disney animation diversity

Walt Disney Animation is making diversity its priority with its next four projects. Four directors of color are helming the next Disney animated movies, which includes Blindspotting director Carlos Lopez Estrada. Estrada is joining Suzi Yoonessi (Unlovable, Dear Lemon Lima) and Disney veterans Josie Trinidad and Marc Smith to develop new animated movies for theatrical release.

The Disney animation diversity initiative comes as Disney Animation’s chief creative officer Jennifer Lee works to expand the studio’s commitment to inclusion.

Variety broke the news that the next four Disney animated projects will be helmed by filmmakers of color, with directors Carlos Lopez Estrada, Suzi Yoonessi, Josie Trinidad, and Marc Smith set to helm new animated films for theatrical release. Their films will follow in the footsteps of Disney’s upcoming Raya and the Last Dragon, starring Awkwafina and Adele Lim, which is part of Disney animation’s initiative to widen the diversity of its slate.

Lee, who wrote and directed Frozen and its upcoming sequel, is committed to hiring more diverse people behind the scenes. “We aim to have Walt Disney Animation Studios serve as the premiere home for filmmakers interested in telling engaging stories within the limitless animation medium,” Lee said in a statement. She added:

“Carlos and Suzi are two incredible, inventive filmmakers who have both received acclaim for their work. Josie and Marc, master, lead story artists, have been instrumental in shaping such films as ‘Zootopia’ and ‘Frozen 2.’ We are so thrilled to have these four talented artists join our 96-year-old studio as directors and help us build the stories of our future — adventures in completely original worlds, stories from around the globe, and the next generation of musicals.”

Trinidad and Smith are animation veterans, with the former joining Disney Animation in 2004 and overseeing the story team for Ralph Breaks the Internet and Zootopia. Smith worked his way up from Disney intern in 1993 to serving as the story director for Frozen 2. The two have worked together before on animated Disney films like Tangled. Yoonessi is no stranger to animation either, having directed the Scooby-Doo origin story Daphne & Velma for Warner Bros., though she’s more known for her indie films like Unlovable and Dear Lemon Lima.

It’s Estrada who is the most interesting hire for Disney. The director made an electric feature debut with 2018’s Blindspotting, which earned him a DGA nomination following its premiere at Sundance. The film, starring Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, is racially charged and envelope-pushing — generally not the kind of content you’d expect from a Disney animation director. It makes me wonder if Disney will start taking risks with its animated films, especially now that the House of Mouse has so many different platforms through which it can reach its audience. At the very least, it’s exciting to think about what kind of project we can next expect from Estrada and what he can do with the animated medium.

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