Both the films Walt Disney Studios brought to Deadline’s The Contenders LA promote social change, albeit in extremely different ways.
Groundbreaking superhero epic Black Panther put the African experience at the forefront of a mainstream Marvel film, reaching a worldwide audience and scoring a phenomenal $1.3 billion at the box office, while Ralph Breaks the Internet showcases the ways we’ve been affected by living our lives online.
Bringing Black Panther to as many people as possible was of course vital, and part of the film’s long reach, director Ryan Coogler told Deadline’s Mike Fleming, came from its universal themes.
“We talked about wanting to make a universal film,” he said, “a film that was was specific to the African experience, to the black experience, that could also be universally felt by an audience member of any heritage.”
Set within the Africa-inspired futuristic world of Wakanda, Black Panther contains themes “of the family, themes of abandonment, social responsibility”, Coogler said. “Oftentimes we would talk about this question, am I my brother’s keeper? Do I owe it somebody who’s maybe not from the same culture as me to share things that might benefit them?”
For Lupita Nyong’o, who plays spy Nakia, growing up in Kenya meant watching Hollywood movies populated by people who didn’t look like her. However, she said that didn’t stop her from connecting with the characters from The Sound of Music and Bugs Bunny.
“You seek the things that connect you, rather than the things that disconnect you,” she said. “That’s why you can watch Bugs Bunny and really get it. The things you’re watching on screen don’t necessarily have to be a copy version of you….this division is something that we learn as we grow up.” But despite that connection she felt with those characters, she didn’t realize what she was missing at the time.
“It’s dangerous not to ever see yourself,” she said, “because then you aspire to things that are out of your reach at all times, and I was only aware of that when I saw movies like The Color Purple — like, ‘Oh wait, people like me can also tell stories and help me understand who I am. So to be a part of a movie like Black Panther was to heal a starvation from my childhood that at the time I was not aware of.”
The sequel to the 2012 Oscar-nominated Wreck it Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet takes an interesting look at how the internet and its sometimes harsh environment has shaped us.
Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) go on a mission inside the internet, ultimately exposing some of its pitfalls.
“In this film Ralph has an identity crisis,” producer Clark Spencer told Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro. “Things will change in his life, and he’s got to be OK with that. That’s part of the internet too; the internet is always changing, and within that he’s got to figure out how he loves himself.”
Of course online bullying and trolling has become an enormous negative aspect of our online existence, and Spencer said they were inspired to explore that when one of the story artists mentioned his child was being bullied online. “It was so profound in terms of thinking about that as a idea, we said that is something we need to put it in this film,” he said.
“The internet is this amazing place that connects the entire world together,” Spencer went on, “but it’s also a place that’s very complicated, particularly for kids to figure out how to navigate. How do they feel good about who they are? And that really is what we’re trying to do with this story between Ralph and Vanellope.”