Due to the media’s prevalence and the role it plays in informing the people and shaping their views, the call for diversity has become important for many. With people realizing the lack of representation of other races, ethnicities, sexualities, and gender in the media they consume, those in charge of what is being created and released are now given the responsibility to make sure that the new content being pushed is out is inclusive. If media companies fall behind on doing so, they are met with resistance in the form of boycotts and social media disapproval resulting in a loss a profit for companies and an opportunity for people to voice their demands. As a result, diversity is slowly being incorporated into mainstream media, yet there is still a considerable lack of diversity both on-screen and behind the scenes and the way it goes about incorporating it is notable as well. With this push to hold the media accountable in holding its audience’s best interest, it brings up the question of whether the media is truly listening to its audience or if it is accommodating in order to continue to profit off its consumers? To continue to profit off their audiences’, companies must create a new way to do so; The media now focuses on having diversity in its content as a profit-motivated decision, keeping its control over those who they are supposed to serve. Audiences are no longer seen as the people the media is meant to serve, but rather as a way to profit/consumers. With companies taking on neoliberalism’s policies to change its relationship with the people it is meant to serve, it has created a shift where the media has gone from serving the publics’ best interest to a position of fulfilling a company’s agenda. Using Disney and Netflix strategies as examples with an emphasis on cultural studies and a focus on media policy, it will better be explained how this shift was made possible and how the previous trust instilled into the media by the people has been disregarded.
Disney is one of the biggest and best-known conglomerates in the world, its content becoming a staple of many childhoods and has a heavy presence all around the world. Many of the things shown in Disney’s content are a thing people have taken and carried on throughout their lives. In 2018, it had a total of $59.4 Billion in revenue thanks to its multiple sources of profit; Disney has ownership and influence over many things that people consume such as Marvel Studios, ABC television network, and Hulu. Due to Disney’s wide involvement in people’s lives, it is no surprise that it faces the most push from people to become more inclusive with the content it is pushing out and Disney has slowly done so. One of the biggest examples being Coco (Dir. Molina and Unkrich, Pixar, 2017), a film that focuses on a boy’s journey of going back into the living world after being thrown in the afterlife due to disrupting a famous musician grave. The film portrays a popular Latinx holiday, the Day of the Dead, and gives people a representation of diverse community and their communities. Disney also chose a family in Mexico to model the film after and also modeled many of the film’s environment after real-life buildings in Mexico. Many people through the social media outlet, Twitter, raved about the film and expressed how it made them feel; Actor and Twitter user Stephen Amell tweeted “I didn’t cry at the end of Coco, you cried at the end of Coco” and twitter user @DustyRayBottoms also tweeted “On the plane and just watched Coco for the first time. I’m a mess. The lessons of remembering/ honoring the dead r so beautiful, & the lesson that it just takes ONE person to set the course and cycle on how a family “lives” it only takes ONE person to change that! #BeThatChange”. The film not only is a win for those who advocate for more diversity on screen, but also creates a more inclusive experience and audience for Disney. Coco gives the Latinx community representation that it has been deprived of for years and it is even more important that it was Disney who has made it possible because of the huge following and influence that the conglomerate has. With this new audience comes new ways for Disney to profit and the conglomerate has made it very clear that it will do just that.
On May 1st of, 2013 Disney filed to trademark the phrase ‘Día de Los Muertos’ in order to profit off of Coco. While Coco was yet to be released, premiering in theaters in 2017, the research for the film, according to “Disney tried to trademark ‘Day of the Dead.’ They make up for it with Pixar’s ‘Coco’”, started “in 2011, when the filmmakers traveled to Mexico City, Oaxaca and Morelia (Segura). What was at first seen as Disney’s way of moving towards a path of creating and releasing more inclusive content has turned sour as it has become clear to many that Disney did not release Coco as a way to the serve the publics best interest and fulfill there demands, but rather is a way to silence them so that they could continue to profit. In the article “Day of the Dead trademark request draws backlash for Disney”, Cindy Y. Rodriguez writes “Here’s the problem — Día de Los Muertos is a traditional holiday celebrated on November 1 and 2 in Mexico and across Latin America. People honor the lives of lost family members or friends by building altars, holding processions, decorating gravesites and placing offerings for loved ones”. By trademarking Día de Los Muertos, Disney would not only be able to sell products that would help boost their profits off the success of Coco, but it would also allow Disney to have control over how the phrase is used and who is able to gain something from its use. To do so would be to tell a culture and a community that they no longer have access to something that they created. It indicates that Disney does not see Día de Los Muertos as a traditional holiday but rather as an opportunity and the community who celebrate this holiday are only seen as consumers who are meant to give Disney money. To add to this exploitation of Latinx culture, it has also been found that the Oaxacan family that was interviewed and whom Coco was essentially based off of, was never given credit or paid for their contributions towards the film. This was discovered through many users on twitter; Twitter user @coral_seashell tweeted “My boyfriends family visited the town from the movie Coco. The Grandma explained to them how their town is poor with few resources. Disney interviewed her & her family to use their lives as a plot for their movie that made millions, but Disney is yet to give them a single cent”. Ultimately in the same year it attempted to trademark the phrase, Disney was not able to do so and dropped their motion to file the trademark, making many happy but not without Disney leaving others angry at their failed attempt to profit off a culture that they had no part in creating.
