Taking a stand for inclusivity

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I was coming out of the movie theater last night after seeing the new The Little Mermaid movie and I ran into one of those thoughts that it's best to leave alone, because it’s political, to the point of dividing the Christmas table into something that looks a lot like South Korea and North Korea, only divided with a salmon tray.

As we all know, after 34 years Disney has returned to the screen with its live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid. The new version, when announced, immediately stirred up trouble because of the casting of its main character: a black girl as Ariel. When the news went public in 2019, racist insults and comments flooded the Internet, not supporting the choice of diversity for this particular role. Why has Disney decided, and has been doing so in the last few years, to make its products more inclusive, giving life to characters that belong to the LGBTQ community and different color of the skin?
The answer I’ve come up with is: the importance of representation.

To have a Disney character who is not just a princess but a live-action, real flesh and blood person that children can be inspired by is important. This is because people of color are less likely to see themselves reflected in the media. They are one of the underrepresented groups in Hollywood. Parents of children of color in particular have said how difficult it is for them to find media role models for their children given this lack of representation in Hollywood. Young girls have strong parasocial relationships—which are one-sided attachments often with a celebrity or fictional character—and this is particularly apparent with Disney princesses. So to have a popular Disney character as a person of color leaves a strong, positive mark on their minds, especially when they see that character change from white to Black.

"If Disney can do it, everybody can do it."

Being inclusive indeed means giving a voice, especially to those who, often, have never had one, and there are many brands that have been following Disney’s footsteps and are focusing on associating their identity with values such as solidarity, understanding, support, listening and inclusion.

But how do big brands choose to celebrate inclusivity?

The Barbie case:
Barbie is undoubtedly one of the best-selling dolls in the world, and since her birth in 1959, she has accompanied the younger generation through childhood and growing up with her iconic blond hair.

Gradually, however, Barbie has diversified, driven probably by a desire to have as many people as possible reflected in the doll's imagery. She took on more physical forms, various skin tones, and over time the first Barbies with disabilities also saw the light of day.

The Gillette case:
Gillette has taken an important step towards transgender inclusion, in fact the best inclusive marketing initiatives empower diverse groups and advocate for them through storytelling and Gillette showed the experience of shaving for the first time from the perspective of a trans male teen and his father. Gillette highlighted a part of its audience that many other brands might not have considered and showed solidarity with the trans community. The brand also utilizes Instagram to share stories of men who are leaders in their communities, like people who have struggled with addiction and homelessness and later supported others with their recovery.

The Nike case:
Women are often subjected to stereotypes that they are weaker than men, especially female athletes. This has been echoed by the lack of sportswear available for pregnant and breastfeeding women. To counter this narrative that mothers are too “soft” or “delicate” to be taken seriously as athletes, Nike launched its first maternity collection. Then it followed it up with an ad campaign that highlights feature users who are mothers, along with their images and quotes about motherhood. Nike also told inspiring stories about female athletes on its Instagram page, tagging famous athletes and sharing videos of them exercising while wearing Nike apparel. The posts are meant to inspire other female athletes and appeal to their sense of equality and empowerment.

These are only a few examples, the media have started incorporating multicultural images, diverse voices, and emotional storytelling in all its outlets to encourage diversity and inclusion.

I don’t know if I’ll bring this up on Christmas day, probably not, but I do believe that representation is a way to establish one sense of self and identity in the world and that everyone should be lucky enough to look up on screen and find themselves.
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