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Entertainment 'Soul' codirector admits he was 'afraid' to talk about race before working on Pixar's first movie with a Black lead

06:00  08 january  2021
06:00  08 january  2021 Source:   msn.com

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a man standing in front of a building: Pixar CCO and © Disney/Pixar Pixar CCO and "Soul" codirector Pete Docter talks about his experience taking over the company while working on the film with The Hollywood Reporter in a new interview. Disney/Pixar
  • "Soul" codirector Pete Docter told The Hollywood Reporter he was initially "afraid" to talk about race out of fear of saying something dumb while working on Pixar's first film featuring a Black lead.
  • Docter added that he didn't want to "stick my foot in my mouth and say something dumb and offend somebody."
  • The film, starring Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, initially featured a different protagonist who wasn't Black.
  • Once the film's lead changed, Black creatives were added as consultants. Pixar also created a brain trust to lean on during the film's creation.
  • Kemp Powers, who was originally hired for 12 weeks to help flesh out Joe's character, eventually became codirector, suggesting some of the film's most important additions, including the memorable barbershop scene.
  • According to THR, Powers also advocated for a body-swap by the lead character to be "diminished."
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

"Soul" features Pixar's first Black lead, but the journey to tell Joe Gardner's story wasn't always a comfortable one for its original solo director and the company's chief creative officer, Pete Docter.

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PIXAR invited Paul Ekman, an American psychologist who is a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions, to brief the crew on the nature of emotions. The curtains were also added to invoke the feeling of a talk show, with all the emotions sitting together and communicating.

"A number of people gave me feedback like, 'You seem really scared to talk about race issues,'" Docter told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent cover story.

"I am because I'm afraid I'm going to stick my foot in my mouth and say something dumb and offend somebody," said Docter. "I did along the way, without knowing it, and I learned from other people's mistakes as well."

Docter said the 'Soul' team was initially unaware of a stereotypical trope in animation when they started work on the film.

Joe becomes a soul during the film's first 10 minutes. Pixar © Pixar Joe becomes a soul during the film's first 10 minutes. Pixar One of the "mistakes" Docter made was contributing to a trope rife in animation where lead persons of color are turned into animals or creatures for the length of the film ("The Emperor's New Groove," "Spies in Disguise").

In "Soul," viewers are introduced to Joe Gardner, a middle school band teacher with dreams of becoming a famed jazz musician. Still, he dies in the film's first 10 minutes and then becomes a blue-green soul for much of the film.

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"We were unaware of that [trope] as we started, but we certainly became aware," Docter told journalists at a virtual press conference back in September, which Insider attended.

Kirsten · Pixar Soul conference - Pete Docter was initially unaware of animation trope

During the press conference, producer Dana Murray said, "We leaned into those difficult conversations. It was something that we didn't want to not talk about."

During the same conversation, Docter was asked if the film's initial release on June 19, 2020, before it was postponed due to the coronavirus, was purposefully chosen as it's Juneteenth, a day which commemorates the end of slavery in much of the United States.

Docter admitted that they initially "were clueless to the fact that it was Juneteenth."

a man wearing glasses and looking at the camera: Kemp Powers told press he was originally invited onto © Deborah Coleman / Pixar Kemp Powers told press he was originally invited onto "Soul" as a writer about two years ago. Here he is during a "brain trust" meeting for the film in August 2018 with Pete Docter and Dana Murray. Deborah Coleman / Pixar Kemp Powers - who joined the film in 2018 as a writer late in the process, eventually becoming codirector alongside Docter - said when he came on board and saw the release date, he recalled a few of them noticing the signficance of the date.

"A few of us were like,' Oh, Juneteenth,' to which others were like, 'What's that?' It was a total coincidence that that was just the date," Powers said in September.

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"Soul" became a pillar of learning and growing for Pixar. Uncomfortable as it may have been, it was likely necessary.

Docter started to make changes when he took over Pixar to ensure the studio was more diverse

Pete Docter et al. sitting at a table: © Deborah Coleman / Pixar "Soul" filmmakers - Pete Docter and Kemp Powers along with producer Dana Murray - meet on March 4, 2020 at Pixar Animation Studios. Deborah Coleman / Pixar

When Docter took the reigns of the studio in 2018 after John Lasseter's departure following allegations of inappropriate behavior, he had already been working on "Soul."