For Disney, this was not the first time the conglomerate has exploited and appropriated a culture. From the Lion King’s (Dir. Allers and Minkoff, Walt Disney Pictures, 1994) success came Disney’s trademarking of the phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’. Many argue that the trademarking of such cultural phrases is not limiting people’s access to such phrases nor is it stopping them from using but is rather allowing for the conglomerates widespread use of it. Yet others, many from the communities being affected, argue that these phrases created by the cultures of communities often ignored by the media are not a product that companies can profit off. Phrases such as ‘Hakuna Matata’ and ‘Día de Los Muertos’ have cultural significance and are meant to be used properly and treated with respect. It was not created by Disney and they are not empty phrases, therefore for Disney to trademark these phrases is to ignore the importance behind it, the people behind its meaning, and to take ownership from those who it belonged to in the first place. This displays Disney’s view of seeing its audience as consumers they are supposed to take advantage of rather than a public they are meant to serve.
With the shift from serving the public to profiting off of them, Disney disregards the media’s original intention. Media policy calls for all forms of media to function as a way to keep democracy alive, having influence over social and political ideas and helping shape what we believe and learn. Disney strays from this through its declaration of having ownership over ideas, its pursuit of profit. People put trust into the media which is what gives it the ability to have such an extensive hold over its audience and what they consume, leaving the people vulnerable to the systems they look to. With the media having a shift that causes their main intentions to become centered on making the most money, it becomes a power that feeds off the very system it is meant to maintain. In Amy Cappiccie’s article “Using critical race theory to analyze how Disney constructs diversity: A construct for the baccalaureate human behavior in the social environment”, she points out that “Disney has long been viewed as promoting a culture of childhood innocence, protected space, and wholesome family fun” (p. 49). As stated before, people have positioned Disney into a position where it can act as a way to help shape children’s minds and follow them as they grow up. The danger to this is that Disney takes advantage of this and uses it to maximize profits rather than educate the youth. By marketing itself towards children, such as making princess movies, for example, it creates a mask that Disney is trying to entertain children when it is trying to profit off children’s attention. With this mask, Disney is seen as a family-friendly and ‘clean’ company that only produces PG material when in fact, Disney often includes harmful representations in its content; “racism has not disappeared from cartoons; racism simply is more subtly expressed–usually in the form of microaggressions that operate outside the threshold of conscious awareness by members of the dominant culture. Hence, we feel that the more nebulous forms of microaggression that are depicted in The Lion King, Mulan, and Pocahontas may be harder for audiences to recognize. After all, Disney markets its many commodities as innocent, wholesome family fun” (Capiccie 56-57). Pocahontas (Dir. Gabriel and Goldberg, Walt Disney Pictures, 1995) is based on a story of tragedy, yet Disney manipulated the tale into being one of people getting along, similarly, Mulan (Dir. Cook and Bancroft, Walt Disney Pictures, 1998) is the story of a Chinese heroine but people fail to remember to the abundance of microaggression and racial-code slurs in the film. Disney has failed to remember that its main purpose as part of the media industry is to benefit its viewers, not to solely partake in making money.
Another prevalent form of media is streaming services such as Netflix. Netflix offers an array of films and television series for its subscribers to pick and choose from on-demand. Not only does this service stream media from different companies, but it also pushes out content made by them as well. With the amount of variety that Netflix has, it easy for this service to includes diverse films and programs for viewers to watch; It essentially has something for everyone. Netflix, in its original productions, often time has diverse cast created by a diverse set of producers, writers, and directors. Netflix has categories labeled ‘Gay and Lesbian Films’, ‘International Films’ and more, to create spotlights for those seeking out certain films. It is a database with inclusive options and for many, it is the change that they would like to see in the media. In his book, Television and American culture, Jason Mittell writes “For the television industry, the economic need for a common currency to buy and sell leads to a highly simplified and reductive categorization of viewers into audience groups” (p.74). For Netflix to be to have a massive amount of content on its service, it is creating an audience to target by viewing them as consumers while at the same time it is recognizing that its consumers are people that all have different demands. Certain audiences are targeted by certain shows through their previous viewing history and are accommodated with new shows to watch that fit in their tastes. Through this Netflix create a mutually beneficial relationship between itself and its diverse group’s subscribers. Yet, tackling diversity off-screen is a different story for Netflix.
Diversity off-screen is equally as important as it is on-screen because, without it, a false sense of authenticity is created alongside a false sense of change. Diversity is best tackled in the media when those from the groups that are attempting to be represented are a part of it. To gate-keep diverse hires