A number of streamers and stations offered special Black History Month fare – and that’s all a good thing – but the best of them offer a diversity of programming all year long. Disney+ is a good example of how you might do it right. But it’s also a good example of a streamer that has access to a multiverse of content that naturally features a diversity of people.
Also, it’s important to note that Disney+ did not wait until Black History Month to launch their “Celebrate Black Stories” collection, but with the advent of BHM, opted to remind viewers that they had these stories packaged and ready to go. The streamer did release Black Panther: Wakanda Forever at the top of the month. The film promptly landed the number one spot for streaming premiers, based upon hours spent watching, according to Disney.
There will always be people who can speak to the contrary, and I’m certain that contracting with artists and directors of color could use a boost, but showcasing culturally-relevant stories for Black History Month – and making sure those stories and collections existed prior to BHM – shows a kind of longterm commitment to storytelling that I wish more companies would embrace. It does take some effort- and some planning – to ensure that the engineers behind the app redesign pages so that Black Stories are front and center. It also takes years of efforts to make sure a movie like, say, Red Tails (2012), is funded and produced, so that it then can stay on Disney+ as the years go on.
But the curation of the right stories to tell here are key. On my app, the red, black and green Black History entry point is beautiful and not too obnoxious. On my Android, it’s also about one scroll down from my usual fare, so it’s present in a pleasant way. The first grouping there belongs to “Black History Documentaries,” which include National Geographic’s Black Pharoahs, Questlove’s Summer of Soul, and 7 Toughest Days (A survival reality series which I hadn’t heard about until I clicked on the Black History programming list.) The second topic list “Black History in Film,” then “Beyond the Athlete,” and it moves on to “Music and Culture” before giving you historical episodes of black-ish.
This is a nicely-done collection that gives you a little bit of what Disney+ has to offer. Once you watch one show of course, the algorithm will provide you with more offerings based upon your collective viewing habits. But the Black Stories collection is a nice entry point. I enjoyed it.
Of course, Disney has spent the last two decades or so refining its approach to diversity and adding in, for example, a variety of princesses. This widens the brand’s appeal. In fact, the world is impatiently awaiting a retelling of The Little Mermaid, featuring the ginger-haired singer Halle Bailey, who just so happens to be black. The company also recently shut down a Song of the South-based water ride at Disneyland in California to make way for a refurbishment into a new ride showcasing the world of Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. Some self-described superfans complain about these moves, but they are largely outvoted by superfans who enjoy diversity in cartoons that mimics the diversity they see in real life.
It couldn’t have been easy to get these initiatives approved, put on a roadmap, produced and then announced to the world at large. Disney could have buried these announcements or stymied the work needed to get these jobs done. But they didn’t. (And, to the employees who are working behind the scenes to keep Disney on its toes, I thank you.)
From Marvel Studios Assembled: The Making of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a special documentary about the film to Season 2 of “The Proud Family: Louder & Prouder,” black voices were definitely amplified this month. Now. Let’s keep it going.