Disney+ recently released six short films entitled the “Launchpad” collection in which diverse directors tell diverse stories. These shorts are exactly the kind of films we here at Incluvie want to see more of. These are stories of intersectionality, inclusion, and diversity. And every short stars a cluvie! Here is a general summary and review of each of them.
This "Launchpad" short follows Xiaoyu, a Chinese student at an elite American boarding high school. Xiaoyu is one of the few Chinese students at Westmoreland and longs to be recognized as excellent. Xiaoyu decides to try out for maître d', a position no international student has held before. But trying to become a part of the school’s leadership puts distance between Xiaoyu and his friends, and it requires a lot of work on his part, especially with English pronunciations. Some support him, others don’t. And after a major plot twist, Xiaoyu learns his efforts might not win him the kind of recognition he desires.
This story tackles tough subjects surrounding big for-profit academic institutions and diversity very well. It's one of the most nuanced and modern of the collection, in my opinion. And it stars a character from another country who speaks Mandarin for the most part when communicating with his mother, his friends, and when singing. This short instantly pulls viewers into Xiaoyu’s point of view, allowing us to see America through the eyes of a foreign POC and how difficult it is to have to prove yourself more than others to be recognized. And even then that can come with unexpected consequences.
This short is about a Mexican American woman named Chepa struggling to keep her culture alive in a world where all culture has seemingly been stripped away. She lives alone and every morning she pushes a cart around her neighborhood selling tamales. People come by on tour buses and marvel at her, then move on. While trying to keep her traditions alive, she accidentally summons a chupacabra and takes it in. They form a close bond and the creature protects her.
The story focuses on keeping cultural traditions alive, something that feels extremely relevant today. Chepa is very in touch with her roots, keeping photos of loved ones around the house, religious objects, Mexican food, language (she speaks Spanish for most of the film), and folktales. The cookie-cutter houses and tour bus point to a lack of individuality and loss of ethnic cultures that happens often in modern Western and westernized countries. It's a warning for our future, but it still has hope.
This short focuses on Ameena, a Muslim Pakistani immigrant who wakes up on Eid to discover that she doesn’t get days off from school for the holiday. At school, Ameena and her older sister Zainab are put at odds. While Ameena wants to celebrate her culture, Zainab is trying to assimilate, now going by “Z,” wearing American-style clothing on Eid, and trying to join an American dance club. Ameena gets the idea to start a petition so she and her sister can get days off from school for Eid. The short follows her as she tells people about Eid, faces both microaggressions and interest toward her culture, and clashes and reconciles with her older sister.
This is a story about family and identity set against the backdrop of Pakistani and Muslim culture, immigration, and the East-West divide. This short is perfect for people unfamiliar with Muslim traditions and members of the Muslim community alike. Although it dedicates plenty of time to explaining Eid customs as Ameena explains the holiday to people around her, the short also seamlessly integrates Urdu, cultural foods, clothing, and dance into the family’s portrayal in a way that feels well-established and natural.
This short is about a young woman named Avalon babysitting a 4-year old named Noah. Avalon arrives at the home and it’s clear her mother has just died. But Avalon’s “fine,” and she meets Noah with a giant smile. Noah’s parents head out, leaving the pair alone to play imaginary games. Avalon is still very emotional over her mother’s death and although she puts on a brave face, Noah is very perceptive and knows what’s going on. The evening becomes an at one point scary, then an emotional, beautiful, and bittersweet reflection on death.
This short is about death but through the cheerful eyes of a child. I must admit it brought a tear to my eye. It's a universal story. I would recommend this to anyone, especially people with children and those who have lost a loved one. Moreover, it features a diverse family! Noah has two dads, one of which is Hispanic and speaks Spanish to his son. It was an amazing little moment that made for wonderful representation.
This short follows two young Chinese American boys and the friendship that forms between them. 2nd-grader Rob, a transfer student, and 1st-grader Gabriel meet on the bus where they immediately bond over the fact that they’re both Chinese. Rob is initially taken aback by Gabriel doing ballet, but Gabriel teaches him to be a bit more accepting. When Rob’s dad, Chen, meets Gabriel, he instantly dislikes his femininity. But the boys quickly become friends although they’re different. As Rob grows closer to Gabriel, Mr. Chen decides to confront Gabriel’s family about their son's behavior.
This story focuses on gender identity and friendship between children set in the world of Chinese culture in America. It’s an interesting point of intersectionality we rarely see in media. This short uses a child’s innocence and filterless point of view, like in Let’s Be Tigers, to communicate complex concepts; whereas adults like Mr. Chen have strict beliefs and preconceived biases about what gender is that limits them from understanding people who are different. It explores how gender can be fluid rather than binary and drives home that it’s not a choice, rather it’s the way we are, and that’s okay.
This mockumentary-style short features Val Garcia, a Mexican American teen who is half human and half vampire. She wants to tell her human best friend, Jimmy, that she’s a vampire. However, her family does not approve. They want her to get more involved at the monster school she’s just transferred to and make some vampire friends. Val feels torn between the human world and the monster one. At her new school, she feels out of place for being part human and wants acceptance. She volunteers to help out the girls’ basketball team and finds she’s bit off more than she can chew.
This is a story about intersectional identity. It’s about struggling to define yourself when you can’t fit into a box and to find acceptance in spaces where you only feel like you half belong. Val is an amazing protagonist who is mixed and a minority in almost every sense of the word: she’s multi-ethnic, multi-species (even if it is fictional), not thin, and queer. She’s a combination of things that she has trouble reconciling but still accepts. At its heart, this short is about a person faced with the ever-troubling question: “What are you?” and finding their own answer to it.
I hope to see more media like this out in the world. It's a step in the right direction for a company like Disney, and I can only hope that they will continue forward in this direction. I'd like to see more full-length films and TV shows like the "Launchpad" collection. The experiences of these characters and the underrepresented directors behind them should be much more common in media. Disney is pressing forward with a second season of "Launchpad" and seems to be making more progress in depicting diversity. Of course, right now, it's not enough. But it's a start. And this is a fantastic one.