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THR reports that after Lasseter left Pixar, execs turned their attention to fixing women's unequal role at the animation studio.

Still, when Docter assumed the role of Pixar CCO, THR reports he worked with Pixar president Jim Morris to make sure the studio's creative advisory teams were not only 50% female, but diverse "in terms of age, race, and ethnicity."

a teddy bear: Pete Docter introduces © Disney Pete Docter introduces "Turning Red" during Disney's investor day in December 2020. Disney At that point, since the company's first release in 1995 with "Toy Story," Pixar only had one female director, Brenda Chapman, who helmed "Brave." She was later fired from the film over creative differences and replaced by a man, Mark Andrews.

Docter also advocated for Domee Shi's short film "Bao," which went on to win an Oscar for best animated short. Shi is now directing the studio's 2022 theatrical release, "Turning Red," which follows 13-year-old Mei Lee, who turns into a red panda whenever she gets excited.

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These changes likely helped move "Soul" in a different creative direction.

As Pixar evolved so did 'Soul.' Early iterations of the film didn't feature a Black lead.

a person wearing a hat: Pete Docter told Insider in October 2020 that the initial focus of © Pixar Pete Docter told Insider in October 2020 that the initial focus of "Soul" revolved around "22," not Joe. Pixar After working on "Soul" for five years, Docter eventually made the brave choice to center Joe's character, making the animated jazz musician, voiced by Jamie Foxx, Pixar's first Black lead.

In earlier iterations of the film, Joe wasn't Black. He wasn't even the main character.

"The very first incarnation of the story spent almost no time on Earth," Docter told Insider in October. "It was all in the soul world. I'm not sure Joe was African-American at that point."

"I don't know that we specified too much, but the roles were flipped. 22 [a soul voiced by Tina Fey] was the lead, this character, who doesn't want to go be born," he added.

background pattern: Concept art by Tim Evatt shows part of the soul world with its lead characters. Concept Art by Tim Evatt. © 2020 Disney/Pixar © Concept Art by Tim Evatt. © 2020 Disney/Pixar Concept art by Tim Evatt shows part of the soul world with its lead characters. Concept Art by Tim Evatt. © 2020 Disney/Pixar

In September, Powers recalled joining the film more than halfway through production. Initially hired for 12 weeks as a writer, he said the film was in "pretty rough form." Joe had gone from being an actor to a jazz musician and Powers was brought on to help "authentically" shape his character.

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Murray told the New York Times that Pixar recognized that "if Joe's going to be Black, we'd need a lot of help," which meant they couldn't just rely on Powers. In fact, from the beginning, Powers shared with the creative team that he didn't represent every Black person's experience.

Still, Powers additions to the film are probably the most memorable.

Kemp Powers et al. sitting in a room: Filmmakers and key members of the crew meet with consultants for © Deborah Coleman / Pixar Filmmakers and key members of the crew meet with consultants for "Soul" on April 29, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios. Cultural and musical consultants on the film included Questlove, "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" band leader Jon Batiste, educator Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, actor Daveed Diggs, Herbie Hancock, Marcus McLaurine, Dr. Peter Archer, Dr. Christopher Bell, and Bradford Young. Deborah Coleman / Pixar He's the one who suggested the film's barbershop scene, which is a stand-out in terms of animation. THR reports that Powers also advocated for Joe's controversial body-swap out of his character's body into a cat to be "diminished" in the story, so Joe "retains agency as a character in key emotional scenes," including one with the character's mother late in the film.

Along with addition of Powers, the "Soul" team reached out to consultants, who they relied heavily on throughout the creative process. They also created an internal brain trust made up of Black Pixar story animators and artists to make sure the film accurately reflected Black culture.

"Animation is not an industry where there's been a great deal of representation. It just hasn't," Powers said during September's press conference. "I feel that Pixar is one of the few places that's been very genuine in recognizing the shortcomings and making a tremendous effort to start to rectify it. This film is that first effort."

"Soul" is now streaming on Disney Plus.

Read the original article on Insider

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