While it sometimes feels progress in the movie industry can be snail-paced and hard-won, it nonetheless seems we are now in a much sought-after moment of change. Perspectives are shifting and the gatekeepers who determine who can be at the helm of directing the content that reaches big and small screens are recognising that more diversity in storytelling and representation only serves to enrich global culture and broaden minds and audiences.

The new Launchpad programme from Disney is a great sign of just that change. With this initiative, the beloved kids’ film and TV behemoth is taking proactive steps to provide a platform for under-heard voices and stories. Of over 1100 applications, six young US filmmakers were chosen to participate in the programme, which gave them the support of mentors and the chance to develop a live-action short film, from idea to screen, based around an idea: “Discover”. The result is six completely different takes on life in the US, ranging from Aqsa Altaf’s American Eid (from the perspective of a young Muslim Pakistani immigrant wanting to celebrate Eid while at high school) to Ann Marie Pace’s Growing Fangs (about a Mexican-American teen who is half human, half vampire).

We had the pleasure of speaking to some of the young directors ahead of the release of the first season. 

Ann Marie Pace told The Upcoming: “This programme gave me hope for the world that hopefully we can keep telling these stories that connect us all.” She spoke about how the fun concept of a half-human, half-vampire in Growing Fangs provided an accessible way to discuss multiple identities, and how she bonded with the other filmmakers on the programme, despite each coming from very different backgrounds.

“Storytelling goes so much farther than preaching,” said Aqsa Altaf, who described her experiences growing up as an immigrant in the US, and how they informed the story for American Eid. She discussed what it meant to her to be part of the Launchpad programme, and the importance of representation on screen.

Moxie Peng explained: “We don’t have one single identity as Asian-American people… We are multidimensional”, and how their personal experiences were a motivation to create The Little Prince(ss). It’s a short about a young Chinese boy in America whose father becomes concerned about his new friendship with a Chinese classmate who likes ballet. The theme of identity runs through the film.

“What a beautiful thing to come together around, that you’re not alone in having difficult feelings” – Stefanie Abel Horowitz told The Upcoming why she wanted to tell the story of Let’s Be Tigers, about a young woman coming to terms with the loss of her mother and unexpectedly finding comfort in the company of a four-year-old boy. She explained why she felt it was such a great opportunity to use Disney’s platform to each tell their own personal and difficult story.

By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 14th June 2021.

All of the short films on Disney’s Launchpad are available to stream via Disney+. To watch the series visit here.

For further information about Launchpad and the films selected for the programme visit here.

Watch a trailer for the series here: