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Woke Disney: Accusations of Disney’s ‘Wokeness’ Explained

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Has Disney gone “woke?” And what does “woke” even mean?

Recently, the term “woke” has found its way into discussions about entertainment, particularly regarding Disney. The adjective “woke” has become synonymous with social awareness and activism, and its emergence in the context of Disney has sparked both admiration and criticism. In this article, we delve into the meaning of “woke,” its implications, and why critics are using the term to describe certain aspects of Disney.

Understanding “Woke”: A Brief Overview

“Woke” is a term that originated in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) as a past tense form of “wake,” but it has evolved to take on a broader meaning related to social consciousness and activism. Being “woke” implies being aware of social injustices and issues, especially those related to race, gender, and inequality. It suggests an individual or entity is actively engaged in understanding and challenging systemic problems to promote equality and social change.

The Emergence of “Woke Disney”

In the context of Disney, the term “woke” has been used to describe the company’s efforts to incorporate progressive themes, diverse representation, and social commentary into its content. This shift has been particularly noticeable in recent years, with Disney claiming it only aims to reflect a more inclusive and aware worldview through its storytelling.

Why Critics Label Disney as “Woke”

Critics who refer to Disney as “woke” often do so to express their concern over what they perceive as an overemphasis on social and political issues in the company’s content. They argue that this emphasis detracts from the entertainment value and can lead to heavy-handed messaging. Critics suggest that some of Disney’s recent storytelling choices prioritize the inclusion of diverse characters and representation over storytelling quality, potentially alienating audiences who prefer escapism over social commentary.

Another criticism revolves around the perceived “politicization” of Disney content. Some critics argue that Disney’s incorporation of social issues and progressive values can come across as forced or insincere, leading to accusations of “virtue signaling.” They contend that Disney may be prioritizing the appearance of social awareness to appeal to a certain audience rather than genuinely reflecting a commitment to change.

The Theory That Disney’s ESG Score Has Lead to Increased “Wokeness”

The theory connecting Disney’s “wokeness” to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles suggests that the company’s efforts to embrace diversity, inclusivity, and social awareness in its content and practices are aligned with the broader global movement towards responsible and sustainable business practices. As part of the ESG framework, companies are encouraged to consider the environmental impact of their operations, address social and cultural issues, and ensure transparent governance. Disney’s focus on diverse representation, socially conscious narratives, and progressive themes can be seen as reflective of evolving societal values and a strategic response to growing demands for ethical and responsible corporate behavior. This theory proposes that Disney’s commitment to “wokeness” is not solely about appeasing certain audiences but is intertwined with its recognition of the interconnectedness between entertainment, society, and responsible business practices in the modern era.

Examples of Disney’s “Wokeness” in Walt Disney World and Disneyland

Disney’s theme parks have long been cherished for their enchanting experiences, but in recent years, certain changes have ignited debates over perceived “wokeness.” Some of these alterations reflect the company’s efforts to align with evolving social norms, while others have faced backlash from fans who see them as unnecessary or even detrimental to the original intent of attractions. Let’s explore a few examples that have sparked conversations within the Disney community.

In 2018 Disney removed the Wench Auction from Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney fans were NOT happy.

Pirates of the Caribbean
A classic Disney attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean, underwent changes to address concerns about its portrayal of cultural insensitivity and gender roles. Alterations were made to the auction scene, once depicting “wenches” for sale, to transform it into a scene where female characters are pursuing careers as pirates. While some applaud the adjustment as a step toward more inclusive storytelling, others view it as an attempt to revise history and erase the ride’s original charm.

Splash Mountain
The decision to retheme Splash Mountain, an attraction inspired by the film “Song of the South,” also stirred controversy. The ride is set to be transformed into a “Princess and the Frog” attraction, aligning with Disney’s commitment to showcasing diverse stories and characters. While many welcome the change, others lament the loss of a cherished ride that held sentimental value, sparking discussions about the balance between modern sensibilities and historical context.

Gender-Neutral Announcements
In an effort to create a more inclusive environment, Disney theme parks made changes to their traditional announcements by removing gendered language. Phrases like “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” were replaced with more neutral terms. While this move is applauded by those advocating for gender inclusivity, it has also faced criticism from those who see it as an unnecessary alteration to a longstanding tradition.

