June 17, 2024

AUP. Ep. 4: Bringing Blackness to Disney


Transcribed: Cameron Blackwell

Completed: 3/11/22

Cortney Wills: [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to Acting Up the podcast that dives deep into the world of TV and film that highlights our people, our culture and our stories. I’m your host, Cortney Wills, and this week we’re speaking to some of the creatives behind the most multicultural projects from Disney. Today, I’m joined by four men making major moves in the animation world. We’ve got Tunde Akinloye production office manager on Encanto, Bruce W. Smith, creator and executive producer of the Proud Family and Proud Family Louder and Prouder. Michael Yates, story artist for Soul. And Marlon West, Visual Effects Supervisor on Iwájú and Effects Animation Supervisor on Princess and the Frog. Hi gentlemen. [00:00:53][49.2]

Gentlemen: [00:00:54] What’s good? Hello. Hello. [00:00:56][1.6]

Cortney Wills: [00:00:57] I am so excited to talk to all of you as so many of my listeners know. Not only am I an entertainment journalist, but I am a mom of two little girls who love watching all of the content that’s constantly on in our house. And you know, it’s been a really smooth ride lately, in large part to Disney and the work that’s being done there to let my kids and kids like them see themselves on screen and in stories. And so I’ve been talking to you all for a long time about the progress being seen on the animation front on the kids programing front. And I think that when you say Disney, you’re on an entirely different playing field because the projects that you all do, they’re not just running for a couple of seasons on a certain network, they kind of become part of the fabric to childhoods for decades to come. My kids watch the same movies that I watched growing up today, and they watch the new offerings with a whole different perspective because now those offerings contain people who look like them. My first question is actually going to be for Michael. Soul was such a big moment for our community because we had never seen a main character in a major Disney Pixar kind of feature film who was a Black man and sounded like a Black man and talked like a Black man. Talk about what it meant to you to be a part of that project. [00:02:26][88.8]

Micheal Yates: [00:02:27] Oh yeah. Before I even got onto the movie, I just heard about it in development and like, Oh man, this is such a big moment for the studio, as well as just animation in general. When I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of like African-American leads and animated films or TV. Other than Bruce, your show. But I remember just like going straight to Pete and asking, like, Can I work on this film like I really want to? And then right after that, it’s like, Yeah, well, love to have you on. And then after that, I felt like this immense pressure of like, OK, now I have to get it right. And we spent a long time just working on getting it right. Brought in a lot of consultants, internal and external. A lot of meetings just about like, let’s spend some time with the internal consultants just talking about our moms and like, how do you represent a Black mom in a nice way? And just telling stories from our own childhood about like how our moms talk to us and a lot of that just ended up in the film. [00:03:24][57.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:03:24] I love that, and I remember I actually remember the look on my son’s face when he first saw Soul and he was just blown away and obviously not in the same way that we as adults can kind of lay all that out. But just “That looks like Granddaddy,” you know, is what is what he said. And he hadn’t seen his granddaddy on TV. He’d seen a lot of other iterations of other people’s granddaddy’s on TV, but never someone that he could just kind of instantly identify with and couple that with the music. And obviously, I think just kind of the overall theme of that film, which is relevant to everyone, no matter, you know, color or creed or religion, it made it such a big, huge moment for everyone. And I think that there was so much to celebrate. And as we know, even with progress, even with all of the best intentions, there’s always going to be. Well, why didn’t you do this or what about this? Or, you know, I think with Soul, the biggest one was like, OK, well, he’s only a Black man for x minutes of the movie when you know what the intention is. And you know what the real result actually is. How do you contend with the what about isms? Because we know they’re there. We know that that’s also part of what pushes the conversations even further. But you know, I always I always feel a little bit bad about that, especially as someone who sometimes is one to point those things out. [00:04:49][84.9]

