It doesn’t matter whether those characters are black, white, extraterrestrial, animals, dinosaurs or potatoes, what matters is they were created to put a smile on children’s faces. Why do we need them to do anything more than that?

Written by

Trying to make the world a better place, one word at a time.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store