One of a handful of portraits of Black children dressed as Disney characters. In many cases the characters are white, so the imagery becomes that much more possible. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

ORLANDO, Fl. — The portrait stood out among the many hundreds or maybe thousands pieces of art on the Disney Wish, the latest addition to the Disney Cruise Line fleet. 

In the wake of the deaths of many Black Americans by violence by police and racial injustices that have been carried out in this country for hundreds of years, the entertainment giant’s efforts to better diversify the cruise experience has not gone unnoticed. Representation matters and in these days and times that can make or break a business. Even one as large and all-reaching as Disney. Like many companies, both large and small, Disney is improving and the efforts on the Wish are proof positive. 

A rendition of Repunzel (right) and Flynn Rider from Disney’s Tangled, is located near The Bayou, a New Orleans-themed lounge associated with Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.
Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

Strong Imagery

The one thing I immediately took stock of after boarding the ship Friday, November 11, was the diversity of the art on the ship. There are very few ways to express one’s feelings and pride than through art. One of the first pieces I noticed was a portrait of a Black boy and girl. She was dressed as Repunzel and he as Flynn Rider from the movie Tangled. The characters in the movie are white, but the children in the portraits are Black, beautiful and give off a proud image. 

There are other images that forced me to stop and stare. One group portrait of some of the popular Disney princesses with Prince Charming in the center was particularly stunning. Again, all of these models were Black and immediately made me wonder what these classic tales, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, for example, would be like if they originated with Black characters.

Characters like Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. The Wish has paid homage to one of the largest grossing films in Disney history with The Bayou, a model of a small lounge in New Orleans, Tiana’s home town. On the menu were beignets, of course, and drinks like the Orleans Crusta (one part Hennessy VS, one part Grand Marnier, Luxardo, and Angostura) and non-alcoholic drinks like the New Orleans float, a rootbeer float with honey salted caramel almond ice cream and Abita root beer. 

A copy of Wakanda Forever: The Courage to Dream by Frederick Joseph and illustrator Nikkolas Smith.
Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

The Bayou was small, intimate and full of statuettes depicting images from The Princess and the Frog movie. With a new The Princess and the Frog -themed attraction coming to Disney World and Disneyland, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, in late 2024, there will be more representation of the popular character. The buzz from Ariel from The Little Mermaid being played by singer Halle Bailey, which has a release date of May 26, 2023, will help keep that representation strong over the next few years.

The Black Panther/Wakanda cultural powerhouse extends to the menu at The World of Marvel restaurant on the Disney Wish cruise ship.
Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta

Wakanda Forever

Another way Disney is both maximizing the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) push that all major brands are suddenly interested in is through the Black Panthers franchise. The second installation of the hit movie franchise premiered this weekend and there were multiple showings on the ship. The 11 p.m. showing took place at the Walt Disney Theatre, the largest of the three theaters on the ship. 

Close to 60 people made their way to their seats Friday night to watch a movie that not only featured Black and African culture to the max, but Mayan and Aztec culture through the introduction of the Namor/Sub-Mariner villain arc. The movie will make millions of dollars for all of those involved, but what’s more, it will continue to buy equity among Black vacationers as long as the Disney Cruise Line Imagineers (what the company calls their engineers) keep it involved in the programming. 

Even the menu at The World of Marvel, one of the many themed restaurants on the ship, has the Black Panther and the fictional Wakanda in it. The Wakandan salads included a heirloom tomato salad and iceberg wedges salads. I’m not sure what either has to do with Wakanda, but it got my attention. It is getting a lot of attention and that representation is a good thing. A very good thing.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...