Racism in Disney Movies

December 16, 2018 | Author: Deanna Baker | Category: Walt Disney, Racism, Ethnicity, Race & Gender, Society
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Research paper on the hidden racism in Disney films....


Deanna Baker  History of International Animation June 10, 2013 Racism in Disney movies The Walt Disney Studio is infamous in the world of animation. Most of us grew up watching Disney movies. Our children are growing up watching Disney movies. What legacy have we passed down to our children? What are these movies teaching them? Over the years, Disney movies have been the center of controversy many times. These films have been criticized as being racist. Critics say that the films contain racial stereotypes and depict different races in a demeaning way. Some people feel these claims are over-exaggerated. They claim these films are just innocent magical fantasies to entertain children. I believe Disney films are racist. Different cultures are portrayed in a negative way. Disney also makes the villains dark skinned. Are they trying to insinuate that all dark skinned people are bad? Whether or not it‟s intentional, doesn‟t change the fact that there is racism hidden within Disney films. This paper will dig deep into some of  these films and bring to light what lies below the surface of these cherished childhood movies. Black people are portrayed badly in Disney‟s Disney‟s “The Jungle Book”. The monkeys 1

speak the stereotypical “black” language. They are dancing and singing. The song they sing contains verses like „I wanna be a man, manman-cub‟, „I wanna be like you, talk like you 2

too‟, and „an ape like me can learn to be human too‟. This insinuates that blacks want to  be like whites. In this film, blacks are depicted as lazy and unintelligent with poor 


Adam Holwerda, “Racism in Disney Films”, 5 December 2 006, adamholwerda.com/cartoonviolence/2006/12/racism-in-disney-films.html 2  Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood & Corporate Power. Dir. Miguel Picker. Prod. Chyng Sun. Media Education Foundation, 2001.



grammar. They are also portrayed as sneaky and mischievous hooligans. Just the fact that only the monkeys have black accents is, in itself, racist. Disney‟s film “Song of the South” is based on the Uncle Remus stories of Joe 3

Chandler Harris and mixes live actors with animated characters. Disney believed they were making a charming post-Civil War film. However, the film quickly came under fire 4

from the NAACP and the National Negro Congress for being racist. The stereotypical  portrayal of blacks in this film was demeaning and very controversial. Blacks were 5

depicted as happy obedient cotton pickers. Although these were different times, and  people were used to thinking a certain way about blacks without realizing there was anything wrong with it, that doesn‟t make it acceptable. It definitely was not acceptable to the black community. One of Disney‟s well-known classic films, “Dumbo”, has been criticized for   being racist toward black people. In the beginning of the movie, there are workers setting up the circus tents. These men are black and have no face. This insinuates that blacks are unimportant and do not need a face. They even sing a song with lyrics like „we work all day, we work all night, we never learned to read or write‟ and „when other folks have gone to bed, we slave until we‟re almost dead‟. There is even a line at the end of the song 6

that says „grab that rope you hairy ape‟. The crows in the film have black accents and are depicted as uneducated. The leader of the crows is named Jim Crow. This is deemed


Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film (New York: Random House Inc., 2001), 234. 4 Ibid. 5 Jerry Beck, Animation in Art (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004), 121. 6 Ashley Nelson, “Disney‟s Dumbo: racist or not?”, 13 August 2009, www.examiner.com/article/disney-s-dumbo-racist-or-not.




racist because of the Jim Crow laws. These laws were instituted from 1876 to 1965 and mandated segregation. Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid” is a Jamaican sounding crab. He is portrayed as lazy and hates to work. The song he sings, “Under the Sea”, contains the lyrics „Upon the shore they work all day, out in the sun they slave away, while we devotin, full time to floatin, under the sea‟. Another character, the Duke of Soul, resembles an old black jazz  player. The Black Fish resembles a black female singer from the early 1900‟s. Ursula, the 8

evil villain, is dark skinned. This teaches children that people with darker skin are bad  people. It also teaches children that people who are different can‟t be trusted. A woman interviewed in “Mickey Mouse Monopoly” states that her child asked her “Mommy, why 9

are dark people always doing bad things?”

