The Societal Importance of Pixar’s Soul

Pixar’s new movie Soul, released in December 2020, was an interesting movie. To say I loved it is an understatement. The plot was creative and entrancing, but when you look past the whimsical, yet modern plot, you just have to applaud its writers.

Many movies I’ve watched with Black main characters focus on their skin color as the main conflict. However, Soul had its own unique plot that did not capitalize on Black pain. Instead of a character having problems because he was Black, he had his own problems and just happened to be Black. For years, I dreamt of movies where characters could be non-white, non-straight and non-cis without depending on any of those traits for major plot points.

Perhaps this seems small, but to a queer woman of color, it’s huge. Movies and media often treat diversity as a problem or challenge we must overcome. Diversity is not a problem; it is just what makes us different. In no way should the color of our skin or the people we love ever be considered a challenge. What is a challenge, however, is the way society has conditioned us. The melanin in our skin is not a problem, but many have been conditioned to think that way. Skin has never been an issue. The real issue is society has taught us it is.

And that leads us back to Soul. In this movie, lead Joe Gardener, voiced by Jaime Foxx, had his own problems which he eventually learned to resolve. Though the main character just happened to be Black, his skin color was never portrayed as a problem, but instead as a detail. Other movies I have to applaud for its seamless diversity include Good Burger, Roll Bounce, Little, Jump In! and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.

So why do movies treat POC differently from non-POC? The answer is simple: the movie industry has always favored a Eurocentric point of view. Since the beginning of Hollywood, different cultures have been depicted to be unusual. The entertainment from watching another culture was not necessarily appreciative like it is today, but rather similar to the way one would watch the circus– viewing it as an oddity. A white character will rarely be written like a character of color. With a non-white character, there must be more background, more explaining to do– all because they are of a different race. 

However, this isn’t to say movies that educate people aren’t important. At the end of the day, it’s tiring when the media you consume constantly portrays people like you in positions of pain. Though it is great to learn about other cultures through watching films or to put yourself in the shoes of another and learn about the struggles they’ve faced, being able to watch a movie where people can just be people is refreshing. As a kid, it was inspiring to see princesses like Mulan or Moana because they were like me and they were characters who just happened to be like me.

Racism is obviously still a problem. Movies that help educate people about racism, both in the past and present, are still relevant. However, the people (especially the kids) who view these movies should still keep in mind that there is more to life than prejudice– that people who look like them could be princesses or superheroes, and most importantly, that people who look like them could be just that. People.