Micheal Yates: [00:04:50] Yeah, that’s that’s a really great point. I think even in the process of making the film, we were trying to at least at least personally, me, I was always trying to anticipate what that would be and trying to catch it early enough. And I think for the most part, it felt like we did. There was a few things like what you mentioned where it was like, I just came too late. But I feel like overall, it’s an aspect of just not having enough Black lead animated films. So where everyone is kind of putting everything on this one movie. And I think once we get. The place where it’s just more common, like you have multi movies every year, then I feel like you won’t have to put so much pressure just on one project. That’s something that I’m always considering when I’m working on stuff, I’ve just, “Can I do a little bit here?” It does it doesn’t have to be the end. All, be all for everyone. [00:05:40][50.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:05:41] Yes, absolutely. Marlon, gosh. Princess and the Frog. Even for me, when that came out was such a monumental moment like to see a Black Disney princess to know that there would be Halloween costumes to know that there would be little white girls who wanted to dress up like Tiana and stationery for birthday parties. All of those things meant so much to me at the time, and even now, every time I see Anika, I have to say something about The Princess and the Frog. Did you know then? Because I would argue that then this was a lot less commonplace than now, there absolutely wouldn’t have been five of you in this conversation. So did you have any idea then what the impact would be even now? [00:06:24][43.3]

Marlon West: [00:06:25] I mean, Bruce and I both worked on Princess and the Frog together, and we knew we were making the first African-American princess, first American princess, frankly. And we knew stakes was high. And you know, we’re going to have a sister be on the same paper plates and as all these other Disney princesses, and we knew we wanted to make something special. And so, you know, just like Mike talked about, we had internal folks. We we talked among ourselves. You know, I had a four year old at the time when we started working on Princess and the Frog, and I remember giving photos of my kid, which he kept on his desk, you know, the whole time. And you know, Nika was involved very early on and he was left handed. Tianna became left handed and we showed it to Bruce, and I used to joke every like, we sort of see so many Black women along the way, battle test the story. And there was like, I hope there some sisters in America who haven’t seen Princess and the Frog in a rough cut. By the time this movie come out, you know, and the same thing that kind of people said about Soul. Didn’t say it at the time about Princess and the Frog, but they’ve gone on to say that, Oh, she’s a she’s not a sister long enough, you know? At the time, we were making a film about people falling in love with each other’s hearts and who they were and not how they look on the outside, you know? And that’s what we were trying to say in that film. Now was the first in a series of film where Black people aren’t Black people long enough but. [00:07:47][82.9]

Bruce W. Smith: [00:07:49] You know what’s so funny about that, sorry to interject but like regardless of who is going to be in that story. That story was going to be that story, so it could have been an Asian girl who would have turn into a frog, you know, 15 minutes or Latin girl. It’s the same thing. It just is just the structure of how the story was. [00:08:05][16.7]

Cortney Wills: [00:08:06] Oh, yeah, OK. You’re saying people were like, Oh, she turned. They turned into frogs for most of the movie. See, I I would say, probably, maybe you all heard that, but that wouldn’t have been in the headlines at the time that that film came out, whereas today it absolutely would be because I think, we were just happy to have a Black princess then. And look how far we’ve progressed in, in large part because of the impact of that film. Now, it’s not enough for them to be just Black like let’s make them all the way Black. Let’s make the people that drew em Black. Let’s make people the design the clothes Black like, you know, and it’s an ever evolving conversation. But I think that that speaks to even where we’ve come as a society and in terms of representation. Because for me, the other really amazing thing about The Princess and the Frog, obviously was not just that there was a Black princess, but it was a fairy tale that we already knew. It wasn’t an original story, but there were still, I thought, really subtle but impactful ways that made it feel quite culturally relevant didn’t have to be set in New Orleans. You know, she didn’t have to have a mother and father who really stressed the importance of working hard for what you want, you know, and saving up for your dream. Like, it didn’t have to be that. And I thought that was ballsythen, you know, like and it felt like, you know, not code, but a bit of a wink of a nod that this is more than just painting The Princess Brown. This is our culture represented here. Was that intentional? [00:09:39][93.4]

