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How the Latest Disney Movies are Highlighting Cultural and Ethnic Diversity

June 17, 2022

Maybe it’s art imitating life or a marketing move to appeal to more viewers, but some recent movies by media giant Disney showcase the beauty of diversity in unique backgrounds, beliefs and customs. From “Encanto” in 2020 to this year’s “Turning Red," Disney has focused on ethnicities in a way people find comforting and educational, according to members of Hartford HealthCare Colleague Resource Groups (CRGs). “Encanto” centers on a family living in the mountains of Colombia where every child except one is blessed with unique gifts through the magic of the location, Encanto. The child, Mirabel, becomes the family’s best chance at preserving the magic. “Turning Red” draws viewers into the story of Mei Lee, a Chinese girl rebelling against her traditional family in Canada. Of "Encanto," Claudia Martinez, an operational excellence fellow in the Lean Office and part of the Hispanic and Latinx CRG, noted, “It’s just so relatable and touches on a lot of the trauma Hispanic families have experienced, like leaving home to a safer place and strong cultural expectations.” Mui Mui Hin-McCormick, clinical director of adult residential services with Rushford and part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander CRG, encountered the same familiarity watching “Turning Red.” Mei Lee experiences typical teen angst blended with familial expectations and cultural traditions. “My parents, aunts and uncles would be focused on how Mei Lee rebels against her mother and the culture as they were raised to believe ‘children should be seen and not heard’ and should obey their parents without question,” Hin-McCormick said. She and her daughter noticed how Disney addresses such generational friction while highlighting stereotypes that seem to be positive but could negatively impact the Asian American community, a practice called model minority myth. Some of Mei Lee’s struggles reflect those Hin-McCormick experienced as a child and vowed to change as a parent, such as showing overt affection. “My friends would say ‘I love you’ to their parents and their parents would say it back to them. I never heard my parents say ‘I love you’ to me or my siblings, but my parents actually became upset with me for questioning if they loved me. It took me a while to understand and accept that this is now how they were raised. These were foreign concepts to them,” Hin-McCormick said. In addition to the joy of seeing people like her and her culture on the big screen, Martinez said she gleaned several leadership tips from “Encanto,” including:

  • Encourage your team and walk with them daily. “Improved communication can lead to team development and improved outcomes,” Martinez said.
  • Take time to check in with your well-being and encourage your team to do the same.
  • Have courageous conversations when necessary.
“[These] scenes (Mirabel leading Antonio to his door] encouraged viewers to lead by example,” Martinez said. Simply seeing variety in characters is empowering, Hin-McCormick added. “What a positive change to see more diversity in movies that reflect the cultural differences we have. I can’t say it enough - how important it is to feel like you belong, to see yourself, your culture and community represented, and to normalize and welcome our diverse communities,” she said.