Another movie that portrays black people in a demeaning manner is “The Lion King”. The Hyenas are portrayed as black with stereotypical inner city voices. They are made to be the bad guys. A woman interviewed in “Mickey Mouse Monopoly” tells a story about her white friend who was coming home from shopping with her three year  old son. Her son says “Mommy, mommy, the hyenas”. She looks up and sees black  10

children playing. The villain in this film is Scar. He is depicted darker than the other  lions. This reinforces Disney‟s pattern of portraying the bad guys with darker skin. This is misinforming our children that dark skinned or different people are bad .


 Mickey Mouse Monopoly, 2001. Hub Pages, “Is Disney Racist?”, 2013, anaydena.hu bpages.com/hub/is-disney-racist. 9  Mickey Mouse Monopoly, 2001. 10 Ibid. 8



In Disney‟s “Tarzan” black people are, once again, portrayed as monkeys and gorillas. The movie takes place in an African jungle. However, there are no black people. There are only monkeys, gorillas, and white people. Does this mean that the monkeys and gorillas are supposed to represent the black people in Africa? A little girl interviewed in “Mickey Mouse Monopoly” stated that she couldn‟t think of any Disney movies with good black people in them. Another little girl interviewed stated that she has never seen 11

 black people in a Disney movie. This may be because they are not portrayed as people,  but as apes. How can we take all of the black people out of Africa and replace them with white people. I believe this speaks to the sense of entitlement white people have that everything belongs to them. They feel like they can just step in and take over, making history what ever they want it to be. Disney‟s “Fantasia” originally included Sunflower, a centaur that was half donkey and half black girl servant. She ran around polishing hooves, brushing, and decorating tails. There is even the possibility that there is more than one Sunflower and they all look  alike but have different hairstyles. Sunflower is also the only centaur that doesn‟t find a 12

mate. All of the other centaurs line up and get chosen by males. Is this because she is a  poor black servant and couldn‟t possibly be attractive to a man? Disney eventually cut Sunflower from the film. They then denied that she ever existed, until someone dug up some old footage and put it on the Internet. Sunflower is also seen eating watermelon in 13

the “Fantasia” cutout book, which has since been pulled from print.


 Mickey Mouse Monopoly, 2001.  Nadya Lev, “Sunflower, the Centaur Disney Wants to Forget”, 15 December 2011, coilhouse.net/2011/12/sunflower-the-centaur-disney-wants-to-forget/. 13 Ibid. 12



A more recent film, that I have just discovered, is Disney‟s “The Princess and the Frog”. In the beginning of the movie there is a little black girl and a little white girl  playing together in a mansion. Then, the little black girl‟s mother shows up to get her. They get on the bus and you can see the scenery changing outside the windows of the bus as they travel into the poor neighborhood. They get off of the bus in front of a broken down apartment building and go inside. This reinforces the stereotype that all black   people are poor and live in bad neighborhoods. Why couldn‟t the little black girl live in the mansion? Some people think that Disney has taken a step forward by introducing the first black princess.


However, the film still follows the same stereotypes found in many

other Disney movies. The princess may be black, but the prince is still white. Why can‟t the prince be black? Is this suggesting that a black man could not be a prince? Black people are not the only ones who are portrayed badly in Disney movies. In Disney‟s “Oliver and Company” Latinos are portrayed as Chihuahuas.


Tito is a

Chihuahua with stereotypical Latino characteristics. He has a strong Latino accent and  poor grammar. His sole purpose in his gang is to steal cars. This insinuates that all Latinos do is steal cars. Latinos are also depicted as undesirable and lower than others. This film gives the impression that Latinos are thieving criminals that can‟t be trusted.


Again, this seems to be a pattern in Disney films. Latinos are, quite frequently, depicted as Chihuahuas. They also are usually portrayed as car thieves.


Storify, “Princess and the Frog: Another Racist Disney Movie?”, December 2012, storify.com/must64ahk/princess-and-the-frog-still-racist. 15  Mickey Mouse Monopoly, 2001. 16 Storify, “Hidden Racism Within Disney Movies”, December 2012, storify.com/snelltl/are-disney-movies-racist.



