This past weekend, some of the talent from many of Disney’s films and series attended this year’s ESSENCE Festival of Culture in New Orleans.
On Friday, Keke Palmer from the voice cast of Pixar’s “Lightyear,” currently playing in theaters, participated in “An Out of This World Conversation,” moderated by actress and influencer Marsai Martin. In “Lightyear,” Keke voices Izzy Hawthorne, one of the group of ambitious recruits joining Buzz Lightyear (voice of Chris Evans) on an intergalactic adventure. A sci-fi action adventure and the definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear, the hero who inspired the toy, “Lightyear” follows the legendary Space Ranger after he’s marooned on a hostile planet 4.2 million light-years from Earth alongside his commander and their crew. As Buzz tries to find a way back home through space and time, he’s joined by a group of ambitious recruits and his charming robot companion cat, Sox. Complicating matters and threatening the mission is the arrival of Zurg, an imposing presence with an army of ruthless robots and a mysterious agenda.
On Saturday, attendees were entertained by “Warriors of Wakanda: The Discipline of the Dora Milaje,” a Center Stage performance celebrating Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which opens in theaters November 11. The follow-up to 2018’s award-winning blockbuster “Black Panther” continues to explore the incomparable world of Wakanda.
Also on Saturday as part of an E-Suite Panel, Disney executives Disney executives Latondra Newton, Carmen Smith, Jan Coleman and Dayna Lee shared their personal and professional stories of triumph and how they show up as leaders and role models to build an inclusive culture at The Walt Disney Company.
On Sunday, Moses Ingram, who plays Reva, the “Third Sister” Inquisitor in Disney+’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi” limited series from Lucasfilm, wowed the audience when she made a powerful entrance flanked by stormtroopers. Ingram then answered some questions from the moderator, WABC-TV news anchor Sade Baderinwa, about her involvement in the smash hit series and the power of Black joy. “Obi-Wan Kenobi” begins 10 years after the dramatic events of “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” where Obi-Wan Kenobi faced his greatest defeat—the downfall and corruption of his best friend and Jedi apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, who turned to the dark side as evil Sith Lord Darth Vader.
Also on Sunday, Justin Simien, director of Disney’s upcoming “Haunted Mansion,” a mysterious comedic adventure based on Disney’s classic theme parks attraction, joined Nzinga Blake, executive producer and host of ABC Owned Television Stations, Race & Culture, for an Influencer Brunch Fireside Chat, and just as they were wrapping up, cast member Tiffany Haddish paid them a surprise visit. In “Haunted Mansion,” a doctor (Rosario Dawson) and her 9-year-old son (Chase W. Dillon), looking to start a new life, move into a strangely affordable mansion in New Orleans, only to discover that the place is much more than they bargained for. Desperate for help, they contact a priest (Owen Wilson), who, in turn, enlists the aid of a widowed scientist-turned failed-paranormal expert (LaKeith Stanfeld), a French Quarter psychic (Haddish) and a crochety historian (Danny DeVito). The film, which takes place in New Orleans and was partially shot there, will open in theaters on March 10, 2023.
In addition, Sunday’s activities included a Center Stage Q&A with director Akin Omotoso and the cast of Disney+’s Original Film “Rise”–Dayo Okeniyi, Yetide Badaki, Uche Agada and Ral Agada. Following the Q&A moderated by Sade Baderinwa, there was a screening of the film and then an influencer brunch attended by Omotoso. “Rise,” currently streaming on Disney+, is based on the triumphant real life story about the remarkable family that gave the world the first trio of brothers to become NBA champions in the history of the league– Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and former Los Angeles Laker Kostas Antetokounmpo.
Throughout the festival, special AV pieces from Marvel Studios’ “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which opens in theaters on July 8, featuring a taped shoutout from stars Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth,” and “Avatar: The Way of Water,” opening in theaters this December, with a taped shoutout from Zoe Saldaña, were played in the Super Dome. In Marvel Studios’ “Thor: Love and Thunder” the God of Thunder (Hemsworth) teams up with King Valkyrie (Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and ex-girlfriend-turned-Mighty-Thor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to take on a galactic killer known as Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, “Avatar: The Way of Water” begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive and the tragedies they endure.
Two Disney executives, Jan Coleman, Vice President, Global Marketing Partnerships, Multicultural Marketing, and Anastasia Ali, Vice President of Marketing Strategy, represented the company on Executive panels during the ESSENCE Festival of Culture centered around leadership, marketing and building an inclusive culture at The Walt Disney Company.