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Part Of Your World

So, I got to see an incredible film this past weekend, and it's been on my watchlist for as long as I can remember. It involves a certain mermaid named Ariel... And she even looks like me! Take a wild guess at what I saw this past holiday weekend:

I can't tell you how excited I was for this film and how much it meant to see a character I loved since I was a little girl be played by someone with the same skin color. I was blown away. This is one of those films that will stay with me for many years. Unfortunately, my joy also coincided with frustration, bewilderment, and anger at the comments that barraged our social media channels and news feeds when it was announced that Halle Bailey was playing Ariel. "Ariel's not supposed to be black!" "Ariel is supposed to have red hair, not braids!" "There are no black mermaids!" "Walt Disney would be rolling in his grave." "This film is gonna bomb so bad!" "I won't support this movie because Ariel is black." "Blacks shouldn't play these characters because it's not what I grew up with." And so on...

And so on. Do you know what's sad about this? These comments and stories were on the sharp rise for the past few years when colorblind and diverse casting slowly started becoming the norm, whether from accredited "history" professors, trolls, or everyone in between. Especially in films and shows that are historical fiction, comic adaptations, and reboots of classic shows. And the comment that gets under my skin the most? "If there was supposed to be a black so and so, then Barack Obama should be played by a white man." Or something along those lines. Okay, I will only say this once, so you better pay attention. I am asking you to do three simple things for me: 1: SHUT THE HELL UP!!!!!!!!!!! 2. It's "fiction." Just plain "fiction." It's not meant to be authentic or historically accurate. (And that includes historical "fiction.") 3. Sit back and read this week's blog post because I have a lot to say on this matter, and I'm getting sick and tired of keeping my anger boiling underneath the stupidity. Please leave now if you can't do those three things I'm asking you to do. I do not have time for stupidity or battling witless and backless individuals like you.