Marlon West: [00:09:40] Definitely, as Mike and Tunde can attest, improves. But one of the things we do right off the bat is do research, you know, and that research often colors even what the film is going to be so meeting Leah Chase, Dooky Chase restaurant and who is a woman who really felt like food brought people together. I mean, so much of who she was as a person is in Tiana and a lot of Anika is in Tiana, and we were very aware, like most Disney heroes orphaned, you know, and we knew this was going to be the first sister on screen. We wanted her to have a mother and a father. And so there was a there was a lot of things that were very, very intentional about Princess and the Frog and all the films we’re probably going to talk about. [00:10:25][44.1]

Cortney Wills: [00:10:25] Marlon, I didn’t ever even think of that. She sure did have a mother and a father, and none of these none of these other princesses do. I never thought of what a big deal it is that Tiana had both. And, you know, how would I have felt if she didn’t? [00:10:41][15.8]

Marlon West: [00:10:46] Some cultures we’ve had, made films about it, about them Encanto being one of them the multi-generational aspect of family Super-Duper important. Mulan has has living in a multi-generational house. And, you know, in all, those things are intentional. [00:10:54][8.1]

Cortney Wills: [00:10:55] Speaking of Encanto, that’s a perfect segue way into my question for Tunde, which is, Oh my gosh, so Encanto, that was the most visually representative picture of a family that looks like my family that I’ve that I’ve seen. You know, my kids are multiracial. There are Hispanic roots there. They’ve got curly hair, but they speak Spanish and they eat this food and they call their grandma abuela, like it was so inclusive. Even though we’re not Colombian, there was absolutely someone that we know represented there, and I’ve never seen anything like just the range of colors and being able and hair textures and saying, that’s one family. They all came from the same place because we know that that’s true, but a lot of other people don’t get that that’s true. Was that a mission to accomplish? Was it, easy, you know, was it you went in knowing we were going to do this and everyone was cool with it? Like, How did how did that fly? I was shocked in a good way. [00:11:56][61.1]

Bruce W. Smith: [00:11:57] I think the directors were very intentional in the in the writers and producers. The whole creative team were intentional about, you know, having a large family, multigenerational family, having Afro-Latin representation and Marlon can attest. You know, we were part of the Black employee group at Disney Animation, where we met with the filmmakers throughout the production and development and, you know, looked at things like hair texture and skin tones. But then, you know, also just spoke to similar to what Michael mentioned, also just spoke to our personal family experiences because I can relate too, you know, I have Latin folks in my in my family who don’t necessarily look like me, but we’re cousins, you know, and I think, you know, similar to so we had internal conversations with the Black employees. But then they also had the filmmakers would meet with consultants externally that were a part of our cultural trust. And then we also had a familiar group of LatinX employees within the studio that shared their story. So, you know, the filmmakers definitely did their due diligence with making sure that they can kind of connect with the human elements in the basic foundation of kind of what folks can relate to and so that everyone can see themselves, not just how they may look, but then also, you know, how the characters are. And I think that’s the beautiful thing about Encanto. Like my son’s identify of two young boys. They they see Antonio and can identify with him. But then they can also, you know, see their other family members and relate to, you know, just the the characters themselves. [00:13:34][97.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:13:35] Yes, what the characters looked like was very diverse, but who they were, how they acted like, what they paid attention to was also very diverse. We’ve never seen a woman that looks like Loisa in a cartoon, and it’s not, you know, in some way like negative or something to like, sneer at. We’ve never seen that. We’ve never seen someone like Bruno. Look, what family doesn’t have somebody that we kind of don’t talk with? [00:13:59][24.6]

Marlon West: [00:14:02] Oh, yeah, oh, we got that uncle. [00:14:04][1.9]

Cortney Wills: [00:14:06] You got somebody. And I just saw that that was so amazing. But I also did think that the hair was a really big deal and Encanto, because it’s one thing to talk about shades and colorism. But when you get into hair, no one could have told me until I had a daughter how early they start caring and paying attention to their hair, and to that their hair is different than everyone else’s. And by the time my daughter turned four, that just it stopped being the case. I think I started making a conscious effort to seek out content that had people that looked like her. But more of it just started also becoming available and seeing it change from straight to curly. And you can have both within the same family or you can have braids or it can be down Encanto really grabbed that even the people kind of in the background who weren’t main characters, though I saw dark skinned actors with cornrows speaking Spanish like that was so monumental and also probably so easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. How do you go about with a project that you know is going to be so visible and have so many elements at play? Like How do you know where to put in those subtleties and when they’ll really hit and when they don’t? Or do you just kind of put them all in and the people notice? [00:15:18][71.9]