Disney vs. Florida
The ongoing confrontation between The Walt Disney Company and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is believed to be a standoff between “woke” and “anti-woke” ideology. The tension between Disney and the State government has lead to the disbanding of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and litigation is ongoing. For the latest on that situation, check out our coverage here.

Disney “Wokeness” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, known for its captivating superheroes and intricate narratives, has also become a battleground for discussions around perceived “wokeness.” As society evolves, so too do the expectations of storytelling, diversity, and representation. However, some changes made within Marvel’s cinematic and comic book worlds have sparked debates about whether these adaptations are genuine steps toward inclusivity or calculated attempts at appealing to contemporary trends. Here are a few examples of Disney’s Marvel adaptations facing accusations of being “woke.”

Maybe Brie Larson isn’t sure what people think about Captain Marvel.

Female-Led Films and Characters
Marvel’s emphasis on female characters and their stories, while celebrated by many as a much-needed evolution, has been criticized by some as an overcorrection. Films like “Captain Marvel” and the gender-swapped “Thor: Love and Thunder” have prompted discussions about whether these choices prioritize gender representation over narrative integrity. Critics argue that characters’ gender should not overshadow the quality of storytelling. Some critics have taken to calling Phases 4 and Phases 5 of the franchise the “M-She-U,” as Disney seems to be focusing more and more on female superheroes as the male heroes are sidelined.

Racial and Ethnic Representation
The push for greater racial and ethnic diversity in Marvel’s characters and narratives has led to the introduction of more diverse heroes. While this has been applauded as a step toward inclusivity, critics have accused these changes of feeling forced or tokenistic. Some argue that authentic representation involves more than just changing a character’s background, and that meaningful storytelling should be the foundation of character development.

Subverting Traditional Roles
Marvel’s tendency to subvert traditional character roles and relationships has been met with both praise and skepticism. Alterations like making Loki gender-fluid and exploring romantic relationships between characters of the same sex have been hailed as progressive steps. However, some argue that such changes should remain faithful to the original source material and not merely serve as attention-grabbing twists.

Excess of Social Commentary
The incorporation of social and political commentary in Marvel narratives has garnered both acclaim and backlash, depending on who you ask. While some appreciate the nuanced exploration of real-world issues, others feel that these elements detract from the escapism that superhero stories traditionally provide. The concern is that an overemphasis on commentary might compromise the core essence of the Marvel Universe.

Disney “Wokeness” and Star Wars and Lucasfilm

“The Force is Female,” according to Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy.

Star Wars, a franchise beloved by generations, has not been immune to discussions surrounding perceived “wokeness.” Lucasfilm’s attempts to modernize the saga, embrace diversity, and reflect evolving societal values have sparked both admiration and controversy. Some view these changes as a positive step toward inclusivity, while others accuse the franchise of prioritizing political correctness over authentic storytelling. Let’s delve into a few examples of Disney’s Star Wars adaptations facing accusations of being “woke.”

Diverse Cast and Characters Supplanting Original Trilogy Heroes
Lucasfilm’s efforts to introduce a more diverse cast and characters have received both praise and criticism. Characters like Finn in the sequel trilogy and Jyn Erso in “Rogue One” have been welcomed as important steps toward representation. However, some detractors argue that these efforts are driven more by political correctness than by a genuine commitment to storytelling.

“The Force is Female”
The Star Wars franchise has showcased strong female characters such as Rey, Leia Organa, and Ahsoka Tano. While many applaud these portrayals as empowering, others contend that the focus on gender equality is overshadowing the essence of the original characters and stories. The debate centers on whether the push for equality should be at the forefront or if it should emerge naturally within the narrative.

A photo of Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy wearing a t-shirt that says “The Force is Female” is often cited by detractors as being evidence that Disney wants mostly female leads in Star Wars going forward.

Another Lucasfilm property, “Willow,” had a Disney-era reboot and landed with a thud on Disney Plus. Critics point to an overemphasis on new female leads and LGBTQ themes over the original chracters and stories as being a primary reason why audiences tuned out.

The Subversion and Deconstruction of Star Wars
Lucasfilm’s decision to subvert traditional Star Wars tropes has led to discussions about the franchise’s direction. For instance, the portrayal of Luke Skywalker in “The Last Jedi” and the deconstruction of the hero’s journey have been met with both praise (from citics) and backlash, mostly from longtime fans. Some argue that these choices depart from the core values that made Star Wars a cultural phenomenon.

