Take down the ‘premier’ paywall: Disney limits access to POC narratives

Ava Mac ‘21, Editor-in-Chief

Disney’s most recent animated film, Raya and the Last Dragon, was released March 5…that is, for “select audiences” aka those willing to pay Disney an extra $29.99. Much like last year’s live action version of Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon is only available on Disney+’s Premier Access subscription until June 4. This means not only paying the regular subscription fee of $7.99 a month, but an additional $29.99 to gain premier access. 

Even on other streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and YouTube, the $29.99 fee still holds. For those hoping to find a better deal, Raya and the Last Dragon is being shown in theatres at the average ticket price of $11—a feat that would also involve leaving the comforts of your home in the midst of a pandemic. 

This criticism of Disney+ may seem convoluted and insignificant, but it is important to note how big entertainment corporations like Disney treat their narratives for people of color (POC) and how they deliver them to wider audiences. The fact that the two most recent Disney movies centered around Asian cultures have been hidden behind a paywall is concerning, especially considering the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes in America. 

As journalist Simon Gallagher said upon the release of Mulan in 2020, “The decision to release Mulan on Disney+ is being announced as a positive for Disney’s direct-to-consumer release plans and the future of the company, but it has disastrous consequences…. Disney may well have made Mulan less accessible and limited its reach within key demographics that need the movie most.” Movies like Mulan or Raya and the Last Dragon are important in exposing more people to cultures different from their own and raising empathy for those people, but limiting access to such movies takes away from the possible positive impact they may have on the American public. 

Kelly Marie Tran, the voice behind the titular character Raya, said, “[What is] so cool with Raya is that [it is being released] in the midst of this brokenness, and amid this horrible, emotional tumultuous time for people like us and people of Asian descent,” but the issue here is that those who most need to see it or even those who most want to see it are dissuaded by the paywell, and anything to be gained by the timeliness of this movie is lost as people wait until the paywall lifts.

This issue of accessibility extends beyond the United States. Disney+ is not even available in most of the countries Raya and the Last Dragon tried to represent, for Indonesia and Singapore are the only Southeast Asian countries where Disney+ can be subscribed to. It begs the question of how influential can representation be if most of the viewers it is aimed towards cannot see it? Significant progress must be made in accessibility to POC stories if we wish to give them the full attention and respect they deserve. Raya and the Last Dragon is by no means perfect representation—i.e. the casting of East Asian actors for Southeast Asian roles, the generalization of all Southeast Asian cultures, etc.—but as Disney’s first depiction of Southeast Asian culture in a feature film, it should be more available to audiences across the globe.

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