Marlon West: [00:15:18] You know, all these films that we’re talking about and shows, we’re talking about we’re trying to reach a lot of people multi-generations their we want whole families to go in when people all around the world to be able to go, but they’re always about specific stories and we want to try to be very clear on those details about, you know, in Soul the barbershop, you know, and you know, Princess and the Frog we wanted to do right by people who in New Orleans who open up their homes to us. And I worked on Moana you know, there’s people who went to Bora Bora. I didn’t get to go, but they were very, very specific place. And we want these bills to be universal and touch people all over the world. But we want the people who let us into their world and into their hearts go, “Yeah, that’s me. They got they got that right.” And we want people like your kids and people around the world to be able to see themselves in these films, too. [00:16:05][46.4]

Bruce W. Smith: [00:16:05] Yeah, I’ll say, is the opportunity to be seen. I mean, that that’s kind of what makes a difference, I think, and the focus of the content that we’re all trying to get involved in in trying to get made because we know the importance of being seen as as a people. [00:16:18][12.7]

Micheal Yates: [00:16:19] Yeah, for sure. I think even on Soul, it was just a lot of like a personal experience that Marlon was talking about, like when a character reminded me of, like my uncle, I’m like, OK, I think we got it. This one reminds me of my aunt I think we got it. Always just looking for it like using your own personal experiences and trying to put that in the forefront of the film. [00:16:36][17.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:16:37] Thank you for that, Michael. Bruce, man, I’m saving you to the end because Proud Family is all the way Black. It’s been Black Black Black since the very beginning. I remember being in school (Blackity Black Black), which is so lovely to see. I remember being in college, you know, like Proud Family didn’t hit when I was a little kid, but we were all watching it because we couldn’t believe that it was on. And it was amazing. Like, and we just liked it. It was just fun. It was like ketchup. It was like, OK, finally, they made a show that reminds us of us when we were that age, and it was funny and it was relatable. And now, all these years later that it’s coming back. I couldn’t wait to show it to my kids, and they’re a little young, probably to get all of the comedy and all of the references. But again, they’re like, “That mom. Sounds like you, Mom. I’ve never seen that before.” What is it like to bring such a beloved show that was so groundbreaking back in it in such what I think is a very different Hollywood landscape? [00:17:39][62.2]

Bruce W. Smith: [00:17:40] Well, I mean that to me, that was the fun of it and also was the challenge. You know, it was the proof of concept that sat in my head for years, because, you know, you grow up in this business and you really study the craft, you know, first and foremost, right? So now that you feel like you got a hold of the craft and you kind of know all the elements of things that make something whole. So with all that knowledge now, what do you do? Just kind of say something, you know, if you got the opportunity to do that, and that’s where the idea kind of came from. I mean, you know, for me, it was not seeing that representation at a time where I thought animation was really gaining a foothold in the television landscape, where you had, you know, television series like The Simpsons and King of the Hill Family Guy. And it was just simply me asking the question where the Black people at? You know? And so and realizing Marlon and I used to have this conversation a lot. It’s like not of a lot of us existed. So seizing the opportunity, seizing that moment, I just felt like because of how the world was even evolving at that time. You know, you talking about we always know that we as a people, as Black folk we always. We always drove eyeballs with our culture regardless wherever our culture stood in that area of time. We stood out, you know, and we defined a lot of things of, you know, how you walk, how you talk, what you listen to, what’s cool, what’s hip, what isn’t. And all those things just kind of balled up and said, “Okay, I’ll put this down. I got to put this down.” And so like you’re saying, you gather all the resources around you. Like, I grew up in south central Los Angeles, so you know, all the resources were there. Every day you step outside, you know, you see a Sugar Mama. You see, you know, a Dijonay a you see La Cienega down the street. You know, you see a Bobby Proud driving up the street in his low rider like, this is what I saw all the time growing up. And I think with this new version and and, you know, sort of the social media invention and everything that surrounds all that and how our culture is sort of made all these steps forward and how we are shouting loudly to be seen, you know, in this 2022 in this zeigeist of 2022 it’s the appropriate version of of the title of the show. And and to your point, Michael, it’s like we get a chance to kind of show a spectrum of Black folk because we are not just this monolithic being. [00:20:12][151.5]

