In the entertainment industry's changing landscape, animation holds a significant role in shaping how society sees things. With our world becoming more connected, people increasingly recognize the need for fair opportunities and representation for various communities, especially in media. Animation, as a strong storytelling tool, has the special ability to reach diverse audiences. It can actively support equal opportunities for different communities through its content. By looking at the various ways animation can promote inclusivity, representation, and genuine storytelling, we can see how it has the potential to contribute to diversity and break down societal barriers. It’s because of this that the animation industry can contribute to fostering equal opportunities for diverse communities by actively creating and supporting animated content that embraces inclusivity, representation, and authentic storytelling, thereby playing a crucial role in promoting diversity and breaking down societal barriers.
Engaging in the intentional development of animated content that embraces inclusivity involves deliberately featuring characters from a wide range of backgrounds, abilities, and experiences, which fosters a more inclusive and welcoming space for diverse communities within the animation industry. This approach addresses a persistent issue highlighted by the founder of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Dr. Stacy L. Smith (2019), who observed that "the percentage of underrepresented racial/ethnic speaking characters in 2018 was higher than in 2007 across animation and comedy" (p. 3). This statistic serves as a recent example of the ongoing lack of representation in animated media. Moreover, Smith (2019) contends that "overcoming the biases that limit inclusion among leading characters is essential to creating an ecosystem within stories that allows for casting changes across the spectrum of roles" (p. 30). This not only underscores the significance of addressing biases but also encourages a solution-oriented approach to foster greater inclusivity within animated storytelling. By consciously weaving a diverse range of characters into animated narratives, creators contribute to dismantling stereotypes and fostering a more nuanced understanding of different human perspectives. In this context, creating a diverse range of characters becomes a significant step towards rectifying the current underrepresentation issue in the animation industry.
Emphasizing the crucial role of storytelling in transforming people's perceptions, it is evident that supporting animated content which authentically represents diverse identities contributes significantly to a more nuanced portrayal of the world within the animated medium. By endorsing narratives that accurately capture the richness and complexity of various identities, animated storytelling becomes a powerful tool for fostering genuine reflection and understanding. As Neimand et al. (2021) aptly note, “compelling narratives have the capacity to challenge prevailing beliefs, reshaping individuals' perspectives and inspiring communities to envision novel ways of existence and perception” (para. 2). This shift towards authenticity is particularly evident in Disney's evolving approach to storytelling. Over the past two decades, “Disney has moved away from traditional methods, such as sending production teams on research trips, to deliberately involving individuals who are of and deeply invested in specific cultures in the adaptation and storytelling process” (Anjirbag, 2018, p. 13). In fostering a collaborative and inclusive creative process, Disney's approach not only enhances cultural accuracy but also empowers storytellers to explore untold narratives, allowing audiences to connect with characters and stories on a deeper, more personal level. This deliberate inclusion marks a significant departure from earlier practices and underscores the importance of genuine representation in shaping narratives that resonate with diverse audiences.
The animation industry stands as a pivotal force in fostering diversity and dismantling societal barriers, utilizing its influential platform to challenge stereotypes, foster understanding, and promote conversations that contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society. Research by Praveen and Srinivasan (2022) highlights the profound impact of animated films on a child's symbolic mediation and their development of arbitrary behaviors (p. 10), underlining the significance of the industry in shaping our internalized behaviors from a young age. Moreover, the transformative potential of animation extends beyond individual development, as it plays an important role in shaping cultural perceptions and attitudes. Animated content has the ability to bridge gaps in understanding between different communities, fostering empathy and breaking down preconceived notions. The power of animation in cultivating empathy is particularly crucial in a globalized world, where diverse perspectives coexist all the time. However, addressing issues of discrimination within the animation industry necessitates a collective and systemic approach, as Hetey and Eberhardt (2018) argue that “institutions and systems play a significant role in reinforcing and reproducing inequality” (p. 185). This recognition underscores the importance of industry-wide initiatives and systemic changes to effectively address and rectify problems related to diversity and discrimination, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive and collaborative effort within animation. Efforts should extend beyond surface-level representation to systemic changes in hiring practices, mentorship programs, and fostering inclusive workplace environments. By acknowledging and dismantling the structural barriers that hinder diversity, the animation industry can become a catalyst for broader societal change, promoting a more just and inclusive world. As animation continues to evolve as a powerful storytelling medium, it carries the responsibility to lead the way in creating narratives that reflect the richness of human experiences and contribute to the dismantling of systemic inequalities.
In conclusion, the animation sector plays a pivotal role in advancing equal opportunities for varied communities. This contribution is realized through the proactive development and endorsement of animated content that champions inclusivity, representation, and genuine storytelling. In doing so, the industry becomes instrumental in fostering diversity and dismantling societal barriers. The animation industry, with its power to shape perspectives and behaviors, goes beyond mere entertainment; it serves as a potent platform challenging stereotypes and contributing to vital societal conversations. The evolving approach of the industry, embracing cultural involvement in storytelling, signifies positive change. As we recognize the industry's influence, it becomes imperative to advocate for continued progress. Recommendations include supporting initiatives that promote diverse talent within the industry, fostering collaborations with underrepresented communities, and encouraging educational programs that enhance cultural competency among animation professionals. By actively engaging with these recommendations, we can contribute to a more inclusive animated landscape that not only reflects the richness of our diverse world but also promotes positive societal change. Embracing the potential for change within the animation industry holds the promise of a future where equality and representation are not just ideals but realities, shaping a more vibrant and inclusive global narrative through animated artwork.
Smith, S. L., Choueiti, M., Pieper, K., Yao, K., Case, A., & Choi, A. (2019). Inequality in 1,200 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, LGBTQ & Disability from 2007 to 2018. Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, USC Annenberg. https://assets.uscannenberg.org/docs/aii-inequality-report-2019-09-03.pdf
Anjirbag, M. (2018). Mulan and Moana: Embedded Coloniality and the Search for Authenticity in Disney Animated Film. Social Sciences (Basel), 7(11), 230-. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7110230
Neimand, A., Asorey, N., Christiano, A., & Wallace, Z. (2021). Why Intersectional Stories Are Key to Helping the Communities We Serve. Stanford Social Innovation Review. https://doi.org/10.48558/4KQ2-9Z32
Praveen, C. K., & Srinivasan, K. (2022). Psychological Impact and Influence of Animation on Viewer’s Visual Attention and Cognition: A Systematic Literature Review, Open Challenges, and Future Research Directions. Computational and Mathematical Methods in Medicine, 2022, 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1155/2022/8802542
Hetey, R. C., & Eberhardt, J. L. (2018). The Numbers Don’t Speak for Themselves: Racial Disparities and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Justice System. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(3), 183-187. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721418763931