The creations of Disney have fascinated children all over the world for generations. Since it’s iconic character Mickey Mouse was introduced to the world in 1928, the company has developed into one of the biggest media organisations in the world, and ten years later, the first Disney princess entered the stage.
With the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney kicked off their princess era, inspiring dreams for girls all over the globe.
The first princess characters were mainly White, and the majority of stories Disney told were European fairy tales. Over the years, Disney princesses became more and more diverse, as the studio’s creators tackle a wider range of fairy tales in an aim for more diversity.
When Julia Riew, a 22-year-old Harvard student, was seeking inspiration for her dissertation, the project of integrating a Korean Disney Princess became the obvious choice, telling Today that it had been her dream for a very long time to write for Disney and to be a musical theatre writer.
Striving for diversity and Reduced Inequalities is crucial for the creation of a stable and sustainable society, as defined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Riew, a third-generation Korean American, realised that there was no Korean Disney princess so far, so she made it her project to create one. “I think stories are so important for kids,” explains Riew. Certainly, the success of both Disney and her project confirms this statement.
“Especially as someone who, as a young person, never saw herself represented in media, or in film, TV or on stage — that was something I always longed for,” Riew explained in a recent interview.
Based on a Korean fairytale called “The Blind Man’s Daughter”, Riew’s Disney creation tells the story of a girl who falls in the sea trying to save her father. Then, she finds herself in the Dragon Kingdom, where she experiences a variety of fascinating adventures while trying to find her way home.
The breakthrough of her creation was when one of the musical’s main songs, “Dive”, went viral on TikTok. The 41-second clip reached over a million views, making her and her project famous.
Riew performed her own original song, introducing “Shimcheong: A Folktale” to the world using a TikTok filter to morph into a Disney-like cartoon character while singing: “All of the waves in the world can’t rock me. I’m on a mission and gee, just watch me go!”
After this success, Riew continued to build on her story, publishing more signature songs of her story, including the song of the main villain, the Dragon Queen, “Don’t be Fooled”. Through her musical projects, Riew is educating her audience about the background and origin of Shimcheong.
Shimcheong is Riew’s seventh musical and seemingly her most personal one yet, describing that the story was inspired by her own personal journey searching for belonging as a Korean American.
“The story is really about her returning home and trying to reclaim this identity that she’s lost,” explained Riew, who faced a similar experience growing up in a mainly Black and White populated Missouri before visiting Korea for the first time at the age of 18.
Riew realised that the place she thought she would belong was different than she expected it to be. “It was an eye-opening moment where I realized this place that I always looked to and imagined myself belonging to was much more different than I expected,(…) I was much more of an outsider than I expected.”
Processing these feelings in her musicals, Riew hopes to inspire people of all ages and ethnicities with Shimechong.
“It's always been my dream to be walking down the street and hear a child singing my song,” she explained.
For now, Disney has not picked up her script, which includes sixteen songs. However, Riew has already gained a huge audience on TikTok, as fans support her work by making fan art of the main characters. Even some producers and film producers reached out to her.
Regardless, it looks like Riew is well on her way to making her Disney dream come true and opening up the door for more diversity within the Disney Universe.