On Thursday, June 25, 2020, Disney announced that it would be "reimagining" the popular, yet problematic, ride Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California. The Princess and the Frog, the 2009 animated film that features Disney's first Black princess, will be the inspiration behind the new theme that will occupy the mountain in the future. As an African-American woman and avid Disney fan, my inbox was ablaze with friends and family sending me the news articles and social media posts celebrating this announcement.
I can tell you, I was not impressed. Maybe it's because it seems hypocritical to replace a racist ride with the only Black princess in the Disney canon. Maybe it's because this announcement further illustrates the larger issue that Princess Tiana is a forgotten second fiddle to the other princesses-whether it is in the amount of merchandise that is available for sale or the lackluster celebration of her movie's first anniversary milestone. Or maybe, it's because I do not trust Disney to handle this reimagining with true care or fidelity. After all, Splash Mountain features a cast of animal characters, and it's serendipitous that Princess Tiana spends the majority of her film, the only princess to do so, as a frog.
Notice, the announcement said the Walt Disney World and Disneyland versions of Splash Mountain would be getting the reboot. There is no mention of the Splash Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland getting the same New Orleans treatment. Why is that? If this is being done to address the racism of the Song of The South backstory, then why not all of the attractions in the Disney parks family?
However, the biggest reason that this announcement, although addressing a ride that was desperately in need of a facelift into the 21st Century, is not feeding my soul, is because it does nothing for Black people. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just as activists have decried that making Juneteenth a national holiday, or naming streets after the Black Lives Matter movement is a cute gesture, it does not make up for the systemic racism and brutality that Black people in this country face. In other words, a Tiana ride is nice and all, but what are you doing Disney, to ensure the advancement of BIPOC people? Whether or not Splash Mountain features Briar Rabbit or Prince Naveen, it is still a ride at an amusement park. Sure, they threw a few million to the cause, but I want to see more. As one of the biggest and most successful media companies on the PLANET, the amount of influence that Disney has is, in my opinion, beyond the scope of what they have done.
So Disney, if you're reading this, I have a few suggestions on what you could really do instead of giving us a flume ride.
To promote POC image and financial advancement:
1. Give us more diverse characters in films. Little Black and brown children need more representation in media of healthy, and accurate depictions of themselves. Don't just stop at Tiana, or Soul (which see the character as a ghost for most of the film), or the Muses. Create more and normalize it.
2. Diversify the C-Suite. What is the ratio of high profile professionals and execs in your company that are people of color? I'm sure if there had been 'a Black person in the room' when Splash Mountain had been conceived, we wouldn't be in this predicament to begin with.
While we are considering changes to the theme parks:
3. Give us merchandise that promote characters of color. I should be able to walk into a shop at a park and find more Mulan, Tiana and Pocahontas merchandise than I already do. I'm tired of feeling like i'm looking for a needle in a haystack. Oh, and psst, you didn't hear it from me, but maybe if you made more diverse merchandise, people would not feel as much of a need to turn to small shops who are filling the void for consumers.
4. Celebrate diversity. I think it is great that there is so much attention given to Pride Month, but I would like to see that same energy for Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month and every other month like it. Food, performances etc. We want special merchandise and cute headbands too, ya know.
5. Expand the African presence in Epcot. The little out post that represents West Africa in Epcot is sad. The food isn't authentic, and the themeing is nowhere near on par with other pavilions. I get that Animal Kingdom is supposed to fill this gap, but it doesn't. That park is about ANIMALS in Africa, with people on the side. I want to see African people showcased.
In terms of the digital sphere:
6. The social media person in me wants to see an effort to work with and attract Black creators. Why is is that media giant YouTube holds a Black content creator conference and Disney does not?
7. I want to see more Black original programming on Disney +. Netflix excels in the diversity programming realm, and I think Disney should be making those same strides.
I think Disney has a lot of work to do, but as Walt Disney would say, " We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we're curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."