In recent weeks, protests have erupted across the U.S.—and even spread globally. Tensions were sparked by the killings of Ahmad Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, George Floyd in Minnesota, and other lives since (now including several law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty). All these tragic cases, with investigations still in process, carry echoes of other unjust killings of black people over recent years.
Many people seeking to better understand race relations, justice, and the black experience have looked to films as a guide. Recent landmark movies on race issues—including Just Mercy (Warner Bros.), The Hate U Give (20th Century Studios/Disney), Emanuel (Starz), and Selma (Paramount)—have been made available free for online rental via platforms such as Amazon Prime and iTunes.
These films have sparked dialogue, even as dozens of books on race issues have climbed the best-sellers charts. Major streaming services Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Max have curated their films and miniseries portraying Black History and Black Storytelling into special collections.
Disney, like many media companies, has attempted to rise to the occasion. On June 3, The Walt Disney Company pledged to donate $5 million to nonprofit groups that advance social justice. Yet Disney+ has yet to follow its peers and offer a collection of its films on race relations and the black experience. Families with children are also seeking relevant stories that affirm human dignity and can help them grapple with current events.
While it’s unlikely Disney+ would ever have the depth of other platforms on these issues, especially since audiences often look to Disney films for ‘escapism,’ Disney could take two steps to utilize their rich tradition of storytelling in helping families navigate current tensions.
CREATE ‘BLACK HISTORY, BLACK COURAGE’ COLLECTION
In the U.S., Canada, and other nations, February marks Black History Month—an annual observance to remember heroic figures and important events in the history of diverse black people groups and the African diaspora. While Disney+ did not curate a special ‘Black History And Courage’ collection for this past February, now is the right time to remedy that.
Collections—such as Disney’s current ‘Exploring Our World’ Collection—assemble relevant titles together and help highlight films that audiences may have missed. Films and shows within collections also appear elsewhere within the Disney+ listings.
Several Disney+ films portray issues of civil rights, heroism, and notable athletic exploits. While these are not groundbreaking and mature titles like When They See Us or Marshall, they provide families with children some options to engage on past and present issues of justice and equality.
In addition, some Disney films have been groundbreaking in black representation on-screen, and even fictional films often provide insights into real-life experiences.
Red Tails (PG-13)
Queen of Katwe (PG)
Ruby Bridges (TV-PG)
Remember the Titans (PG)
The Color of Friendship (TV-PG)
Glory Road (PG)
Cool Runnings (PG)
Black Experience And Storytelling
Black Panther (PG-13) Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan
The Princess and the Frog (PG) Starring Anika Noni Rose, Keith David
Lady And the Tramp (2019, PG) Starring Tessa Thompson, Kiersey Clemons, Yvette Nicole Brown
Sister Act (PG-13) Starring Whoopi Goldberg
Sister Act 2 (PG-13) Starring Whoopi Goldberg
The Haunted Mansion (PG) Starring Eddie Murphy
The Proud Family (TV-G)
That’s So Raven (TV-G)
Raven’s Home (TV-G)
Up, Up and Away (TV-G)
Jump In (TV-G)
All of these titles are available to watch on Disney+ now.
ADD MISSING DISNEY-OWNED TITLES ON THESE THEMES
Disney+ has two upcoming films relevant to this potential collection: Hamilton, releasing July 3, features diverse voices interpreting the American founding in a rap-infused musical celebration. The release date for sports film Safety, about a black college football player and his brother, has not yet been announced.
As to legacy titles, Disney owns the rights to many hundreds of films and TV series currently missing on Disney+. Over a dozen of these titles would have strong relevance to a ‘Black History And Courage’ Collection.
Two standout titles from the list below include Belle, about a mixed-race daughter of an English aristocrat who must face down discrimination, and Lincoln Heights from executive producer Kevin Hooks (The Color of Friendship, Sounder)—the story of a black family that seeks to bring justice and community renewal to a difficult crime-ridden neighborhood.
Hidden Figures (2016) (currently on HBO Max)
Belle (2013) Directed by Amma Asante
The Loretta Claiborne Story (2000)
Selma, Lord, Selma (1999)
The Ernest Green Story (1993)
The Jackie Robinson Story (20th Century Studios, 1960)