Have you heard about Disney/Pixar’s new movie, Soul?
Seen the praise? What about the criticisms?
In case you’re not aware, Soul is the new animated film, that has a Black lead.
It’s gotten some rave reviews, in general. But when it comes to Black people, reviews are VERY mixed.
Two things I have to preface this post with:
1. This is NOT one of the posts, where I’m talking about an opinion/view most Black people have. In fact, I’d say 1/3 of us hate it because it’s problematic, 1/3 of us think it has problematic parts – but still like it for what it is and the last 1/3 loves it. Like I said, mixed reviews.
2. I am not really a Disney animation fan, so I have a bias. I know, I know. Put down the pitchforks.
I guess I should be more specific, since Disney is so vast a company – but princess movies, family movies and feel-good movies with a message, aren’t typically my thing. I’m more of a blood, guts, gore, explosions, ghosts, monsters, aliens, adult humor, kind of person. I love anime and animation and I obvs support Black centered media…but if it involves a musical and/or a Disney-esque feel, I’m most likely not interested.
With that said, Soul has been heating up the streets, in the Black community. Lots of posts and think pieces, so I figured I’d see what was up.
*Warning spoilers ahead*
The first thing I noticed about the movie was that it was beautifully made. Someone took their timeeee to animate the Black characters. The detail in everything from our hair, getting the glow and lighting of our skin right, and all-around appearance, was on point. So much so, that I had to see who was responsible for the animation, and not surprisingly, Pixar enlisted the help of some of their top Black animators.
Okay, okay, that’s definitely a plus.
So, I’m watching and enjoying the animated world. I don’t care too much about the story, but the views are everything.
But then, at only 9 min 29 sec into the film, I had a “are y’all deadass?” moment. Joe, the main character, died and turned into a blue soul blob. Now, I knew this was going to happen at some point, but at 9:29?? If you can’t figure out the reason for my annoyance, let me put you on to a little secret…
The turning of a Black character into an animal and/or non-human object, is a problem and a trope, that we have been complaining about for YEARS. For some odd reason, movie makers think this is the best way to show Black and POC representation.
Remember Tiana, who was the first and only Black Disney princess, and who was a frog for over half of the damn movie?
I know you recall The Emperor’s New Groove and Kuzco’s transformation, right?
What about Spies in DIsguise, where the main character, a Black guy, turned into a Pidgeon?
You get my drift.
Black people and POC, are so infrequently featured in animated media (really any), and if they are, they’re voicing an animal. If they’re not voicing an animal, they’re the sidekick or secondary character. If they’re not a sidekick, they usually spend a good portion of the movie as anything other than human, it’s frustrating.
I’m only the millionth person to say this, but it seems to be a way for movie studios, to get around dealing with the realities of living as that race. It’s like when Black people complained about not being in movies, so they started adding us, only to kill us off quickly. Except, we complained about not being the lead, so now they put us in the forefront, but make us unhuman for most of it.
Anywho, back to the movie. I’m slightly annoyed, but I was expecting it, so whatevs. I’m around 30 minutes in or so, and Joe (on accident) soul jumps into a cat…. *slow blinks*
And the secondary character, a soul blob (they have no actual race or gender) who explains that they purposely sound like a middle-aged white woman “because it’s annoying,” is unexpectedly thrown into Joe’s body. Big, heavy, negro, sigh.
Call it what you will, but I was not amused by the white presenting (purposely sounding)blob caravaning around NYC, in this Black body. The connotation just didn’t sit right with me, it didn’t.
With as much research that went into this movie, someone should have known that this ain’t it.
For the rest of the movie, there were a few positives and negatives, that stood out. Namely:
They got the feeling of Black barbershops correct. The banter, the roasting, facial expressions, the fashion? They captured the culture. This part, I found out, was intentionally added in by one of the Black writers who got on board, after things had already started rolling.
His line up? CRISP.
The overall message of “your passion is not your only purpose” was very feel-goody.
They accurately captured the tension that sometimes exists between parents, kids and parents’ expectations.
Ole blue blob, refusing to give Joe his body back at some point? Nahh.
Joe sacrificing his life for, and only truly realizing his purpose, after “saving” the white presenting blob? You hate to see it. That imagery was too realistic and not in a good way.
At around 1 hr and 13 min, he’s back in his body, and I liked seeing him AS him.
In summary, what do I think?
I think that Disney/Pixar is going to be Disney/Pixar. That Disney, like they always have been and like most things that feature Black people but aren’t made BY Black people, are a bit out of touch.
If they weren’t out of touch, they wouldn’t have used the trope of having the Black character turn into something that’s not human. The co-director, wouldn’t have said that he was unaware of the trope, until the media asked about it.
They would have reconsidered the impact of having the Black man save the white presenting blob.
However, I think that for a Disney movie, it was a good movie. It was a tried and true, family-friendly movie, with a very cookie-cutter positive message. I don’t really know why people are expecting anything profoundly different from them. As I said earlier, I’m not usually a Disney fan, because I know what to expect.
If there was a Black animated film that wasn’t Disney/Pixar based, I probably would have been more excited to watch it. We have to remember that Disney isn’t really the company to make a Black or POC movie. We see Black characters and expect that, but that isn’t this. This isn’t a Black animated movie. It’s an animated movie with a Black lead. Expectations have to be tempered, ya feel me? It’s all about the message, with Disney.
I do have to point out that Disney, had Black consultants along for this ride, to help with the story and to avoid harmful racial pitfalls – and from what I’ve read, they got rid of A LOT of stuff. I also understand that the main character was not originally Black.
Look, I, of all people, get that not everything has to be “woke.” It’s a kid-friendly movie, that doesn’t intend to be too thought-provoking or serious, and that’s perfectly okay. BUT, I want to acknowledge those Black people, who still had to have conversations with their kids about race, due to some of the unfortunate racial undertones and tropes.
All in all, it was decent. Yes, it had problematic parts, but y’all…I just don’t care that much. I mean, I do care in the “society as a whole is anti-Black and racist” way, but that’s it.
Maybe it’s because 2020 has been so wild, that I don’t care about this as much? I know part of it, is that this isn’t my normal cup of Hennessey in movie form, so I wasn’t that enthusiastic about it. Perhaps it’s because I’m so accustomed to a certain level of problematic-ness?
Whatever opinion Black people have about this movie, wherever you lie on the spectrum, it all has validity, and that’s my final thought.
Soul? I’ll give it a 3 out of 5. A solid, meh. But watch it for yourself.
When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at JanayBsays@gmail.com.