I’ll admit that my ten-year-old self was reluctant to watch Disney actress Brenda Song turn from the beloved London Tipton to fierce Wendy Wu in her feature film, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior. Yet even in my third-grade mind, I acknowledged that starring in that film was much bigger than merely ditching her ditzy Suite Life of Zack and Cody character.
Wendy Wu was one of the dwindling diverse Disney movie characters at the time, looking back, she was also the beginning of the end of Disney’s promise of an all-inclusive cast. Wu was this preppy Chinese-American who struggled with the grips of her culture. Like most second-generation immigrants and other culturally and ethnically diverse people of this country, Wu didn’t feel connected with her home country. She turned her nose at Asian cuisine and distances herself from her Chinese heritage. Eventually, Wu comes to terms with who she is and the history of her family, but it definitely wasn’t an easy conclusion.
This struggle is perfectly okay. It’s a struggle that every ethnic person born in a predominantly white country endures. A struggle that I can completely understand. I, as a full-bred African-American, never really felt in-sync with my roots. Don’t get me wrong, I accept my role in the black community and strive to be more active in it, but growing up from one predominantly white community to another can truly take its toll on a maturing adolescent. There was one point in my life where I felt as if I had to prove that I wasn’t like ‘the other black people’. I straightened my hair and smiled broad, proud smiles when someone commented that I wasn’t like ‘the others’. I also suffered through a period of time when I may have overdone my journey to embrace my culture (this includes using an exciseve ammount of language that just didn’t sit right on my tounge). I’m happy to say that as of now I am extremely pleased with my role in the black communtiy, but it would be a lie to say that it was easy to get to this point.
Disney did an excellent job at portraying this journey. The experience was equipped with disappointed parents and peers that just didn’t understand the mental struggle that is waging in your head. They also did a pretty adequate job at the avoidance of white-washing the film’s cast. Thankfully, Brenda Song wasn’t the only Asian in the film, which seems like it’s not a lot to ask for but Hollywood does have a bad habit of deeming race ‘debatable’. The film included traditional, if not stereotypical, aspects of Asian culture, aspects that were appreciated by many- because some representation is better than none.
How did Disney do all of this while still capturing the attention of children? By artfully including plot lines that appealed to their demographic, hence the ‘homecoming’ in the title. It takes a lot of skill to subliminally teach children important ethic lessons like embracing your culture. Props to Disney for doing it right.