All told, Disney has lost nearly $1 billion at the box office due to films like these bombing, according to box office analyst Valient Renegade.
What went wrong with these films? The common thread linking them all is a determined and ever-more-obvious woke agenda that is poisoning their storylines. Lightyear—an animated children’s film, for goodness’ sake—features a homosexual kissing scene. Strange World includes a teen gay romance. The Little Mermaid stars an African American Ariel, seemingly just in order to check a diversity box. The Marvels contains only incompetent men so that masculine women can show off. According to lead actress Rachel Zegler, Disney’s new live action Snow White will have a “modern edge,” and the titular character “is not gonna be saved by the prince.”
But Disney’s choice to double down on the political fads of the day, turning art and entertainment into propaganda, seems to be hurting their bottom line. The public seems to be rebelling against their scheduled indoctrination sessions at the theater. Will that be enough to cause a course correction, especially when Disney sees the success of recent films that specifically avoid including LGBTQ+, feminist, and race-related agendas? It’s hard to say.
If anything could bring studio executives to their senses, it would be the sensation of sinking lower in their plush leather chairs as their wallets slowly collapse. The Hollywood Reporter just ran an article titled “Marvel Studios Taking Stock of Strategy Amid ‘The Marvels’ Meltdown,” which suggests that Disney (the owner of Marvel) may consider a new direction, although the article hints that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s problem is cranking out too many spin-off TV shows, not its political agenda. The article relates that Marvel and Disney are scaling back the number of superhero movies in 2024 from three to one. Marvel seems poised to reduce its output and focus on quality over quantity. But will that “quality” include a return to good, old-fashioned storytelling? Or will it mean just glitzier, better-written versions of the propaganda they’ve been churning out in recent years?
One problem with designing stories to fit a preconceived political mold is that, almost by definition, it works against those factors that make a story appealing. Stories touch us when they tap into the universal human experience, communicating something fundamental about what it means to be alive, the joys and sorrows, tragedies and triumphs common to us all. Stories are inspiring when they show us heroism, self-sacrifice, love—in forms that all of us, regardless of race or sexual orientation, can relate to. The best ones open our eyes to the mystery and wonder of the universe and the fragile beauty of human life. They take us out of ourselves and our limited “identity”—in the sense that progressives use the term.
Wokeism, on the other hand, is predicated on the assumption that no human experience is truly universal. Rather, one’s experience of life is fundamentally different if one is black or homosexual or female or part of any other subgroup one cares to mention. For this reason, we need greater “representation” of these types of people on screen, because a black or female or homosexual audience member can’t relate to all these “straight white males.” Because political correctness focuses obsessively on identity and separating people into categories, it misses (or intentionally obscures) what is common in human nature. Of course, it’s going to be less appealing to people generally when it sets out to appeal only to subcategories of the population. Wokeism divides, whereas truly great stories unite.
Part of the irony here is how shallow our fashionable vision of diversity really is, for it can only understand identities based on mere externals or accidental qualities, such as skin color or gender, as though those things were the most important, most fundamental aspect of a person. In reality, there are many other and much more profound forms of identity. For instance, though I am one of those dreaded “straight white males,” I can relate much better to a black woman who shares my religious views than I can to another white male who has different beliefs. What one believes and values is a much deeper, more important form of identity.
That being said, I feel no need to play the identity game anyway, even at this deeper level I am pointing to. That’s because I believe in the stability and universality of human nature, which ought to be at the heart of storytelling. Stories ought to explore timeless and universal truths by accessing those parts of human life that don’t change with time or place: love, courage, heroism, family, death, birth, the search for meaning, and so forth. I reject the principle that every perspective is altogether historically and culturally situated, and therefore necessarily dispossesses people of other times or cultures. It is an extremely narrow-minded view of humanity, destined only to further polarize people.
In the end, our most recent iteration of the “progressive” agenda is incompatible with true art. I am therefore not surprised by Disney’s travails. Either the art will die, or the agenda will die. Eventually, either Disney will fail, or they will start telling stories about the good, the true, and the beautiful, a triad once known as the transcendentals because they transcend this sublunary realm of change and all of its petty politics that pass away as swiftly as the autumn leaves. Propaganda is temporary. Great art is timeless.