Disney+ wrongly sacrifices inclusivity for image

Failed Lizzie Mcguire reboot is just the tip of the iceberg

Disney+ lacks an understanding of the content its audience wants.
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Like many other Gen-Z women, I was extremely excited when Disney+ announced that it would reboot Lizzie McGuire last August. In an age where many reboots are simply recycled versions of dated shows, this updated Lizzie McGuire was going to examine Lizzie’s life as a 30-something New Yorker instead of recasting Lizzie and re-examining her teenage years. 

However, I was disappointed when I opened Instagram on Feb. 28 to find Hilary Duff urging Disney to move the reboot from Disney+ to Hulu. The show’s production stalled as Duff wanted a more accurate depiction of an adult woman’s life. Considering its other more adult original series, Hulu would be a better fit. In her post, Duff states, “It’s important to me that just as her experiences as a preteen and teenager navigating life were authentic, her next chapters are equally as real and relatable.” 

Though nothing’s been confirmed yet, this wouldn’t be the first time that Disney’s moved shows they haven’t deemed ‘family friendly’ from Disney+ to Hulu, which is controlled and majority-owned by Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International.

Last year, Disney+ announced that a spinoff of Love, Simon (2018), a coming-of-age movie centered around its closeted narrator falling in love with another boy online, would air later this year.

However, in February, Disney announced that Love, Victor (the aptly-named spinoff series) will be airing in June on Hulu, despite being initially slated to be another Disney+ original series. If it stayed on Disney+, it would have been alongside The Mandalorian and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, the latter of which includes an openly gay romance as a subplot.

When Agnes Chu, the senior vice-president of content at Disney+, first announced the adaptation, she hailed Love, Simon as “a powerful story embraced by critics and audiences alike for its universal messages of authenticity, love and acceptance.”

Scott Mendelson of Forbes claims that “Love, Victor is better off on Hulu, where it can be whatever it needs to be.” This not only sounds vaguely condescending, but also completely lets Disney off the hook for creating content that’s accessible to a wider audience. It begs the question: Why can’t this spinoff exist on Disney+?

Along with Love, Victor, the latest adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity starring Zoë Kravitz was also moved from Disney+ to Hulu. Chu also spoke about this transition, saying, “We want to ensure they are able to make the show they are envisioning,” hinting that Kravitz, the show’s executive producer, wanted to produce a more mature show than what Disney would allow, similar to what Duff wants for Lizzie McGuire.

As in the book and the movie, Kravitz plays Rob Brooks, a record store owner that’s obsessed with top five lists. A notable departure from the original book and movie is that there are men and women on Rob’s list of “top five heartbreaks” of all time, thus lending its relocation to Hulu. This is another example of Disney limiting representation of marginalized groups, despite that not necessarily being the reason for the move itself.

Disney has demonstrated time and time again the hypocrisy it employs when choosing what kind of content is made available on its platform. These conscious choices can cause audiences to question what Disney considers so-called ‘family-friendly’ content, and if they should re-evaluate their standards. 

Despite their seemingly high standards, blatantly racist content has made the cut on the new platform. You can stream the entirety of Peter Pan, including the scene with the song “What Makes the Red Man Red?” Dumbo is also still available to stream in its original form, despite having a crow literally named Jim Crow. Both of these movies, along with a few others, come with warning: “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

The warnings that accompany films like Dumbo and Peter Pan are not apologies, but rather Disney’s attempts to rid themselves of any complicity in the historical actions of their company. For a company that’s trying to distance itself from a past riddled with racist propaganda and a lack of representation, Disney hasn’t done nearly enough to shape its image into the progressive streaming service it claims to be.

By limiting specifically LGBTQ+ and Black voices, Disney is doing a disservice to its viewers who would greatly benefit from seeing people who look or are like them. Why is the story of a teenage boy grappling with his sexuality not considered suitable for the platform? Denying young people exposure to stories like these reinforces homophobic norms and ultimately hurts young viewers who deserve to witness some semblance of their lives on their screens.

Considering that a significant portion of Disney+ subscribers are between the ages of 18 to 24, only developing content catered to their younger demographic seems like a poor business decision, sacrificing a creative and inclusive environment for the sake of their “image.” Launching a streaming service in this oversaturated market is overly ambitious if you refuse to differentiate yourself by only creating content for a small and young portion of your viewers.

If Disney+ maintains this approach—and refuses to host possible hits like an adult Lizzie McGuire reboot—they’ll likely get left behind along with their conservative ideals.

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