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Disney’s Treatment of Race

Treatment of Race

For decades, Disney movies have been the main source of entertainment for millions of kids as well as adults around the globe. Disney’s films were initially created for the young and vulnerable audience, and their main objective was to assist parents in bringing up the sound, kind-hearted and honorable members of society. Although, this analysis reveals that the animated movies had a completely different intention. Apparently, the issue of racism played an essential role in Disney’s animal films. The work aims at revealing the ways in which the social context of racial prejudices and discrimination was applied in the animal movies by Disney.

The theme of race has always been central to Disney’s view of cultural and national identity, and this view was manifested through the films. Despite the fact that this theme was often mixed with others, it was always evident. Such animal movies as “King Lion” and “Dumbo” present to the audience the issue of racism more distinctly than others, as in these movies Disney has portrayed his particular vision of individuals of other races and emphasized the theme of race itself.

It can be logically assumed that the initial intention of the Walt Disney Corporation was to produce the screen interpretations of popular fairy tales. When this company started reinterpreting the tales, a number of conflicts appeared. Most of them were connected to the fact that the original idea of the work and its representation by the Disney’s Company contained a number of differences, which adversely affected the kids’ way of thinking. Walt Disney simply altered the stories of certain fairy-tales in order to communicate his viewpoint on particular issues to the young and vulnerable audience. His opinions were rather controversial, especially the considerations of gender and race. The main drawback of Disney’s cartoons was the fact that they lost the original educational ideas and sanitized the plot for the American society. Walt Disney created his cartoons for the White American audience. It was evident, as the protagonists of his cartoons were the representatives of the white race, whereas the characters that were portrayed as Asians, African-Americans and Mexicans were shown as individuals who had different flaws, such as negative linguistic capabilities, absence of intelligence, bad manners, or mental dysfunctions. In such a way, Walt Disney expressed his viewpoint towards the predominance of white race among the others, and made the attempt to plant his racist ideas in kids. Disney’s movies draw the distinction between the representatives of different races and constantly emphasized the issue of otherness.  Genevieve Goddard-Pritchett points out that:

“The intended viewers of the film (i.e. The White heroes) will be pulled to embrace the idea within because the characters in the film are reflecting commonly held beliefs and experiences that resonate with certain audiences, perhaps at the expense of others” (25).

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The first animal movie the paper will discuss is “King Lion”, which has been generally perceived as Disney’s jackpot. This cartoon obtained the absolute love of the viewers. However, despite the fact that this cartoon was created for the young audience, the representation of the topic of racism played the groundbreaking role in it. The first thing to be discussed is the depiction of hyenas. The movie draws parallels between these animals and African-Americans. Hyenas were depicted as the animals which were at the bottom of the food chain. They were perceived by other animals as stupid and reprobate creatures. Hyenas can be viewed as the characters that represent the image of African-Americans. Unfortunately, the representation of hyenas is not the only race issue in this animation movie.

The cartoon also made a particular emphasis of the foolishness of the African race. The baboon Rafiki was portrayed as a descendant of the African-American race. He made certain attempts to protect the travelers, and was responsible for their fortunes and misfortunes. However, despite the fact that he was depicted as a respected character, he acted as a crazy and even a bit foolish individual. Again, these were the traits often applied to speak about the African-Americans.

It should also be mentioned that the movie lays an emphasis on the issue of blood.  It plays the key role in the cartoon. Simba is always told by his father Mufasa to value his blood. Taking into account the fact that the movie represented the African-Americans as foolish and crazy individuals in the best perspective, and as mean and shaggy, in the worst one, it could be assumed that the representatives of the white race were depicted as true kings, whose blood had to be appreciated. These shades of meaning ruin the plot of the movie, and make it rather discriminatory. Researcher Nasser Al-Taee discusses the representation of the theme of race in this movie and states:

“The Lion King encourages us to identify with white culture as the norm, while the place of the darkness, where hyenas reside, is the ultimate threat. The process of Othering reflects Disney’s biased ideology as it constructs images of non-whites along binary oppositions and according to their own biases” (268).

Al-Taee also points out to the fact that this cartoon reinforces the idea of good versus evil along the purely racial lines. It should be noted that these lines were manifested even in the way of the representation of two characters Mufasa and Scar. Mufasa, being the symbol of good, was portrayed as fair lion, and Scar, who was the evil character, was shown as dark lion.

It should be also noted that the emphasis on the issue of blood connects the cartoon to the Nazi vision of the world. In Nazi ideology, the blood also played an essential role. For that reason, the emphasis of this aspect in the movie creates a negative impression. These parallels were not accidental, as in such a way, Disney attempted to communicate the viewpoint concerning the racial predominance.

The second animal movie by Disney to be analyzed is the cartoon “Dumbo”. In this animated movie, the crows, who tried to teach Dumbo to fly, represented the African-American caricatures. Similarly to the characters in “The Lion King”, they were also portrayed as foolish creatures, unable to think logically. The crows were the manifestation of racial stereotypes. Their way of speaking, clothing style, and manners represented the Black individuals. It was the first major depiction of the African-American identity in the cartoon. The crows were portrayed as evil characters, who laughed at Dumbo. These characters were made up in order to exhibit the Disney’s racial prejudices. The cartoon simply mimicked the negative stereotypes of African-Americans, and made them the central features of the cartoon’s characters.

The representation of crows is offensive for the African-Americans, because it is rather pejorative. It can be assumed that the similarity between “The Lion King” and “Dumbo” is the role of racial prejudices. They destroy the deep meaning of these animated movies, and seriously disappoint the Black part of the audience. Despite the fact that a number of critics and researchers try to oppose to the fact that Disney’s cartoons contain racial lines, it is really so. They truly involve the racial stereotyping features.

In conclusion, it has to be stated that for a long time Disney’s cartoons have been associated with important life lessons, which the kids could acquire in the course of watching the movies. They were marked by immense success due to the interesting plots and intriguing characters, who managed to engross the attention of kids and keep it up to the last scenes. However, the close analysis of the Disney’s cartoons has revealed that they are not as good, naïve and innocent, as it seems at the first sight. Disney’s cartoons express certain racial position. If it was not Disney, there would not be so many discussions of the topic of race. However, this company deals with the works for kids. In such a way, it plays a groundbreaking role in assisting kids to understand the life truths. However, racism is not one of them. Disney’s cartoons under analysis have revealed the negative representation of African-Americans. The representatives of this race were portrayed as mean individuals, deprived of intelligence, and marked by bad manners and poor worldview. The movies created a distinct line between good and evil, and good was manifested with the help of light colors, while evil with the help of the dark ones. It has to be stated that African-Americans have endured severe sufferings in the U.S. striving for the equality. And when there appeared a glimpse of hope for the possible race tolerance, it turned out that Disney was teaching children to develop the discriminatory feelings towards the Black people. Such practice is definitely offensive. Disney Company had to pay a greater attention to the way of the representation of race, as its films were an essential part of children’s culture.