Cortney Wills: [00:20:12] So my question for all of you now is, I think that you’ve all been, you know, in this game you’ve you’ve seen a lot of the progress. We know that sometimes as companies and entities and brands kind of endeavor towards diversity efforts, we do often hear like, yes, we want to, but we can’t find them or we have a pipeline problem, and now there are tons of people and programs making efforts to address those. What area would you all say you can tangibly perceive the most of a shift in the right direction right now, as it stands, and I realize I am talking to Black men that a lot of times I’m talking to Black women on this show. But from your perspective, as Black male creatives, what is working right now? [00:21:03][51.0]

Marlon West: [00:21:04] I like that you put it that way, what is working? Well, I think one thing and Bruce kind of touched on it is, you know, when we think, especially he and I like the old heads on this call, when we first started, you know, we could fit, you know, all the brothers we were aware of working in animation in the trunk of somebody’s car, you know? And then increasingly, that’s not true. There’s more. There’s a whole bunch of brothers in here now, but there are some sisters in the game, too. And and and trying to get more people going out to schools that we usually don’t go to. To actually introduce our craft to folks who may not be aware, you know, that animation in all of its many forms. You have people on this call. Director’s Story, showrunners, office managers. We got technicians. So it’s like you look at the credits of any of the films we’ve worked on. It’s hundreds of people deep and good paying jobs. So letting Black brown folks know that these jobs exist and actually going out and trying to reach out to them, I know a few of us start off as trainees and interns, those kind of positions, those kind of programs are happening both at Disney and Pixar are going to help. I mean, these films take a long time to make in trying to be at the level. To be at Disney or Pixar is not, you know, not everybody who is graduating high school or college is going to be there. But where we can help bring people up and make folks aware of these positions, we’re all trying to do it. [00:22:30][85.6]

Bruce W. Smith: [00:22:30] Yeah. And then also it’s it’s it’s listen, it’s giving people opportunities that have even been in the business for quite a long time, given the possibility that they’ve never had before. For instance, on our show, you know, again, speaking in terms of like, hey, man we’re not a monolith. You know, I brought in listen two African-American women who hadn’t had a chance to direct professionally in this business that way at all and made them directors. You know, it was like because that was important because I was never believe it or not, in my lifetime, I was never a 14 year old girl. So, so I had to find directors who lived that experience. And these girls, you put them in a position to to succeed. How do you do that? I just simply say, “Listen, you and you, Tara Whitaker and Latoya Ravenel. You guys are going to be my directors. And don’t worry about making mistakes. I got you. And I’m ride. We ride or die in this. So. So you’re not going to be fired up. The first episode you turn is not all that great. Second episode we ride or die.” They were sort of like blown away because they like, I’ve never heard that before in any job that I’ve ever been to that the boss would say, Do everything you need to do to to not do it right? You know, so because will prop you up and make sure that you see what it looks like and what is right. And these two women turned in some amazing episodes because the opportunity that we’re giving to them, so why weren’t they given that opportunity in the past? That’s their story. I don’t know. But I think what we have to do as creatives here in this in this is find those people, seek those people out and give those people an opportunity that they never had before. I found a lot of my artists on Instagram that actually worked on this show. I found a great story artist off a Twitter who just did some fan art for the show, and I was like, Oh, she draws amazing. Like. And I was like, Hey, Kayla, you want to do this? And she was like, Who are you? Yeah, I’m like, this Bruce Smith and I know it ain’t leave me alone, you know, like, it was really that type of thing. And I was like, What do you believe it’s me? Let me type at you again and say yeah it’s me. And it was like, Oh, snap, OK, so yes, I do want to do this. It’s it’s odd when you reach out to people and their response in a lot of cases, people don’t have much experience is very overwhelming to them. But at the same time, they embrace the opportunity. [00:24:51][141.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:24:53] I think it’s really important, though, that people in positions of power like yourself take that initiative and take that responsibility because you could have just gone through whatever resumes made it to your desk through traditional means that we know aren’t nearly as accessible to us as they are to everyone else and just stop there. So to me, you know, to answer my own question, one thing I see changing and working are Black creatives and Black Folks in positions of power recognizing that they can, you know, they can do things differently, too, and they aren’t, you know, stuck with the old ways of doing things if they want a new result. So I’m really happy to hear that that was part of your formula for this project that I really just cannot wait for everyone to see. I can’t believe all the places that you went in this and a refreshed, updated version of a show I already loved. It is so, so good, and I hope that we can talk about that again. I know that we have to let Bruce go, but I just really wanted to let you know how much I appreciate not only what you did in the past with the Proud Family, but with what you’re doing now. It’s so on time and it’s really, really funny. [00:26:06][72.9]

