Does the Revenue From Disney's Partnership With Black Owned Brands Actually Fuel Long Term Representation?
Most of us grew up watching Disney movies and television shows, consuming Disney products, or visiting Disney parks. Most of our children love anything Disney, and our black and brown children, are finally starting to see more characters that reflect who they are, characters they can look up to or be inspired by. This wasn't the case 30-50 years ago.
Over the past decade alone, Disney has made significant improvements to provide more diversity and inclusion in all departments of the Walt Disney Brand. Just last year, the Walt Disney Company spent $800 million with diverse suppliers, but how much of the revenue from that $800 million fueled long-term representation from these diverse-owned brands?
The Walt Disney brand has a whole website dedicated to how they are celebrating diversity and inclusion. As a Black female business owner who has witnessed Disney's partnerships with Black-owned brands, I wonder how those partnerships fueled what Walt Disney is trying to represent through Black-owned businesses.
Don't get me wrong; I love what Disney is doing and their diversity initiative. It's about time, and it's better late than never. However, I'm curious to see what actual change is happening long term with the diverse brands, exclusively black-owned businesses, that Walt Disney is partnering with to help them spread their inclusive and diversity initiative.
Is the revenue of these partnerships just fueling Disney's reputation? Or is it not only generating income for these black-owned brands but actually producing products that will extend the diverse representation of our Black community long term?
Here's some excerpts from Disney's Diversity and Inclusion website.
"Disney is committed to celebrating an inclusive, respectful world. We create authentic and unforgettable stories, characters, experiences, and products that capture the imagination of our global audiences. Across our platforms, we champion storytelling that reflects the world around us and helps us develop meaningful relationships with our consumers. We strive to present genuine, authentic, and respectful storytelling."
Today, we're exploring the real impact of Disney's partnerships with black-owned brands and their contribution to long-term representation. This blog aims to discover how these partnerships shape Disney's end products and whether the revenue generated fuels ongoing diversity efforts.
Topics to be discussed:
- The Rise of Collaborations between Disney and Black-Owned Brands
- Success stories of black-owned brands partnering with Disney
- The Influence of Revenue and Consumer Support
- The Importance of Continued Progress and Accountability
The Rise of Collaborations between Disney and Black-Owned Brands
Within the last few years, Disney has partnered with a few diverse brands across all departments like Animation, Employee Relations, Restaurants, Clothing Brands, Toys, Television shows, etc. For example, for the Disney Animation film Encanto, Disney partnered with Julie Crommett, a Puerto Rican and Cuban woman and vice president of Multicultural Audience Engagement at Walt Disney Studios, to spearhead efforts to diversify talent in front of and behind the camera.
While spearheading the project Encanto, she made sure the range of skin tones, hair textures, and body types created for the characters acknowledged and celebrated the widely varying physical traits of Hispanic/Latino/Latina people. Crommett's involvement alone tells you how important it is to include diverse employees in higher roles who understand inclusive storytelling and culture.
Recently, with the release of the new adaptation of Disney's The Little Mermaid, featuring Ariel as a black girl, Disney has partnered with black-owned brands to tell a story of inclusion and diversity. This move is an excellent step toward representing Black culture within Disney films, but how did these recent partnerships and revenue earn fuel long-term representation?
Let's look at some of the black owned brands Disney partnered with for the new Little Mermaid movie:
I understand marketing and promotion, but how do these two brand partnerships fuel representation within Disney's diversity and inclusive initiative? These brands didn't make new products; the only thing that changed with the partnership was the packaging. Simply stamping a black mermaid on the packaging of brands that already cater to a black audience seems like a way Disney is trying to be "inclusive or diverse."
What happens when The Little Mermaid is no longer in theaters? These brands will stop promoting the Little Mermaid Packaging and return to regular packaging. It doesn't fuel diversity, and it's all marketing for Disney's gain. There's no longer-term impact, especially since these brands already have a huge Black audience. There's no real change to inclusivity and diversity on these Disney partnerships."
The first black owned apparel company authorized to sell Disney Merchandise
Besides The Little Mermaid, Disney has partnered with another black-owned brand within their inclusion and diversity initiative, which brings us one step forward into long-term representation but still needs some work. Brittney Sade, the owner of Curlcaps, became the first black-owned apparel company with authorized Disney Merchandise.
