Sanjay’s Super Team’s Big Step for Diversity

Young Sanjay admiring Durga, Vishnu and HanumanNowadays, in the animation industry, the short film that goes ahead of the feature gets just as much attention as the main event. But none has gotten so much attention as “Sanjay’s Super Team”. Short films are a big deal for the Big Studios for several reasons: they get to tell stories that wouldn’t normally get feature film support, they get to test out production tools on the short before implementing them in full production and they sometimes give an animation artist who has yet to be a director the chance to exercise their ability to direct a team in a decent sized production. Pixar made headlines when Brenda Chapman was announced to direct “Brave” and Pixar made even more headlines when Chapman left but this time around, the diversity needle has tipped in a different direction: Pixar is giving the first Indian-American director the chance to develop a deeply personal story about their culture. Sanjay Patel, who already has an extensive illustrative career, is creating a beautiful tale based on his childhood of learning to appreciate the Indian side of his childhood that he initially found boring.

“Sanjay’s Super Team” is the diversity that the American animation industry doesn’t always get to share. Representation has been improving on the screen but we’re still hurting for movies by people of the cultures represented in the first place. “The Book of Life” was an unexpected success, focusing on Mexican culture, that exploded in October 2014 when expectations of films are set relatively low in comparison with November releases. But people learned to cherish “The Book of Life” despite it being technically “difficult to relate to” and it ultimately educated people on aspects of Mexican culture that the majority of Americans are unaware of. While last winter’s box office hit, “Big Hero 6” featured an Asian cast set in an alternative-future-verse, culture was a detail that didn’t need to be discussed since media has been catching up on telling “relatable” stories of diverse individuals. Especially when Hollywood still thinks it’s a good idea to cast Caucasian actors for Asian characters, every little success goes a long way for diversity.

Concept Art for "Sanjay's Super Team"But there’s one more reason why I’m excited for “Sanjay’s Super Team”. Americans often assume that animated films with low production values are made overseas thanks to the reputation of films like “Legends of Oz: Dorothy Returns” and the Taiwanese studio that creates dramatic re-enactments. “Sanjay’s Super Team” is a movie about a culture from a country that many Americans look down on for having so much “American” work outsourced to it, it’s impossible for some to believe India has their own animation culture and industry. Sanjay is getting to express how difficult it was to grow up as both Indian and American while celebrating the two halves of himself he’s come to embrace. “Sanjay’s Super Team” is the perfect chance to show that it’s possible to be proud of your underrepresented culture with high production values to counter your heritage’s negative reputation. Add that to the fact that this short is playing in front of “The Good Dinosaur” which is being directed by Pixar’s first Korean-American director, Peter Sohn (also known as the inspiration for Russell from “Up”), Pixar’s got a lot of wins with this pairing. Hopefully the Big Studios will get back to developing more faceted stories about girls and women (of color?) soon.

Further Reading

Wikipedia Page

Sanjay Patel gets personal with The LA Times

First Look at “Sanjay’s Super Team”

Exclusive New Look at Sanjay’s Super Team

 

Posted on: July 30, 2015, by : littleloka