Bruce W. Smith: [00:26:06] Thanks. Yeah. Timing is everything I think, you know, we’re hoping keeping our fingers crossed on the 23rd of February. You guys will have as much fun as we had making this thing watching it. So we have making it. So thanks for thanks for having me here. [00:26:19][12.8]

Cortney Wills: [00:26:20] You’re welcome. You take care of Bruce. [00:26:21][1.1]

Gentlemen: [00:26:21] All right, fellas. All right now,. [00:26:24][2.6]

Cortney Wills: [00:26:25] Now that he’s gone! No I’m just kidding. Have you guys see the new. Have you seen any of the new Proud Family? [00:26:31][6.1]

Marlon West: [00:26:31] I haven’t seen any of it yet. [00:26:31][0.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:26:32] OK, I won’t spoil it, but we have to talk after you do because it is really. It was really quite something I wanted to continue. Michael, what do you think is working well right now? [00:26:42][10.3]

Micheal Yates: [00:26:43] Yeah, it’s a great question. I think I agree a lot with what Marlon and Bruce said. I just remember like when I started in the industry and I’ve only been working seven or eight years now and just like coming into a big studio and then all the Black people just found me and it’s like, “We’re here for you, like you have any questions or anything like that, like we’re we’re going to help you and support you in that way.” And then now there’s like so many more than when I even started. So I feel like that’s been working very well. Even at Pixar, we’ve been just looking at other ways of recruiting people, looking at different schools, not just the same top three that we always kind of go to. And I think that’s helped a lot. And then for me, I think it’s the work speaks a lot. Like even just seeing yourself represented, it’s like, Oh, wait, this is a job I can do. I see other people who look like me kind of doing it and talking about it. And that gets me interested and want to learn more about it. So, yeah, I feel like all that stuff is working really well. That and then just the level of like everyone kind of mentioned, the level of research and effort put into everything. I feel like it’s a big change from when I started to now. And just trying to really get it right. [00:27:49][66.0]

Cortney Wills: [00:27:50] Thanks for that, Michael, Tunde. How about you? [00:27:52][2.0]

Babatunde Akinloye: [00:27:53] To piggyback off that I think the way in which the creatives are going about making the films and doing all those research and connecting with people internally and externally and really taking the time to do that, I think is going to become the norm. And I just think they see that it can be very valuable to build in whatever world that you want to build and have, and it’s to connect with the audience. And you know, for me, I try to tell young folks or whenever I meet with young people you say you work at Disney Animation in their eyes, light up and you’re like, you can draw like, what do you do? You draw you, you write or direct? And it’s like, No, I’m I’m support the creatives and do a lot of things behind the scenes to make sure that the film can come out in the opening up the minds of younger folks to know that there is different spaces that they can occupy on these films and be a part of the team. I think the more we can get behind that message the more we’ll, we’ll be able to kind of build up more people. So the next time you have us Cortney is, you know, a full 25, 50 folks out here. [00:28:54][60.8]