This is a fantastic partnership, don't get me wrong, but where's the diversity in the actual merchandise being sold? Curlcaps sells merchandise with Princess Tiana, the only Black Princess. However, why wouldn't Disney allow the production of merchandise featuring brown or black versions of their characters? A Black Snow white, a Black Cinderella, a Black Bell?
Or what about just creating end products that feature the black and brown Disney characters they already have? Pocahontas, Moana, Raya, etc. They are partnering with a black-owned brand to fuel diversity and inclusion, but most products don't show it. How does this fuel any long-term representation?
“Those who may not have been reflected always in the products or the films and so on, it’s wonderful to have a mirror, have an example to showcase something you can be, something you maybe didn’t even dream of,” Michelle Stepney, a representative from Disney’s consumer products team said.
Disney took notice of a cultural cue with Curlcap's satin-lined, backless CurlCaps, and picked up the product. But where is the "example to showcase something you can be" in the end product?
Since the partnership started, the brand has sold over 100,000 Disney-themed CurlCaps. The revenue from sales was probably primarily the brand's primary target audience, black women. CurlCap, Founder, Brittney Sade even stated,
"Coming on with minimal experience and shining, getting the attention of Disney, has been absolutely magical.”
The key phrase here..." getting the attention of Disney." So even though Disney partnered with a Black-owned brand, it seems that it's just another way to target the black consumer but not generate any real or sustainable change.
Success stories of black-owned brands partnering with Disney
Finally, I want to highlight a brand collaboration that appropriately highlights the representation of the Black community and culture and fuels Disney's diversity and inclusivity initiative. This partnership is the type of collaboration that has positive long-term effects if Disney continues to move in this direction. I'm talking about the brand CreativeSoul Photography.
Disney announced a brand-new collaboration this year with Black-owned business CreativeSoul Photography, featuring a special-edition artist series collection of dolls across the African diaspora inspired by Disney Princesses.
These dolls reimagine what a classic Disney Princess would look like through a diverse lens. The dolls contain natural hairstyles, intricate Afrocentric fabrics, and adornments while paying tribute to four Disney Princesses – Tiana, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Cinderella.
CreativeSoul Photography was founded by Atlanta native photographers Regis and Kahran. Their business mission was to celebrate the youth of color in new artistic ways by adding Afrocentric design elements to their visuals to showcase the beauty and strength of diversity.
“Our mission has always been to bring bold inspiring images of people of color to life,” said Kahran. “We are both excited and proud of this project and hope that through the lens of photography, it will help further empower young girls of color and show they can be a princess too,” added Regis.
I love this partnership, and it's a massive step towards fueling the black community while having a long-term impact on black and brown representation. I would love to see this not only be a "special edition" but a long-term partnership. I'd even love to see more Disney characters represented within this collection.
The Influence of Revenue and Consumer Support
As I stated earlier in the blog, Disney spent $800 million with diverse brand suppliers with their new diversity and inclusion initiative. Even though there's no public record of financial impact within the black communities with these partnerships, we can assume the revenue did fuel black-owned brands. Now, who knows how the brand owners fueled this revenue back into the communities they represent and founded their businesses on?
During my research, none of the brands mentioned if they give back any percentage of their proceeds to fuel the community they serve with their products. So, it's not only Disney's responsibility to fuel representation through revenue, but the brand owners also play a part.
The consumer also plays a role in driving change and representation within these brand partnerships. We can come together and start to support these blacked-owned brands and put more of our dollars towards these partnerships that help our children in the long run.
We, as consumers, can also advocate for more brand partnerships with products that reflect black and brown characters—in addition, seek out brands that partner with communities or organizations that give back to black communities worldwide. With our dollars, the black community plays a significant part in the cycle of long-term representation.
The Importance of Continued Progress and Accountability
Over the last ten years, Disney has taken the appropriate steps to include more diversity within their projects and work with black-owned brands. However, Disney has a long way to go to promote diversity and inclusion within all of their works that shouldn't have to identify as "diverse."
The world is diverse, and it should be natural to include more representation of what reflects the world around us. I'd love to see Disney form meaningful and long-lasting partnerships with more black-owned brands and produce products representing the community they are trying to target.
Disney is moving towards a better future by increasing the number of black and brown characters in their motion pictures, television shows, employees behind the scenes, etc. Hopefully, one day, their "diversity and inclusion" initiative isn't just an initiative but a total and complete lifestyle change.