Disney recently released their new short film “Reflect” on its streaming platform Disney+. The two-minute short takes on the issue of body dysmorphia and features the media platform's first plus-sized female protagonist. While the move for inclusivity is an important one for Disney, a company that has been long criticized for its lack of representation, the response to the short film has been mixed. Some are praising the piece for its representation while others say it’s too little too late.
"Reflect" centers on Bianca, a young dancer who, like many, struggles with self-image and confidence. Her passion for dance is clear, but insecurity threatens to dull her sparkle. Bianca is seen examining her reflection in the mirror and is sent into a spiral of doubt after her ballet teacher comments “tight tummy, long neck.” The studio mirror serves as a motif for her confidence and it begins to shatter, conveying her internal turmoil. Ultimately, Bianca must dance fearlessly and embrace her passion in order to overcome the darkness.
The message of struggling with self-image is one that a lot of people resonate with, both in and out of the dance world. For director Hillary Bradfield, telling the story from a dancer's perspective felt appropriate, because the very nature of the sport requires a lot of confrontation with self-image. The film serves as an important intersection of two issues: body image and representation in media. Naturally, people feel very strongly about both issues, resulting in a wide range of reactions from viewers.
While the short film was released back in September, it has recently become the center of discussion regarding inclusivity in the media. Many people are excited about the introduction of Disney’s first plus-sized heroine, believing it to be a positive step forward for the company that spreads an important message of inclusivity. Fans on social media are excited about what this film means for young girls and women alike who are struggling with their confidence. Others, however, have called out the film for its clipped length and overdone narrative. One Twitter user called Disney out for their measly attempt and dared them to “do fat characters that aren't tragic and whose stories don't revolve around their weight.”
This is not Disney’s first controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in their media. While many of their films tell the stories of those with ethnically diverse backgrounds, they often do so in a way that reinforces stereotypes and lacks authenticity. Films like Mulan, Pocahontas, and Princess and the Frog have all been flagged for their controversial take on representation. In recent years, however, the media conglomerate has pushed to do better. The film Lightyear (2022) and show Baymax (2022) both feature members of the LGBTQ+ community, a first for Disney Studios. But many agree that more needs to be done.
The discussion around "Reflect" highlights the delicate balance between recognizing steps that are being made for inclusivity but also demanding more than the bare minimum. Oftentimes, companies fail to normalize representation by centering the story of a marginalized character around their struggle; while it is evident that Disney, and companies alike, are working to expand their representation, the response to "Reflect" demonstrates that small steps are a good start, but more ultimately needs to be done.