I recently saw Disney’s Strange World in theatres. After watching the movie, I went to
Twitter to see what others were saying, and whether my opinions on the movie made me
some kind of social outcast. As it turns out, this film made some people very upset.
The phrase “go woke, go broke” has been levelled against this movie to explain its general
commercial failure. The going “woke” here refers to the fact that one of the film’s
protagonists, Ethan Clade, is mixed race and queer. It is important to note that in the real
world, the actor who plays Ethan, Jaboukie Young-White, is also a gay man.
First, let me explain what “go woke, go broke” actually means, as well as its social subtext.
The term “woke” has been invoked to refer to media that has a social justice aspect to it, and
that attempts to address social injustice. “Going broke” is, obviously, losing money.
In summary, to go woke and then to go broke is to take a “politically correct” action, then
lose a great deal of money — pretty straightforward. This term is regularly thrown around by
right-wing Twitter users and anti-woke YouTubers complaining about video games,
television or film.
Generally, when a piece of media includes a character who is not white, male or straight, it
is only a matter of time before it is labelled as “woke.”
When it comes to films for example, a 2021 list of “Top 10 Woke Movies That Ruined
Their Franchises” from Bounding into Comics is made up of films that include a female or
racialized person as a protagonist.
In terms of video games, God of War Ragnarök and The Last of Us: Part II were both
accused of going woke then going broke, yet have each made millions of dollars in sales.
By accusing a company of “going woke” when they include a non-white, non-male or non-
straight character, there is the strong implication that the very existence of 2SLGBTQIA+
people, women and racialized people is political.
Believe it or not, these people are very much real and exist. I myself am a bisexual and
Métis person. Yet, if I were to headline in some form of media, it would be labelled woke and
criticized across social media. But diversity in media is important, as it exposes us to new
perspectives, helps further representation and encourages creativity.
The term “go woke, go broke” also implies that if media fails to attain commercial success
it is inherently less valuable, and this is simply untrue.
Just because Disney’s Strange World did not garner financial success does not mean that
as a piece of art it is an absolute failure, nor does it mean that its financial failure was
because of its diversity.
Even if this were the case, other forms of “woke” media have been resounding successes.
The aforementioned God of War and Last of Us, as well as Get Out, House of the Dragon
and The Owl House are all, generally, massive successes despite being considered “woke”
Judging a piece of media based on a lack of straight white men, how much money it made
or the proportion of positive to negative reviews is an incredibly reductive way of viewing art.
Art, and media in general, should be appreciated for what it means to you and the work
that went into it. Also, if your first thought when you see a same-sex couple is “wow, more
wokeism,” you might be homophobic. Which, in case I need to clarify, is a bad thing.
Part of what makes the “go broke” mantra frustrating is that it pushes a supremacist
narrative that people grab onto. I do not think it is unreasonable to claim that “go woke, go
broke” actively creates prejudice for any form of media that makes an earnest attempt at
representation or diversity.
If you are the kind of person who is sympathetic to the “go woke, go broke” cause, take the time
to understand and appreciate why racialized or 2SLGBTQIA+ people are being represented in film.
And if you are the type of person who enjoys so-called “woke” media like I do, keep doing your