Target: Bob Chapek, President of Disney Consumer Products
Goal: Encourage Disney to focus more on cultural exchange rather than the exploitation of spiritual and cultural traditions
Wikipedia defines cultural appropriation as the “adoption” of some specific elements of one culture by another. The word “adoption” suggests that cultural appropriation can be beneficial and selfless, however companies that partake in cultural appropriation often have intentions that are anything but.
According to an article in The Huffington Post, in early May of last year the Walt Disney Corporation tried to buy the rights to the phrase “Dia de los Muertos,” which in English translates as “Day of the Dead.” This is cultural appropriation at its finest. To Disney the phrase may be a just a jumble of words, a costume Disney can don to seem more accepting and culturally diverse, or a ploy to increase profits from everyday Americans who want to seem trendy by supporting other cultures. However to the people in Mexico and Central America who actually celebrate this holiday by honoring lost loved ones, Disney’s attempts to profit off of their deceased may be viewed as a little insensitive.
America is known as the melting pot: a blending of traditions where multicultural understandings and exchanges are bound to happen. Unfortunately this is not always done in a respectful manner. Historically the dominant cultures in America have forced their way of doing things onto others and “adopted” what they liked from the cultures forced to assimilate.
Disney is one of the most powerful companies in the world, and therefore can have a very positive influence in changing cultural norms. With the release of their “Day of the Dead” themed movie titled The Book of Life scheduled for Halloween, it is of the utmost importance that we encourage Disney to acknowledge the sovereignty of other cultures.
Dear Mr. Chapek,
I would like to commend you for being a part of one of the largest and most well-respected corporations in the world. However this letter was written to strongly encourage you to use that power in ways that move America forward and away from past exploitative tendencies.
As the chairperson of Disney’s Consumer Products, the term “cultural appropriation” should haunt you. Cultural appropriation, otherwise known as the adoption or even theft of some elements of one culture by another, has helped shape America. I urge you to use your influence in mass media to become more aware of your privilege as a White male in America and commit to breaking down this hierarchy of privilege.
You can start by halting all future attempts to purchase the rights to cultural traditions, like your company tried to do with Dia de los Muertos, and to read up on what effective cultural exchanges can look like. Although the movie is now titled The Book of Life rather than Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos, the fact that your company even attempted to profit off of people’s respect for their dead suggests that cultural appropriation is an integral part of the Disney philosophy.
By living in America we have access to tons of “borrowed” cultural elements. But what exactly are we giving back in these “cultural exchanges” that is of value? No one should be able to trademark another person’s spiritual or cultural traditions. I am asking you to be a leader in stopping the exploitation of other cultures, and to respect the right of everyone to participate in their traditions without fear of appropriation.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Jonathan McIntosh via Wikimedia Commons