In case you didn't know this about me, I'm a big fan of Disney movies. There's something about how the classic fairy tales and beloved stories get the magic touch of Disney to create new themes and ideas suitable for all ages. And sometimes, many themes and ideas were passed down throughout the centuries. Like kindness does matter. Like good triumphing over evil. Like love is the most extraordinary power of them all. Like imagination has no bounds and can take you to new frontiers. Like the most ordinary of people can go on the most incredible of adventures. Like treating others, no matter how different they are, as people and putting aside all pretenses and prejudices. Like laughter curing the most impossible of ailments. Like courage coming in all shapes and sizes. Like friendship having the strongest bonds, no matter what you look like. Like you're never too old to be young. And even as the stories change and adapt to the ever-changing world, these themes and virtues of goodness, creativity, bravery, understanding, empathy, inspiration, and more spoke to all of us. Somehow, even if many of the Disney films were made from a white-centered lens, the stories touched all of us, no matter our skin color, because the messages were vital for us to see and hear. Universal, even. I was hoping you could put this word in your memory banks because it will be repeated quite a bit. UNIVERSAL. No matter what the Disney film is, what era its original release came from, or who the lead character is, these films have something all of us can understand and relate to. We've all felt like we don't belong or fit in with society's expectations of who we should be. We all want to be seen as more than what we look like on the outside or our occupation. We all want to go on a big adventure beyond the sleepy villages and towns we live in. We all want to be accepted for who we are, even though others may think differently. For all of us, we believe in the power of our dreams and hope they come true. No matter how complex or simplistic the film is, Disney movies have a way of touching all of us... Even if the characters don't look like us. Different cultures, places, and lands allow our eyes to be opened for the adventure we're embarking upon, but the characters we've come to love (or hate) are with us for the ride because we're just a part of this story as well as the previous tales from decades past. Maybe the characters embody some quality within us and can be embraced by all of us, good or bad. Even if the vast majority of the animation team or production crew is white, something resonates inside us: the beauty of the pictures and cinematic shots that take our breath away. How can you not be touched by these simplistic yet powerful messages of hope, creativity, bravery, sincerity, joy, imagination, laughter, and love? It's not supposed to be directed to just one group of people or one race. These films touch all of us. Whether it's the characters, music, images, or themes, Disney films have a way of capturing all of our hearts. Race be damned. I'm amazed that in the past few years, people seem to forget how universal Disney films are to everyone. I am saddened, even. And it's not just Disney films that touch all of us and the lessons they impart. It's the classics by Robert Louis Stevenson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Cervantes, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlotte Bronte, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, William Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Moliere, Alexandre Dumas, Virginia Woolf, L.M. Montgomery, Agatha Christie, and more. It's the updated retellings of the classics and the realms they come from by J.K. Rowling, Meg Cabot, Sherry Thomas, Lorie Langdon, Kiera Cass, Elizabeth Braswell, Melissa de la Cruz, Elizabeth Lim, and more. It's the black voices that speak loudly and tenderly to an audience that needs to be educated and inspired by Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Octavia E. Butler, Alice Walker, Phillis Wheatley, and more. All those voices and more speak of the universal experiences and feelings we all share as human beings, no matter what our race, ethnicity, sexual preference, or overall identity is. And you know the best part about all of this? All of these stories came from books. And more importantly, they came from the imagination of individuals who may have heard these stories from centuries before and wanted to add their voices to a new generation because they believed that no one should be excluded from the themes of goodness, love, courage, joy, understanding, and empathy. Nor did they think they should be banned from going on grand adventures, falling in love, fighting the forces of evil, struggling to fit in, or just being happy with who they were because they experienced it themselves. But that's the thing some people are afraid of. They fear others who don't look or think like them, experiencing the same things that Disney or any storyteller believed all of us ought to be told. The question is: Why? I blame 2016 for bringing out the true colors of some individuals who would instead focus on blaming blacks, AAPI, indigenous peoples, immigrants, LGBTQIA+, and even women for all of the evils in our nation. They gave into fear, fueled by greed, hatred, jealousy, and ignorance, to be manipulated into believing that people who were different from them based on outer appearance or their beliefs not aligning with their own were the problems and should be eradicated. But maybe that fear was simmering all along, and it's only now just reached a boiling point. And it can impact people of all races who think this way, even turning their backs on their fellow cultures and ethnicities, which they believe are beneath them. It's terrible for the arts when you start seeing roles filled by different races and ethnicities that these individuals don't usually play. It comes to the point where the success of a film, show, or series rides on how "woke" it is. If it's "too woke" and fails, people start laughing and blaming the team for taking on a minority performer for the role a Caucasian actor typically plays. If it's successful, people will still laugh and spew hateful speech, waiting for the day when it will fail. Or they'll complain and gripe when the cast is first announced, and it features actors of a different race playing in roles usually played by Caucasian actors. And even come up with the same excuse that if a black actor plays a white character, someone of a different race should be playing a current politician or historical figure. Or even say that black people in another country don't exist, meaning they shouldn't be playing these roles. Or even say they don't need to be represented in these stories, giving into the fear and resignation that the minority doesn't deserve to be seen in a positive light. Do you know what I hear when I see these statements? You're telling me that people who look like me and don't look like you don't deserve to dream and should stay in their place. You're telling me that people who look like me and don't look like you aren't worthy of being a part of the universal messages and themes that touch all of us. You're telling me that people who look like me and don't look like you are a threat to your sanity and status in society, and you'd instead make yourself look good by banning the stories and messages that need to be heard. You're telling me that people who look like me and don't look like you don't have the same desires and wishes that are being spoken to everyone and want to hoard them all to themselves. You're telling me that people who look like me and don't look like you don't deserve to be celebrated and inspire the next generation to go after their heart's desire and change the world in the process. You're telling me that people who look like me and don't look like you shouldn't be accepted as human beings, and your pride and selfishness are louder than the need to right the wrongs in this world. You're telling me that people who look like me and don't look like you should only see themselves as enslaved people, sarcastic best friends, gangsters, drunks, homeless people, and other demeaning roles just to satisfy the status quo. You're telling me that people who look like me and don't look like you shouldn't exist, even in fairy tales and historical fiction, as something more than expected. Stop. Just stop. Why are you using your fear disguised as "moving forward" or "taking care of our own" and not LISTENING and READING how these ideas and courses of action are damaging and destroying lives than you are led to believe? Why are you so narrow-minded and selfish in wanting to keep things the same for you and your family when it's unhealthy for everyone else? Why do you refuse to see that these stories and themes are meant for EVERYONE and shouldn't be just hoarded away and designated for you and you only? Disney films aren't meant to be exclusive. Classic novels aren't meant to be exclusive. Updated retellings and reboots aren't meant to be exclusive. Even if it's only for your comfort zone and selfishness. No matter the story, the themes and messages are meant to be shared by EVERYONE. These stories are purely FICTION, which means that anyone and everyone should have the chance to see themselves in the roles and adventures that speak to ALL OF US, no matter how big or small the characters or plot touches us. We're not meant to change history, even if it's historical fiction. We want a place at the table, or at least be allowed to create our own space to be opened to everyone who wants to see themselves in a positive light. We don't want doors slammed in our faces or be regulated to be seen as what you only want us to be seen. We want to go on the same adventures as Ariel, Belle, Peter Pan, Alice, Moana, Tiana, Robin Hood, Tarzan, Kenai, Aladdin, Cinderella, Elsa, Anna, Rapunzel, Flynn/Eugene, Frodo, Gandalf, Arwen, Willow Ulfgood, Anne Boleyn, Queen Charlotte, the March sisters, Emma Woodhouse, Elizabeth Bennet, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and more. Because their stories captivate, enchant, transform, mold, and inspire us into the people, we are meant to become. No matter our race, sexual identity, religious beliefs, or where we come from, these stories are meant to be shared with EVERYONE. And that means allowing those of us who don't look like the characters we see the chance to dream, learn, grow, thrive, and be inspired by these characters we've come to know and love. Is that too much to ask for? (I've meant to get this off my chest for a while, but like my previous posts, these are my observations and reflections. No scientific data or research is involved, and these are my thoughts. You are welcome to disagree with me, but I have no time to engage in a battle of wits with unarmed individuals, especially if it involves disrespectful language and hate speech. We all need to take the themes of kindness and compassion seriously, and if you can't do that, I will block you.)

