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As the World Changes, So Does the Great and Powerful Disney

By David T. Valentin


In an effort to get with the times, Disney has revised their company’s dress code to allow nonbinary haircuts and allow workers to now proudly display their tattoos.


In a blog post published April 13th on Disney’s website, chairman Josh D’Amaro, who was named chairman just last year, began his post with, “We will never stop working to make sure Disney is a welcoming place for all.”


Within D’Amaro’s blog post are his goals and the steps he has taken to create a more inclusive and diverse Disney experience within the amusement parks all around the world, not only for guests visiting but also for employees.


“Every Disney Parks cast member is familiar with our longstanding tradition of The Four Keys – Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency,” writes chairman D’Amaro. For anyone who has had the privilege to visit any Disney amusement park can witness Disney’s Four Keys and can attest to the philosophies core principles. From the cashiers to the cast members, they ensure a positive, welcoming, and immersive experience within the many Disney parks.


But despite The Four Keys guiding the Disney experience for over 65 years, as D’Amaro notes, something was missing in the experience. Back in 2019, Disney asked its cast members from all over the world “to bring a greater focus to inclusivity and belonging for our cast.”


With the help of cast members from all over the world Disney has announced a fifth key in their longstanding, 65-year traditions – the fifth key, the key of inclusion.


“…with inclusion at the heart – [it] will continue to guide us as we interact with guests, collaborate together, create the next generation of Disney products and experiences, and make critical decisions about the future of our business.”


In an attempt to move forward, D’Amaro wishes for a broader expression of gender and employee’s cultures within the parks. As he writes, “we’re looking at other traditions, too – including the policies that guide how our cast members show up for work. Our new approach provides greater flexibility with respect to forms of personal expression surrounding gender-inclusive hairstyles, jewelry, nail styles, and costume choices; and allowing appropriate visible tattoos. We’re updating them to not only remain relevant in today’s workplace, but also enable our cast members to better express their cultures and individuality at work.”


But that means Disney must put their large stacks of money where their mouth is and reckon with their past – meaning, harmful representations of marginalized communities, specifically Indigenous people and Black people. Luckily, D’Amaro has taken stock of the harmful stereotypes of these groups of people depicted within the Disney parks and is in the process of correcting them.


Specifically, D’Amaro notes the concern surrounding the Jungle Cruise ride, concerns which were addressed back in January regarding the negative depictions of Indigenous people. In the past, the ride depicted Indigenous people as magical, exotic, and aggressive.


Another ride set to undergo a complete redesign is Splash Mountain, a popular log flume attraction based on animated characters from Song of the South. For a long time, the 1946 film has been criticized for its romanticized depictions of race relations in the post-Civil War South. Now, Splash Mountain will be replaced with a brand new ride called New Adventures with Princess Tiana, which you can read all about here.


In addition to Disney celebrating their only Black princess, EPCOT has also announced a brand new exhibit named “The Soul of Jazz: An American Adventure” – a new exhibit which celebrates the distinctly American musical art form that originated by “African Americans and fusing the influences of many different cultures.”


But the company hasn’t stopped its change within its amusement parks. With the announcement of a more inclusive Walt Disney Company now, which started back in 2019 at an unspecified date, brings Disney’s most recent decisions to add new content warnings to their films on Disney+, Disney’s streaming service. Disney will add these warnings to Dumbo, Peter Pan, Swiss Family Robinson, The Aristocats, Fantasia, The Jungle Book, and Lady and the Tramp, all films that portray negative depictions of different people or cultures.


Even more dramatic was Disney’s recent move to fire Gina Carano for promoting misinformation on her social media accounts about the virus Covid-19 and creating harmful, ignorant tweets which mocked Trans and Nonbinary people’s use of different pronouns. Disney’s decisions have spurned a slew of backlash, specifically from conservative Americans and politicians across the United States even going so far as to label the whole movement “Cancel Culture.”


Still, despite the backlash many people all over social media welcomed Disney’s changes, seeing it more as changes that were long overdue.


As D’Amaro writes, “The world is changing, and we will change with it, and continue to be a source of joy and inspiration for all the world.”


But it begs the question, is Disney really changing to create a better, genuine, inclusive experience, or is it because with an ever-increasing demand of more inclusive stories, comes a greater risk of backlash from audience members, which eventually leads to a loss in profit for the company? Afterall, with people connected now more than ever, it’s easier to organize and protest movies which ultimately hurts Disney revenues.


But even if it is for a quick buck, Disney’s recent changes reflect the power of the consumer in a free market society, debunking the free-market myth that corporations and multi-billionaires are the ones who creates jobs. Afterall, without a consumer to buy a product, what good is that product? It demonstrates that with enough organization and demand, a consumer can change market trends for the better. And if that means a more diverse team of creatives coming on to the scene to create more diverse stories that inspire a whole generation to tell their stories and incite positive, inclusive change, then what’s the harm?