Amy Macaulay
It’s time to fully embrace D&I in licensing
7 mins

We’re a month on now from the launch of Disney’s live action film The Little Mermaid and the ripples of its effect on media content are still being felt – and likely will be for a long time.

The updated version of the classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen was reimagined with a focus on inclusivity and diversity, particularly through the casting of Halle Bailey, a young black actress, who plays the main character role of Ariel.

I, for one, was particularly excited by the casting decision by Disney – to collaborate with more diverse licensing partners – since it allows for diverse and inclusive consumer products to reach the hands of children. Through our own Global Family research, carried out this year, we know that it is hugely important for children to see themselves represented in the characters they engage with on and off screen – particularly the ones they play with and grow up with. In addition, 30% of parents now consider it important to have ethnically diverse characters in the screen-based content (TV, films, games) that their child enjoys.

Disney’s licensing partners – Carol’s Daughter and Ulta – for this film with themed beauty products. Carol’s Daughter hosts a range of hair care products in packaging illustrated with cartoon depictions of Halle Bailey as Ariel, while the partnership with Ulta has led to a custom line of cosmetics and two licensed skin care brands, Black Girl Sunscreen and the eco-friendly beauty brand Pacifica. Perfect tie-ins.

They not only involved beauty partners either, but joined forces with Mattel to create a range of dolls inspired by the live-action film – pushing the diversification message even further. These dolls feature various skin tones, hair textures and styles, ensuring that children of all ethnicities can find one that best represents them.

Now, many would say that The Little Mermaid is not the only franchise that has made strides towards inclusivity and diversity in licensing and they’d be right, but the execution both on and off screen is a shining example of how to do it well – from the early release reactionary video of children gasping as they saw the new Ariel to the ‘wow’ premiere launch.

Hats off though still go to Barbie, for Mattel’s Barbie Fashionistas line, which features dolls with diverse body types, skin tones, and hairstyles. Also PAW Patrol for introducing a new character named Wildcat, who uses a wheelchair and features on a number of the character toys, including the Moto Pups range. Many entertainment franchises, including Star Wars, have also made efforts to cast diverse actors in prominent roles. For Star Wars this means they were able to collaborate with LEGO and Hasbro to create inclusive toy ranges featuring their diverse range of characters.

There really is a shift happening in the entertainment industry to focus more on inclusivity, paving new paths for a more inclusive future in licensing. With The Little Mermaid, Disney is making a powerful statement about the importance of representation in entertainment and as audiences and consumers continue to demand and expect more diverse content, it is likely that the industry will continue to adapt and evolve accordingly.

After all, who doesn’t want to live in a world where children can watch their favourite films, TV shows, play with their favourite toys and feel represented? It feels like finally, D&I is reaching a point for many where dreams come true and they too can be involved.

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