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Disney Puts Diversity on Display

The Disney Channel’s focus on television diversity is reflected in The Cheetah Girls: One World, the third original movie focusing on the TV girl group, filmed this time in India.

Gary Marsh, president Disney Channels Worldwide, said the channel aspires to be the gold standard in diversity on TV.

“We talk about [diversity] daily,” he said. Getting more diverse casts into shows is just a matter of thinking beyond the box, he said. Relating a discussion with a producer on another, unnamed Disney channel production, Marsh said he envisioned an African-American family in the lead; the producer said he hadn’t written it for African-Americans. Marsh said he responded, “Here’s the good news: you don’t have to change a word. We’re truly colorblind.”

One of the film’s actors, Rupak Ginn, praised the channel’s attitude, adding that 10 years ago, Indian actors such as him were limited to “marginal-type roles.”

The ebullient Cheetahs — Adrienne Bailon, Sabrina Bryan and Kiely Williams — speaking with critics here, said India was on a list of hoped-for locations after the last movie was shot in Barcelona. When producers said the movie would go to India, their reaction was a very Valley-girl, “No WAY,” the three girls said in giggling unison.

Absent from this movie: Disney Channel mainstay Raven Producer Debra Martin Chase said Raven is now “her own brand” with her own album and performance tour, so the producer and star decided it was time to part ways, she said.

Cast instead as the fourth Cheetah Girl was Deepti Daryanani, an Indian who had moved to America to study acting just 20 days before her Cheetah audition. She got the part and was immediately shipped out — to India. This movie features the girls participating in a Bollywood-style musical filmed in Udaipur, Rajasthan.

Asked if there will be a fourth edition, Marsh said the channel takes its movies one at a time. There are no current plans for another edition but “our audience will tell us” if the franchise should be extended.

Original movies on the channel have a high bar to reach: executives said that nine of the top 10 original movies it has aired debuted to 7 million viewers, and they hold interest in repeats, averaging 3 million viewers on reairings.