Look at it from this perspective: Do you remember having social studies/history class in elementary school, and one of the assignments was to research a famous figure in history and then dress up as that person, authentic costume and all, and present your report before the class? When I was growing up, I dressed as the famous explorer Samuel de Champlain, and while he was a white figure, I had fun playing dress up and pretending to be him for the day. I even got to have a sword! Much of the history we've learned growing up was from a white-centered perspective, often leaving out the pieces of history that were more traumatic and painful to share in class. Maybe it was because of pride, a need to protect the young, curious minds, or both. But that didn't stop us from dressing up as prominent historical figures and wowing each other with our costumes and props for our social studies/history classes. In a way, it was cathartic. The kids of color got the chance to be in a world for a day that wasn't afforded to them because of their skin color and even had the opportunity to imagine what it could've been like to walk alongside George Washington, Marie Antionette, Louis XV, Queen Charlotte, and more. It's the same with Disney films, classic novels, updated retellings, and even Broadway shows. The stories of perseverance, hope, courage, joy, understanding, imagination, empathy, creativity, and love embody who we are, regardless of skin color. And maybe, just maybe, there's hope that those stories that are so universal and meaningful to each person can open the minds and hearts of those who refuse to see the world of what it could be in their eyes - a place where selfishness, chaos, cruelty, power, and hatred reign - and let them be reminded that we're all connected. We're all human beings who want the same things that the beloved Disney characters wish. A place to belong. Going the distance. A great adventure in the wide somewhere. A chance to go to the ball. Going to a new city. Changing our fate. Being seen for more than what we look like on the outside. Not being feared for our differences. Exploring the wide world and, in doing so, rediscovering ourselves. Being loved. There's a reason why these stories have impacted our lives throughout the centuries. We can ALL learn something from them... And we can ALL see ourselves as these characters. Race be damned.

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