My favourite part from the Disney/Pixar movie Soul is easily the barbershop scene. A few weeks after watching the movie I learned the barbershop scene wasn’t part of the original screenplay.
Kemp Powers, a co-director for Soul who happens to be black , felt the movie was lacking a scene showing an authentic black experience with the characters. Through his own personal experiences he thought adding a barbershop scene to the storyline would fill that void:
Yeah, that scene was my idea. It wasn’t even in the film. I said like, “This guy has to pass through authentically Black spaces and there’s no more authentically Black space than a barbershop.”
Hair falls gently down to the floor. That’s how the scene opens. You hear the clippers buzzing and the hair falls onto Dez’s (the barber) Timberland boots….I just knew that it would be incredible to see the process of a Black haircut up close, in a Pixar film.
The animators took trips to the barbershops, and they sat there, and barbers worked through all of their tools so that everything was done in order. The level of detail that goes into everything; nothing happens in an animated film by accident.(Quotes from interview on State.com)
Having a co-black director in place, Pixar provided opportunities for culturally relevant ideas like adding the barbershop to actually happen. But they didn’t stop there with Soul.
All the key elements of the film were run by the internal culture trust made of Pixar’s Black employees. Areas like character designs, set designs, and more, to ensure the film felt culturally authentic. Additionally Pixar brought in external consultants to assist with lighting black skin to bring an authentic, distinct look to the black characters.
Soul feels the way it does when you watch it because all of these elements were considered ahead of time by Pixar. It’s impossible to create an culturally authentic experience without providing room for equity, inclusion and diversity in the creative decision making process.