Moana and Rogue One were two of the biggest champions of diversity on the big screen during 2016. The casting of people of color in major, lead roles reinforces the need for continued diversity in Hollywood in 2017.
Moana tells the story of a girl that is chosen by the spirit of the sea to save her island and her people from disaster and ruin. Moana is portrayed by Auli’i Cravalho, a native Hawaiian from Kohala. Moana is the first Disney princess to be of Samoan descent and the second to represent an island culture (the first being Lilo & Stitch). Moana avoids the typical cliches that Disney has used for years: Moana has no romantic love interest, and Moana is not a damsel in distress. Though she may falter at times and is often unsure of herself, she knows her destiny and recognizes that it is up to her to listen to the ocean and save the day.
The film brings a culture to theaters that not many people are familiar with through stunning visuals, gorgeous character designs, and beautiful music crafted by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself. Moana has smooth brown skin and full, curly, and luscious black hair directly inspired by the people of her culture from our very world. To feature yet another princess from an island culture appeals to a much larger audience of boys and girls worldwide, and children love to see their heritage and cultures reflected in the media they are exposed to. It makes it much more real for them, and so, it becomes a much more magical experience.
Though my family is Hispanic, my little sister left the theater excitedly jumping up and down with a huge smile on her face because her own tan skin, and thick, curly brown hair reminded her of Moana’s. In the car, she could not stop talking about how she wanted to be heroic just like Moana was some day.
Rogue One follows a band of rag-tag rebels as they devise a plan to steal the plans for the Empire’s sinister new weapon: the Death Star. The film stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, but at her right hand is Captain Cassian Andor of the Rebel Alliance, portrayed by Diego Luna. Luna is a Hispanic actor appearing in films like Milk and Elysium, along with Katy Perry’s music video for “The One That Got Away.”
According to Luna, the choice to refrain from hiding his Mexican accent in his portrayal of Cassian was his own, and it resonated with Latino audiences.
In a heartwarming story by a fan on Tumblr, Perla Nation (riveralwaysknew), described how surprised her father was that Cassian spoke with an accent. He asked his daughter if people liked Cassian, to which she happily informed him that he is very much loved by fans and critics alike…
“Representation matters.” People of all cultures, religions, sexualities, etc. deserve to see their lives reflected in the movies they watch. Whether it’s something as simple as a Hispanic pilot, leader, and marksman fighting for peace across the galaxy or a young, soon-to-be queen of a vast island people accepting her call to follow the ocean and save her land, it is something that needs to be made a priority in 2017 by filmmakers and actors alike.
Disney, with both the Star Wars franchise and its animated films, is quickly becoming the warrior for diversity in filmmaking. How long will it be until the other companies follow suit?