Posts Tagged Privilege

Not Understanding

Disney has announced their first official princess of Polynesian descent. Yes, I watched and loved Lilo and Stitch, too. But she’s not one of the official Disney Princesses. This new character, Moana, will be the first official Disney Princess of Polynesian descent, and this is a big deal. An extremely big deal. An extremely big deal that I don’t understand in the least.

Not the Disney Princess thing. Alright, I sort of don’t understand that either. Like is Tinkerbell a princess, or is that a different thing? And why was there a period between when Brave came out and when Merida became an official Princess. Or why the two main characters from Frozen aren’t yet official Princesses. Or why Kida from Atlantis doesn’t count. Is it because only three people saw Atlantis? I’m sure I’ll learn these things over the next few years and still not understand them. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I mean I don’t understand why it’s a big deal. Wait wait wait, stay with me. I don’t mean that in the dismissive way the internet typically means it. I mean, simply, that it’s impossible for me to understand it. It’s impossible because I’m a white male living in the United States of America. I have grown up in a culture that is based around me. My likes, my experiences, my interests. I am in all the media, television, movies.

I am Legion.

Which means I can’t possible understand what it’s like to be unrepresented in media. What it’s like to not see a face that looks like mine. Only…more attractive. When a movie starring a non white male fails, it’s because the movie going public doesn’t want to see a female lead. Or an African-American lead. Or an Asian-American lead. Or…anything that makes the lead not a white male. But no one has ever, or likely ever will, suggest that a movie failed because people don’t want to see a white male lead.

This is privilege. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s something that I have in bushels. I can’t escape it. I’ve had times where I’ve ripped over it without seeing it coming. I can’t get rid of it. All I can hope to do is be aware of it.

However, while I can’t possibly understand it, I’m glad to see Disney making this move. I’ve seen some accusation of tokenism, but any increased inclusion must start somewhere. So now we’ve seen a Native American princess, a Middle Eastern princess, an African-American princess, an Asian princess (yes, I get that it’s problematic trying to represent all Asian cultures with a single character), and next is a Polynesian princess.

And I know this is a big deal because, with only one piece of unofficial artwork released then retracted by Disney, there is already a proliferation of fan art on the internet.

There are people out there who have been unrepresented, or underrepresented, in film. And now they’re gaining that representation, they’re finally getting a chance to shine. Perhaps the closest I can come is when a fringe hobby or interest of mine makes its way into a movie. But I know that’s not exactly it. There’s a difference in being excited that a character in a movie is also interested in curling, and a character in a movie who looks like me.

While I can’t understand what it’s like to be suddenly represented in the media, I can understand that this is making people happy. Specifically, it’s making little girls happy. As a daddy to a little girl, I know what a great joy it is to see her happy. I will bend over backwards, do whatever it takes. With this movie, Disney is making little girls happy. Which means it’s making the mommies and daddies of those little girls happy. And that’s a net positive in the world. And a net positive that opens up narrative possibilities for the company at the same time. It’s a win for everyone, except those unfortunate grumpy souls who see inclusion as a zero sum game.

I doubt there will be a future where more and wider demographic groups won’t understand a lack of representation. Though that doesn’t mean it’s not a noble goal to work towards.

I just hope the movie is good.

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