It’s no secret that Hollywood has a diversity problem, but it’s one that seems to be getting more and more attention and calls for change nowadays. In particular, it appears Walt Disney Pictures has come in for more flak than other studios recently regarding both its general lack of non-white characters, and its treatment of the few people of colour in its films. It’s understandable as their output is all widely seen and aimed at kids, indeed Disney films occasionally feel like mandatory viewing for children at certain periods in life. This was particularly emphasised in the wake of the phenomenal recent success of Frozen.
This isn’t going to be another piece about Disney’s representation issues; there are plenty of them out there already. Instead I’d like to present one example that seems to buck this trend. That’s not in any way an attempt to try and counter the valid existing arguments, just to shine a light on one Disney movie that appears to get it right when it comes to diversity. It’s true that the complaints are aimed more toward the animation division than the live-action one, but I think this film still may be worth a mention.
I’ve been taking a few long plane journeys recently (in fact I wrote this article during a layover). Whenever I’m on flights I tend to avoid watching films that I think will actually be good. I’m usually half-asleep and don’t want my first experience of a great film to be seeing it on a tiny screen that’s too close to me, the sound coming through lousy headphones with interruptions for in-flight announcements. I also tend to select kids’ movies as many others, even PG-13 movies will be ‘edited for content’ and I never like seeing neutered cuts of films.
Anyway, I was browsing the ‘family’ section after boarding a seven and a half hour flight a few days ago and saw one of the available options was Disney’s The Game Plan from 2007. I have absolutely zero interest in American football and had pretty much forgotten this film existed after not seeing it upon its initial release. However anyone who follows this blog will know that I’m a big fan of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson so being reminded that he was in the film was enough to have me hitting ‘play’ on a film I expected nothing more from than to keep me mildly distracted for a couple of hours of flight.
The Game Plan isn’t great by any means, but it was better than I expected. Johnson plays the star quarterback for the Boston Rebels, whose bachelor lifestyle is interrupted by the arrival of a young girl claiming to be his daughter. The film’s fairly predictable and succumbs to childish gags on occasion but on the whole it’s fine for its intended audience, probably on a par with the likes of Frozen. I don’t wish to dwell on the film’s quality much though as it’s another aspect of the film that struck me as I was watching it; it’s diversity.
As I mentioned, Dwayne Johnson is the main character and his daughter is played by mixed-race child actress Madison Pettis (the mother character is absent). So already we have 2 non-white leads, but this extends to the supporting cast. Johnson’s best friend and team mate is played by Morris Chestnut, and indeed the majority of his team are African-Americans. Not only that though, the daughter’s ballet teacher who becomes a major character in the second half is played by Puerto Rican actress Roselyn Sánchez, and the only significant white character is Johnson’s agent, who’s a woman (Kyra Sedgwick). It’s a prime example of casting a female in a role that could easily and would normally be written as male (aside from a couple of moments it could be swapped without much dialogue alteration at all). But as it is the film passes the Bechdel test on numerous occasions, and it’s no surprise to see the film’s 3 credited screenwriters are all women. In fact the film is an almost entirely white-male free zone, with the only white man of note being the team dimwit who’s often the butt of pranks. The Game Plan never tries to make a big deal out of its characters’ ethnicities of genders and doesn’t present anyone in a notably stereotypical manner.
Again I’m not trying to claim this is an excellent film or suggesting that it counters legitimate complaints made at Disney, however I do think that it represents an example of how mainstream family movies can be made more inclusive, and it was a big success, grossing almost $150 million on a $22 million budget.
Anyway, if you think I’m completely off the mark here, or know of any better examples, feel free to let me know in the comments.