Heavy-Handed Social Commentary and Political Themes
The incorporation of social commentary and political themes in recent Star Wars films and other Lucasfilm projects has ignited debates about the role of escapism in storytelling. While some appreciate the reflection of real-world issues, others feel that these elements disrupt the immersive experience and take away from the franchise’s essence as a space fantasy.

Has Disney “Going Woke” Lead to Them “Going Broke?”

Lightyear lost Disney a LOT of money.

Get woke, go broke” is a phrase that has been used to criticize companies or individuals for adopting social or political stances that are perceived as being overly progressive or “woke.” The phrase implies that by embracing such positions, these entities will experience negative financial consequences, leading to a decline in revenue, profitability, or overall success. In essence, it suggests that businesses that prioritize social or political agendas over their core products or services will ultimately face financial setbacks.

Some controversies related to Disney’s “wokeness” have sparked discussions about potential impacts on box office performance or viewership. For example, backlash against certain decisions in Disney films or TV shows has led to calls for boycotts or negative sentiment from certain segments of the audience. While these controversies may generate media attention and influence some consumer behavior, the overall impact on revenue can be mixed and might vary across different properties or projects.

Currently Disney’s stock price is at a nine-year low, and it’s unclear how long it will take them to rebound. Many critics point to declining returns in all areas of the company — theme parks, Marvel, Star Wars and even animation. Whether “wokeness” is solely to blame is up for debate.

Can Disney Course Correct to Win Back Audiences?

Handling criticism of “wokeness” while appealing to a diverse demographic requires a delicate balance for Disney. Here are some strategies they could consider:

Prioritize Storytelling Excellence
Regardless of the social or political themes, the quality of storytelling should always be paramount. Ensuring that narratives are engaging, well-written, and resonate emotionally can help maintain the appeal of Disney’s content to a broad audience.

When addressing sensitive topics or introducing diverse characters, authenticity is key. Characters and storylines should be well-developed and respectful of the communities they represent. Avoiding tokenism and shallow portrayals can help prevent the perception of pandering.

Diverse Perspectives
Instead of focusing solely on one perspective, Disney can strive to incorporate a variety of viewpoints. This doesn’t mean compromising values, but rather exploring narratives that reflect the complexities of the real world.

Engage with Feedback in Good Faith
Disney can actively listen to audience feedback, both positive and negative. Acknowledging concerns and demonstrating a willingness to learn and adapt can foster goodwill and show that they value their audience’s opinions.

Balance New Content with Classic Content
While embracing new themes, Disney can continue to highlight and celebrate its classic content that has resonated with generations. This can help bridge the gap between different demographic segments and maintain a sense of nostalgia.

Open Dialogue, Not Forced DEI Initiatives
Creating spaces for open dialogue, such as Q&A sessions with creative teams, can help address concerns and provide insight into the decision-making process. Transparency can foster a sense of connection with the audience.

Focus on Unity
Emphasize themes that promote unity, shared values, and positive messages that can resonate across different ideologies. Highlighting what brings people together rather than what divides can help build bridges.

Showcase Varied Content
Offer a diverse range of content that appeals to different tastes and preferences. From lighthearted family adventures to thought-provoking dramas, catering to a variety of genres can attract a broader audience.

Avoid Over-Politicization
While social issues can be addressed in storytelling, avoiding excessive politicization can prevent alienating certain segments of the audience. Storylines can be impactful without turning into overt political statements.

Stay True to Core Values
Disney can maintain its core values of magic, imagination, and the power of storytelling while weaving in modern sensibilities. This can create a blend of old and new that resonates with a wide audience.

In the end, finding the right balance between evolving with the times and staying true to its heritage will be crucial for Disney. By striving for inclusivity, respectful representation, and a commitment to high-quality storytelling, Disney can continue to captivate audiences from all walks of life for generations to come.


Pirates & Princesses (PNP) is an independent, opinionated fan-powered news blog that covers Disney and Universal Theme Parks, Themed Entertainment and related Pop Culture from a consumer's point of view. Opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of PNP, its editors, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. PNP is an unofficial news source and has no connection to The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal or any other company that we may cover.

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