Toy Story was a beloved film that was part of my childhood (and maybe yours too). Nearly 25 years later, the final installment, Toy Story 4, just hit theaters and some critics are pointing out the franchise’s flaws and wondering: Where are the black characters?
Two black critics clashed on Good Morning Britain while discussing the lack of black lead characters in Toy Story 4.
Despite the film having black voice actors (Keegan Michael-Key, Jordan Peele), Shola Mos-Shogbamimu argued that Disney-Pixar could do better in sharing diverse experiences and any adult who dismisses the criticism is “diabolically ignorant.”
“Children deserve to have a representative teachable moment of their lived experience,” she said. “We know toys don’t talk, we know they don’t fly, but entertainment must always have a moralistic value.”
“Animation and fictional characters take on human characteristics for a reason, to tell a moral story of good overcoming evil, good overcoming against the odds.
“Children are diverse and have diverse experiences. Movie companies like Pixar and Disney have a global platform to become part of the evolution of diversity and inclusion.”
However, Glam Africa Magazine editor-in-chief Afua Adom pushed back, stating the film did the best it could with diversity.
“People have missed the point of Toy Story – it’s a story about toys,” she said. “It’s about Mr. Potato Head, it’s about Buzz Lightyear, it’s about Woody. I think I saw a diverse range of characters.”
Adom also noted the black actors used to voice some of the characters.
And though there aren’t any black leads in the film, Adom acknowledged the plot and new main character Forky (a plastic fork) did present a teachable moment for children: sustainability.
“When we watched it, my daughter picked up on ‘Hold on, why is Forky is trying to get back to the trash? Shouldn’t he be trying to get back to the recycling?'”
The debate was sparked by white writer Stella Duffy who recently slammed Toy Story 4 for having no black lead characters in a review.
just had my first-ever reviewing hate email as a result of noting (on #SaturdayReview) that #ToyStory4 only has white toy leads & the Mamet is, er, misogynist. Lengthy email also notes Weinstein AND Spacey's problems are due to feminist conspiracy. so, obv, taking it seriously.
— Stella Duffy (@stellduffy) June 24, 2019
Duffy also called the film disablist and anti-feminist for its depiction of Bo Peep.
“Okay, let’s talk about the white feminism on display here. Oh look! Bo-Peep’s a feminist. No she’s not! She’s still going to fall in love, she’s still going to have the happily ever after, that’s not feminism!
“It’s a woman who kicks off her skirt to reveal bloomers. Had a couple of thoughts… and does some high wire acts. And it’s disablist! It covers ALL bases!”
When a Good Morning Britain anchor asked if Bo Peep was a feminist, Adom swiftly responded: “She’s a toy.”
However, Mos-Shogbamimu was a little more willing to give the character some credit.
“If we understand that feminism is about women’s rights and women being able to make whatever choices they want without anybody judging them – as far as I’m concerned, then every woman is a feminist,” she said.
While films, be it animated or live-action, should be diverse and have some moral value or teachable moments as Mos-Shogbamimu suggests, Toy Story doesn’t necessarily have the opportunity to have lead black characters because they are—after all—just toys.
I guess next time, add a Black Barbie or a Bratz Doll and get Tyra Banks to voice the character!