Disney Pixar’s Soul captivated audiences over the 2020 holiday season. Its portrayal of Black families and a wholesome approach to Philosophy 101 provided a fast track to being considered for some of the most prestigious film awards: the film has won four Critic’s Choice Awards, three Golden Globes, and is anticipated to be nominated for an Oscar on March 15th when noms drop. All this goes to say, it was a smash hit. After rewatching two months later and reading extensive critiques, I had some thoughts and opinions about the film and its portrayal of Black people (spoilers included, of course).
The plot of the movie depends on the events that a soul without a purpose (named “22”) accidentally ends up inhabiting the protagonist’s body (named Joe). This premise is creative but needed to be handled with a sensitive nuance, in my opinion. For a racially ambiguous otherworldly “soul” to inhabit a Black man’s body and live his life for a day without any reference to his race and how that affects his life other than vague cultural experiences feels odd. A Gizmodo review stated this sentiment well in saying, “the conceit [of body-swapping tropes] takes on an odd subtext because of the lengths the story goes to in order to make you read 22 as a white woman despite the fact that she’s not supposed to be a “person” yet.” The character 22, voiced by Tina Fey, claims the experiences attributed to Joe and his life and uses them to determine her own purpose later on. However, these experiences are considerably Black, but only in a wholesome, cozy Pixar-friendly way.
Even though Joe is the main character, his existence is quite literally a crutch for a racially ambiguous (but portrayed as white) character to find their purpose in life. Similar to The Princess and The Frog, the rare Black lead is not even in their own body for the majority of their screen time. Though the spotlight on Black community is beautiful to see, Pixar may have unwisely bitten off more than they could chew with intertwining these themes with those of philosophy, destiny, and self-discovery.
For the blunders that Soul made, it still made some points. A sweet look at family and music guides the story and its heart, and makes for a family oriented movie for the holiday season and beyond. These qualities as well as the timely release of a film supposedly centering the soul of Black people made the movie one of the biggest of the year for its genre. It’s just a matter of time before we find out if Soul has what it takes to earn the coveted Academy Award. Do you think it will win? Hit me up and let me know.
By Leah Ollie, Senior, Whitney Young Magnet High School