On the final morning of D23 Expo 2019, five heroines of the Disney Galaxies assembled to talk about the Strong Female Characters they play and love.
Hosted by Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, and Star Wars Forces of Destiny, the panel was made up of some serious trailblazers in the world of The Walt Disney Company.
Sana Amanat is Marvel’s VP of Content and Character Development and the person responsible for Kamala Khan, AKA Ms. Marvel, the comic book company’s first-ever Muslim superhero to lead her own series. “I'm a Muslim, I am a South Asian woman and I thought that it was incredibly important to make sure that we had real stories of young misunderstood minorities,” Amanat said. “Storytelling is the best form of education, it's the best way to get to know one another in an intimate way even though a lot of times it's reaching so many people across the world.”
Amanat worked with fellow editor Stephen Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson, and artists Adrian Alphona and Jamie McKelvie, to create an “authentic story about a young and powerful girl who happens to be Muslim.”
“That was the important thing because once you got to know her, her world wasn't about her religion or God [and] wasn't about terrorism… surprise!”
During the Disney+ panel, it was officially confirmed that Ms. Marvel would be getting her own live-action series, with British comedian Bisha K. Ali serving as showrunner, while Kevin Feige revealed that she would also appear in future MCU movies. Amanat said that finding out about this was a “surreal” moment because Kamala Khan is such a new character in the world of Marvel.
“It was super surreal because Marvel Studios has never to my knowledge made a character into live-action that's only existed for six years,” Amanat said. “All of these characters have existed for decades and decades, and suddenly this character they plucked out they're like, ‘yeah we're going to make an entire special series around her. So for me, I'm incredibly honored.”
Amanat also spoke about how the other female characters in her roster are now finally getting the recognition they deserve — especially in the new animated series Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors, which features Ms. Marvel, Ghost-Spider, America Chavez and Squirrel Girl.
“I think it's incredible that Shuri now has the recognition that she does, based on the Black Panther film,” she said. “We have characters like America Chavez and Moon Girl who was the youngest and smartest girl in the Marvel Universe, [who] happens to be black, living in the Lower East Side.
“Those kinds of characters I think are really bringing a lot of different kinds of folks together,” Amanat continued. “Squirrel Girl is another one who's absolutely fantastic. Riri Williams is a new Iron Heart, a new everyman kind of character. So there's just a lot out there for every single type of person and fans and lover of stories.
"Marvel Rising is about the next generation of Marvel heroes and features Ms. Marvel and Ghost-Spider and American Chavez and Squirrel Girl and a whole cast of awesome characters who also happen to be the most diverse team that we have at Marvel. I think the statement is there have always been powerful female heroes out there and now the audience is looking for him in a way that's never really happened before.”
Also on the panel was OG Kim Possible Christy Carlson Romano, who revealed that she was behind a lot of iconic elements of the animated series, including Kim’s famous tagline.
Bob [Schooley] and Mark [McCorkle] were really fantastic,” Romano said. “They wrote to my strengths. Sometimes they would ask me questions like, ‘hey, what would you say if you're talking to your friends? Would you say what's up or what's the message?' I said, ‘I don’t know, I’d say what’s the sitch?’”
Romano also inspired the name of Club Banana, the shop Kim works at, because the writers asked her where she would buy clothes in real life. “I said I shop at Club Monaco or Banana Republic,” she said. “That's what they did. They did their research with their guinea pig!”
Ally Maki recently voiced the role of Giggles McDimples in Toy Story 4 and said it was a dream come true for her to play a role that championed female friendships.
“She inspires me so much,” Ally said. “Even reading the dialogue and seeing how she approached life, she was completely unafraid that even though she was this tiny little character she was just out there doing what she was going to do.
“She was such a great friend to Bo,” she added. “I love their sisterly dynamic and the way they completely support each other. They were able to finish each other's sentences. If Bo was the leader Giggles was the drill sergeant [who] knew how to make it all happen and facilitate everything.
“I think it is so important to see those like sisterhood relationships female friendships on screen.”
Maki said that she didn’t grow up with role models like Giggles when she was growing up and is proud that young girls can see them now.
“I wish that I had this sense of self-worth and confidence when I was 12, 13, 14 years old because when I see girls dressing up as Giggles McDimples, and they're in a cop uniform, it just means everything to me.”
Maki is the founder of the Asian American Girl Club, an apparel brand that serves to empower women of Asian descent. She started it when she realized that she didn’t have as many friends from her background as she would have liked, especially when AA representation is expanding so much.
“In the back of my head I was like, ‘why do I not have other Asian American female friends,’ and I felt like we're doing such amazing things in the past two years of the representation in the Asian American community,” she explained. “Crazy Rich Asians opened the door wide open and I thought to myself, this is incredible, but what's the next phase of that the normalization of Asian American females specifically?”
“I just felt that I had always been put in these boxes of you’re too Asian or you're not Asian enough [so] you're relegated to being the sidekick or the best friend,” Maki said. “That was something I kind of carried throughout my adult life of always just feeling lower self-worth of that in my personal life, I wasn't as important as the other people around me.
It was important for Maki to change that “narrative” and show that “Asian American identity means you can be anyone without barriers,” so creating a club to connect with other women like herself was a way to signal boost that message.
“I wanted to connect with other women and that was a very scary thing for me to do because I'm the total shy girl,” Maki said. “I realized it takes practice and it takes these examples onscreen of female friendship to know how to do it. Everyone is so nice and we all just want to support each other and I realized that the best way to lift up is together.”
Genesis Rodriguez voices Honey Lemon in the Big Hero 6 animated series and said she had never felt closer to a character. “I realized that she was big into chemistry and robotics and I was in a robotics team [so] this was totally up my alley,” Rodriguez said. “I had never seen a girl in a robotics team and her being celebrated and she's Latina!
“Honey Lemon doesn't have to compromise her bubbly, pink nature to be intelligent, she just is,” she continued. “She is bubbly, she is over the top and happy, and she's smart.
“There is no definition of how you can be intelligent and what you should look like and how you should be and how much you should speak, you know, and I love that.”