Soul by Pixar with a Breakthrough
In general, talent and Black stories remain underrepresented in US animation, offscreen and on it. You can easily hear Black stars in supporting roles, for example, Samuel L. Jackson as Frozone in Incredibles or the sounds of animals (Chris Rock and Jada Pinkett Smith in the Madagascar series). However, Soul is only the fourth American animation movie that features Black characters and makes them the leads, following The Princess and the Frog (2009), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), and Bebe’s Kids (1992).
Jamie Foxx, who provides the voice of Joe, says that his character represents a lot of people who are not being seen right now. Foxx also says that to be the first Black lead in a Pixar film feels like a true blessing, especially during the current world situation, when people could use some extra light and love.
The creators of Soul, the director Pete Docter, the producer Dana Murray, and the co-screenwriter Mike Jones, who are white, and worked hard to set out and create a character that would be believably Black while avoiding all the stereotypes of the past.
A Big Journey
Joe Gardner’s journey and Soul began four years ago when Docter felt at loose ends after winning his second Oscar, for Inside Out. Docter began thinking about the origins of the personalities of a human, and whether people were born with the destiny to do certain things. Then Jones added that in their first meeting, they should think about an idea that sets in a place beyond time and space, where souls are given their personalities.
Docter also said that he and Jones worked for about two years so they could develop Joe, who is a Black musician and a middle-school music teacher from Queens. However, they noticed that something was missing. They wanted somebody who could speak authentically about this character and also bring a significant depth to him. This is when Kemp Powers came on, as the co-director of the film.
Reflecting on the creation of Soul, Kemp Powers said that when someone told him that he would be the first Black director of Pixar, he thought that this could not be right. Pete said that this was an indicator of significant changes that were going to be quite rapid.