Before my family and I tuned in to Pixar’s latest movie, “Soul”, I had been on high alert from other watchers and their online reviews. I read so many posts from other moms reprimanding Pixar about the death scene and about it being “heavy”. This made me so nervous and made me question if we should watch as a family first or if I should preview it beforehand. All I could wonder was how extreme and detailing was this death? Well, we made it to the “heavy” scene and nothing. It was like a drop of water in a puddle, bloop. That’s it. I guess being a Black mother, I have seen heavier scenes. But while watching, I caught so many other “heavy” innuendos and I couldn’t help but think, “Here we are again.”
Ten minutes into the film and the lead Black character dies and then becomes a figment AND THEN an animal, a cat. Why couldn’t Joe be Joe for the entire movie? Why do Black animated characters always succumb to being transformed into animals? Let’s not shy away from the fact that the media and other systems like to dehumanize Black people and liken them to animals, so why continue to create this imagery for our children? It is not cute. Black children should be able to see themselves reflected in animation and not just as the sidekick, comedic presence, or animal. Black children are human and they should see that. The character detail and culture was so magnificent in Soul, but the main character was a cat.
This is not our first rumble with animators replacing lead Black animation characters with animals; remember “Princess and the Frog”? The first Black Disney Princess and she was a frog! This also doesn’t just happen to Black characters, it happens to all characters that are non-white. Film studios are consistent with creating BIPOC animation characters as anything other than human.
The “Soul”cast was full of affluent Black voices like Jamie Foxx, Angela Bassett, Phylicia Rashad, Questlove, and more. What was the purpose of a white actress voicing the main Black character for the movie’s entirety? I understand they fell into the wrong bodies, but why was that ok? Why is it ever ok for white actors/actresses to voice Black characters? Black characters should be voiced by Black voices; it’s not like Black voices are in low demand. Representation matters across all fronts, not just imagery. The media loves to either dehumanize Black men or emasculate them. My six year-old son sat through a movie where a Black man sounded like a middle-aged white woman. The thinking that anyone can voice anything should only apply to animals and things.
I had a third bone to pick with Pixar about “Soul”, but it actually is heavy. As a Black woman and mother, I am exhausted with having to accept creators and them almost getting it right or just getting excited about having a “first Black” anything. I want these creators to understand our disappointment. We’re constantly being underrepresented and underdeveloped because film studios think BIPOC stories and characters do not profit, but we do. When we are accurately represented, we show up in numbers. This is why “Black Panther” wasn’t just another superhero movie or why “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” was so well received. At any point during the creation process, there should be a thought of, “Has this happened before?” or “Have we seen this character before?”
After years of saturating entertainment with white stories and characters, you would think it would be a no brainer to want to write stories and develop characters that are reflective of the world that we live in. To the film creators, if you are not educated in other experiences or cultures outside of your own, then bring in a team that is. This world is not all white, so can we stop with the whitewashing? I can count the number of animation films with BIPOC representation, and that is not ok. My children deserve better.
If you are reading this and you are a white parent, how would you feel if your child had inadequate representation and you constantly had to fight to have more or you just had to accept what was given? What if your child had to rewatch the same few movies because they are the only ones that are relatable or because they are kind of represented? The year is 2021. There have been hundreds of years of human development and civilization and the First White Lead animation character has just been developed. Process it.
It is not fair that our excitement for Black films can only exist every few years and then for the films to not be executed accurately. We get excited to only be disappointed but we have to watch because who knows when the next “First Black…” is coming.