At the Annecy festival, Disney on a crusade for more diversity in animated cinema

At the Annecy festival, Disney on a crusade for more diversity in animated cinema

The studio, which came to present the first images of its new productions at the Annecy festival, hammered home the importance of diversity in its creations and in its teams.

Walt Disney Animation Studios, came in force last week at the Annecy Animation Festival to present its new productions – the film Avalonia, the strange journey and the series Baymax and Zootopia+ -, emphasized his fight for more diversity in the audiovisual industry.

Receiving a Crystal of Honor from the hands of Marcel Jean, artistic director of the festival, Jennifer Lee, the Oscar-winning director of Snow Queen and Creative Director of Walt Disney Animation Studios, insisted on the need to reflect the diversity of the world in its productions:

“We look to the future together,” she explained in her acceptance speech. “In our studio, the sense of the collective is more important than ever because we only shine when everyone feels welcome. We are all very proud of the heritage of our studio and we feel invested with a great responsibility: to create , together.”

“An Intuition at the Beginning”

Becoming creative director of Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2018, Jennifer Lee has since fought to implement this ambition. “It was really an intuition at first, then over the years it became much more conscious. And the day I became creative director, I said that it was our duty to leave voices from around the world to speak out, to recruit incredible talent from all over the world.”

His strategy has since borne fruit: “We managed to change a lot of things within our studio. I saw it strengthen. You will see the results in a few years. There will be more diversity on screen and behind the scenes, in all creative and leadership roles. The more we embrace diversity, the better off we will be, creatively.”

Avalonia, the strange journey (soon on Disney+) is no exception to this rule. In this love letter to 1920s adventure tales, a family of legendary explorers discover an unexplored and threatening land populated by fantastical creatures… The youngest son of the tribe, Ethan, is a young gay teenager, Disney’s first openly LGBT hero. In a scene shown in Annecy, this character flirts with a classmate, Diazo.

“That’s definitely what we’re looking for today,” film producer Roy Conli told BFMTV. “Don Hall, our director, is also an incredible designer of universes. The New Heroeshe had already imagined San Fransokyo [une ville hybride entre San Francisco et Tokyo, NDLR], arguably the most inclusive city you can imagine. What we do in Avalonia is part of this continuity.

“We refuse to censor anything”

Avalonia however, risks being censored in the Middle East, as recently Buzz Lightning, which features a lesbian kiss. And China shouldn’t show the movie for that same reason. Jennifer Lee doesn’t care and won’t edit Avalonia to please societies condemning homosexuality. She says she is ready to sacrifice some foreign markets: “We refuse to censor anything in our films. We believe in our duty to represent all communities. We live together. They will therefore be in our films.”

Ethan’s character, she insists, is not a calculation. “We’ve been working on this story since 2018. The character of Ethan was already there. He was already the way he is. He’s an amazing character. I can’t wait for the audience to get to know him.”

Last year, Walt Disney Animation had great success with Encanto, which features a Colombian family. In 2019, in Frozen 2diversity was already present, but more discreetly, with a cast of all-black extras.

“I know it’s set in a world inspired by Norway, but Arendelle is an international city, but also one of the most welcoming places in the world. Over the years, these extras have become the stars of our new productions,” notes Jennifer Lee.

A rumble at Disney

“It’s a giant step that we have taken,” said Clark Spencer, director of Walt Disney Animation, who oversees the studio with Jennifer Lee. A giant step that we can measure very quickly: Walt Disney Animation is currently working on a dozen films and series whose broadcast is planned for the next few years.

But this crusade for inclusiveness and diversity has had some setbacks recently. A rumble broke out among Disney employees in the spring, when Disney CEO Bob Chapek hesitated to support a law promoted by the Governor of Florida, which prohibits teaching subjects related to sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary school.

In addition, Pixar employees denounced in a letter the censorship exercised by Disney, homosexual and lesbian content in their productions. All is not perfect in the inclusive kingdom of Disney.

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