Despite its great reviews, Disney Pixar’s “Soul” didn’t exactly resonate with some of the group it was trying to represent.
The animated movie, which was released on Disney+ on Christmas Day, provoked the ire of some online who felt that the film was “painfully typical,” despite critics praising the production for its portrayal of the Black community.
The film showcases Pixar’s first Black lead character (portrayed by Jamie Foxx). The character, Joe, a musician, has lost his passion for music and “is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself,” according to IMDB.
That infant soul is played by Tina Fey who inhabits Joe’s body at one point in the story.
Of course, some on Twitter took offense at the idea that the white Fey would take such a prominent role in a movie meant to represent “soul,” and celebrate the Black experience.
Concerning that plot point, one Twitter user asked,“So if white Tina Fey inhabits a Black body for the majority of Soul while the actual Black person is not, what is the point of watching it? Is there ANY thing that can outweigh that f—-d up aspect & make it worthwhile to watch? I am only looking for BLACK PEOPLE to answer this.” She got a variety of responses, many of which were troubled by their perception that a white woman was used in part to encapsulate the life of a Black man.
One user said, “The ending was really painfully typical. A Black person sacrifices themselves to save somebody non-Black. They only don’t suffer for it bcuz of someone’s “inspired/generous” intervention. I’m definitely tired of Black characters being transformed into animals and losing bodies.”
Another actually praised the movie, but with a huge caveat, saying, “I actually want to watch it again (plus my husband bought me the artbook which is STUNNING) and the soundtrack is sooooo good. But it left me with the hollow feeling that Black ppl can’t tell our own stories without being filtered through a White lens (or through animals, etc.).”
A Twitter user commented, “I don’t want to spoil it, but I do wish more of an emphasis would have been placed on the soul in Joe’s family, friends and music. I felt like there was a lot that wasn’t explored in favor of filtering his decidedly Black experience through the lens of the Tina Fey character.”
One more person wrote, “I watched it and (spoilers) but the fact that this man died/was constantly on the brink of death, was a blob and a CAT for a majority of the movie didn’t sit well with me. He had to learn how to live through Tina fey and Tina fey made him more ‘likeable’ to the people he spoke to.”
“There was some pushback to these criticisms, with a few responses noting that as a soul, technically, as far as the story is concerned, Fey’s character has no race,” one commenter tweeted.
“There are a lot of hot and wrong takes about this film out there. At no point is she acting Black. Her character isn’t even a white woman, but just sounds like one… and it’s actually addressed directly. Go in with a clear mind.”
In a Variety interview with Foxx that features behind-the-scenes details on “Soul,” writer Angelique Jackson noted that “Black culture is the centerpiece of the film” adding that “The entire ‘Soul’ team — led by the film’s director, co-writer and Pixar chief creative officer Pete Docter and producer Dana Murray — took the task of infusing Black culture into the film’s DNA seriously, committing to nailing the cultural references and avoiding caricature, tropes and stereotypes.”
Docter added, “We wanted it to be as correct as we could, to be as authentic as we could,” he said. “Because I think when you are in the audience, and you can tell something’s not quite right, it has an effect on the potency of the film. What we’re always trying to do is just move people, make them care, make them feel something. And I think those two things are very connected.”
Jackson also mentioned the filmmakers hiring a host of “A-list cultural, music and faith consultants — like Ryan Coogler, Kenya Barris, Quincy Jones and Yo-Yo Ma — to lend their expertise and perspective to the film’s story,” including Daveed Diggs and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, who voiced the characters Paul and Curley in the film, as well as consulted on the story.