Cortney Wills: [00:28:57] That’s the dream, that’s the hope, right? You know, the other thing that I think is worth pointing out because we are we’re in this time of representation. And it’s not just color, it’s not just hair textures. It’s not just like socioeconomic background, but it shapes and sizes and identity and sexual orientation. And so, so many things. And I think that the other thing that Disney does or, you know, I guess, has the power to do just because it is such an established brand and company is that when they do something it is almost instantly normalized. Versus when other people do it. You know, it’s it’s like it’s like chipping away at this thing or moving toward normalization. But once Disney does it, that’s like a like an unofficial stamp to me, to everyone like especially mainstream America, like, yo, we’re doing this now. Like, get with it. And so I think that when it comes to the way that even bodies are represented through Disney and Pixar, there’s this movie, it’s kind of a silent movie. I mean, silent in that there’s no dialog. I want to say it’s called me again or you again, you don’t talking about it to Black people, their old? [00:30:10][73.4]

Marlon West: [00:30:11] Us Again. (Us Again!) The integrated couple, there’s an Asian man and Black woman. [00:30:14][3.0]

Cortney Wills: [00:30:15] My kids love that short. And it’s I remember just being very touching and sweet and beautiful it also, though, like they look really like people and the woman is not teeny, super tiny. I mean, she looks like a real woman. How conscious are you, all of those elements of what you’re doing? Because I think that’s almost equally as important. [00:30:35][20.3]

Marlon West: [00:30:36] Definitely. You know, we’ve gotten the memo more than once that there’s a Disney female body or there’s an animation body that’s very similar, and we’re very aware of actually trying to celebrate other body shapes and other shapes and forms and in people’s orientation. And in some films that are announced and unannounced so far. And I think we touched on it earlier. These films take a long time to make the point. Somebody says, Oh, I want to make a movie about a sister who, you know, turns into a frog and becomes a princess at the end. You know, it’s like four years, you know? And so we have to commit to a lot of things, you know, that we want to say pretty early on. But these films get, you know, they get molded by the experience of people inside the studio with folks have sat outside the studio and it takes so long to do them. And there are so many voices, you know? I mean, there’s a handful of people are directors and writers that really have to say what these films are going to be. But there’s a lot of us, they’re all storytellers. You know, everybody who’s working on these things has a little something to say. And so, yeah, it is intentional. You know, we’re not done. There’s there’s still a lot of work to do. But yeah, we actually definitely trying to celebrate people in all of our shapes and forms. [00:32:00][83.7]

Cortney Wills: [00:32:01] What would you say is still a challenge for you as these things shift? Because one thing that I do think is really interesting about animation that Marlon reminds us of is this is not like a show where you know you conceive of it and it gets greenlit and then you do it. And then in six months, it’s out. So if you’re being kind of if you’re pushing the envelope in 2002, you’ve also got to be guess and guess, right that that’s still going to be pushing the envelope four years later when this thing comes out and we might have already gotten past that. So now we’re in this place where so many brands and networks and studios have really seen the value. And I think like the profitability of telling our stories and of having us tell our stories, like how has that changed the way that you navigate your career because you all were doing it? I guess I want to say, like before it was cool, before it was a demand before we were out there saying, do it or we won’t watch it. You all were doing it. But now that we are out there saying do it or we won’t buy it, do it or we won’t watch it. Has that changed the approach or presented any unexpected challenges? [00:33:08][66.4]

Micheal Yates: [00:33:08] I think for me, it’s a lot of just being honest. Like, even if it’s not like my exact personal experience, it’s like if I want this to feel honest, I go to someone who has had that experience and I talk to them or get them involved in the project. But I feel like as long as you’re being honest and coming at it from the right point of view, then it’ll always kind of resonate with people no matter of the time it comes out or when you sent the message, it always just kind of will connect. [00:33:32][23.6]

