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  • Writer's pictureTaChelle Lawson

Disney + Diversity = Dollars

A few years ago, I had a couple of thoughts about Nike and Colin Kaepernick's public explosion all over social media. In case you don’t remember, Nike signed the very (at the time) controversial Colin Kaepernick as a part of their new “Just Do It” campaign. Interestingly this was prior to the social uprising that took place after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Needless to say, at the time, diversity wasn’t trendy as it is today. Because if it were, Colin would’ve never been blackballed from the NFL for using his platform to take a stance against the disproportionate rate of police brutality against black men. Today the NFL and just about every other organization in this country claim to be in full support of diversity and have taken public stances on developing equity policies and practices.

But the proof is in the pudding.

Let’s go back to 2019 when Disney announced that Halle Bailey would be cast in the new Disney action movie “The Little Mermaid,” and she would play the beloved character Ariel. The announcement went viral and people went bananas. People on social media were actually pissed and weren’t holding back on the comments. Social media was like the wild wild west. People were upset and disappointed and there was a constant question of “why is Ariel Black?” The buzz eventually fizzled, but we’re back because Disney moved ahead with Miss Bailey and last week, the trailer for the new movie was released.

Staying true to the storyline, the trailer opens with the mischievous and adventurous Ariel swimming through the sea and showing some very impressive skills moving between rocks, fish, algae, etc. And when she comes to the top, you see that she is in fact…Black. With red hair and the same curious and longing look, the animated Ariel character is known for. The animation is incredible; the soundtrack is modern yet familiar and gives all the vibes of a Disney story. However, that’s not what caught the attention of the media. And again an uproar on social media. “She’s not supposed to be Black,” “Why are we changing these characters?” “She should be white,” etc.

I’d like to point out a few obvious facts.

✔ Ariel is a fictional character.

✔ Mermaids, while cute, wild and fun, are not real.

✔ Disney makes movies for children.

✔ Children like fantasy.

✔ Most kids just see a mermaid and can relate to how mischievous and how curious she is.

✔ Kids are taught to see color as bad.

Shifting gears. Let’s focus on why Disney did not back down when it made the 2019 announcement. Disney was one of the first companies to come out publicly and take a stand on diversity. Backing down would not be good for the brand, the trust etc. Disney understands its customer just as Nike understood its customer.

Doing a deep DEIve, in former Disney CEO, Bob Iger’s book “Ride of a Lifetime,” he mentions proposing a movie with a Black superhero, and the team responds with “no one wants a Black superhero as the main character.” He disagreed, and they eventually went into production on the Black Panther. Which, to date, is the highest-grossing Disney movie in history, bringing in over $1.9 billion. There is no way that Disney is not releasing this movie because of upset “fans.” Considering the cost of production for The Little Mermaid is $180 million, the movie will be released as scheduled.

I like to think Disney knows their fan base better than the social media warriors. And by taking this stance on diversity and giving their audience a new character, a new perspective and broadening their eyes that princesses and mermaids and princes come in all shapes, colors and sizes, they have solidified their value with their real fans. Similarly to how Nike understood their audience was not the guy buying his Nikes for $34.99 at Ross. So the guys that burned their shoes were/are not missed as a customer. Similarly, the people that are upset about Ariel being Black and claiming they won’t see the movie because of it: Disney will not miss those customers either. The fact is diversity is good for business, and it’s reflected in dollars. The business world has changed, and diversity is here to stay.

Based on this reaction, I am personally estimating The Little Mermaid will break Black Panther's record in generating revenue for Disney.

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