Cortney Wills: [00:33:33] Thank you for that, Michael. How about you Tunde? [00:33:34][1.6]

Babatunde Akinloye: [00:33:35] Honestly, the thing that came to my mind was, you know, and being a part of Encanto and this movie that’s going to last forever and is like part of the Disney legacy. I think you can only think about it in terms of Michael laid out where it’s like you’re focused on this story and how it’s authentic to this circumstance and this character and not get caught up. I think Black creators or any any sort of like culture creatives get get caught up with representing their identity and just being the end all, be all. And I think that comes with a lot of pressure. But what’s interesting is a company like Disney makes movies that last forever, you know? And so like when Encanto came out and seeing how well it’s done, it’s just going to live forever. So they’re making things that not just are going to live forever, like four years from now, but it’s going to last a lifetime. But I think if you were thinking of it in that terms, that that’s a daunting task. But I think we take a lot of care spending years and years and a lot of time and effort on making sure that things are solid. Nothing is, you know, by happenstance, everything is created in the film by artist very meticulously. And there’s just a lot of thought and care put into it. So I think that’s just going to continue. So these things can live on forever. [00:34:48][72.7]

Cortney Wills: [00:34:48] Thanks for that, Marlon, how about you? [00:34:50][1.8]

Marlon West: [00:34:51] Yeah, I would agree with both with these gentlemen said, you know, we are making things that, you know, we make the rare films that folks see show generationally. And so, yeah, we want them to feel fresh and new and funny. But we don’t. We don’t. They’re not trying to be hip. They’re not trying to be, you know, Encanto is really not trying to nail 2021. You know, we’re trying to actually do something that speaks to the past and present and has some legs into the future, so, yeah, making things that are, you know, like like Mike said, honest and not just trying to do something that’s kind of cool in that particular moment is what make these films kind of resonate with people, I feel. [00:35:34][42.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:35:34] I couldn’t agree with you more. And I think that the end result is that what we really get are stories that are timeless. Like I’m telling you, I, you know, watching the old stuff with my kids, I’m watching the new stuff with my kids, and I hope that they’ll be showing it to their kids one day and talking about all the progress that’s been made since then. But that can’t happen if there aren’t people like yourselves doing the work and it it makes a difference and it makes a difference to the white kids who when they see my kids, it’s their first time seeing a Black kid in real life. I love that they have a Doc McStuffins or a Penny Proud or a Loisa that, you know, in some ways I would imagine like makes my kids less peculiar, surprising, threatening, confusing to all of them. And so they’re having conversations in their homes and with their parents and with themselves that they used to only have with us in real life on the playground. Like, we’re not trying to do that. We’re just trying to go to school. [00:36:29][55.0]

Marlon West: [00:36:31] You know, it’s, you know, that’s the thing, you know, especially when you’re like Bruce and I’s age, you know, we grew up just relating to white characters all the time. And so, like, white people are no mystery to us. We watch them and you know, we have superheroes, they’re villains. They’re all these multifaceted things. Yeah. You know, we just experience them. So seeing multi-faceted Black people and showing up in all its showing up in space, showing up in future, showing up in animation, showing up as frog, showing up in all these different things. Demystifies us. So when they meet somebody. I mean, when they meet somebody on the playground or in the store, they know us. [00:37:07][35.9]

Cortney Wills: [00:37:08] So it really, really does go beyond the screen and be on the page. And I’m genuinely just so appreciative and so glad to see it helps everybody. Yeah, sure. Well, thank you, gentlemen. It’s been a pleasure. [00:37:19][11.0]

Gentlemen: [00:37:20] Happy to be with you guys. [00:37:21][1.3]

Cortney Wills: [00:37:24] Thank you for listening to Acting Up. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcast and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, comments and suggestions to podcasts@theGrio.com. Acting Up is brought to you by theGrio and executive produced by Cortney Wills and produced by Cameron Blackwell. For more with me and Acting Up, check us out on Instagram @ActingUp.Pod. [00:37:24][0.0]


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