Disney‟s “Lady and the Tramp” contains many stereotypes. One of the stereotypes in this film is the Chihuahua. He is portrayed as Latino with a heavy accent and poor grammar. His sister has a long complicated name. His only scene is at the 17

 pound, insinuating that all Latinos are criminals. He is also illegal in this country. They are also depicted as illiterate dirty criminals. Another stereotype is that the Siamese cats are Asian. They have thick Asian accents and broken English. They also have buckteeth 18

and slanted eyes. They are portrayed as cunning, sinister, and manipulative.

Disney‟s “Aladdin” has come under fire from many critics for being racist. The opening song, “Arabian Nights”, contains lyrics like „Oh I come from a land, from a far  away place, where the caravan camels roam. Where they cut off your ear, if they don‟t like your face, it‟s barbaric, but hey, it‟s home.‟


This song portrays Arabians as vicious

 barbarians. The film shows evil merchants who will cut off your hand for stealing an apple. This actually goes against Islam. In Islam you are obliged to feed someone if they are hungry. There is only one country that will cut off your hand for stealing, and this is only true after the third offense. After all of the controversy, Disney changed the lyrics to „Oh I come from a land, from a far away place, where the caravan camels roam. Where it‟s flat and immense, and the heat is intense‟. However, they kept the line „It‟s barbaric,  but hey it‟s home‟. This prompted the New York Times to write the headline “It‟s Racist, 20

 but Hey, It‟s Disney”.


Word Press, “Disney Stereotypes: Lady and the Tramp”, November 2012,  bintmedia.wordpress.com/Disney-stereotypes-lady-and-the-tramp/. 18  Mickey Mouse Monopoly, 2001. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid.



The Disney movie “Mulan” was actually supposed to be anti-racism and antisexism. However, it still portrays a negative image of Chinese culture. China is portrayed as the most sexist country in the world.


Chinese men are portrayed as abusive and

dominant. This film gives the impression that Chinese men do not value their women and that they are superior to women. Children are being taught that women should obey 22

men. This is painting China as a barbaric country, when in fact; China‟s culture is based on honor. Chinese men honor and respect their women in the highest regard. There was a very obvious stereotype of Native Americans in “Peter Pan”. A woman interviewed in the documentary, “Mickey Mouse Monopoly”, states that everyone thinks that Indians run around hitting their mouths and going “woo, woo, woo”. She also said that everyone thinks Indians all live in tee-pees, wear headdresses, and ride 23


Even today, our children are asked to sit “Indian style” in school. The Native

Americans in “Peter Pan” are portrayed as the bad guys who are cunning and can‟t be trusted. Peter repeatedly refers to them as Redskins. They are also depicted as uneducated  barbarians who threaten to burn the lost boys at the stake. This film portrays an image of  24

savage natives who hunt down and kill small white children. They are automatically  portrayed as bad because their skin is darker. This seems to be a pattern in Disney movies. The bad guys usually have darker skin.


 Mickey Mouse Monopoly, 2001. 22 Ibid. 23 Ibid. 24 Mia Adessa Towbin and others, “Images of Gender, Race, Age, and Sexual Orientation in Disney Feature-Length Animated Films”, Journal of Feminist Family Therapy 15, no.4 (2004): 32.



Disney‟s “Pocahontas” portrays Native Americans in a very negative way. The White Men are portrayed as heroes, while the Native Americans are portrayed as savages. Even the song “Savages” from the movie is very offensive. The song contains lyrics like, „What can you expect, from filthy little heathens, their hole disgusting race is like a curse, their skin‟s a hellish red, they‟re only good when dead‟ and „drive them from our shore, 25

they‟re not like you and me, which means they must be evil‟. This teaches children that  people who are different are evil. The phrase, „drive them from our shore‟, teaches a sense of entitlement that white people have the right to everything. They show up on the  Native Americans‟ land and say „drive them from our shores‟, when it‟s actually the  Native Americans‟ shores. This movie also depicts a happy ending in which the White Men are portrayed as heroes, when in fact, they were murderers who slaughtered the 26

 Native Americans.

The racism in Disney films may or may not be intentional. It could just be a  product of ignorance due to the historical influence of older generations. Regardless of  the intentions, it is still wrong. These are children‟s movies. Children are the most easily influenced by television. What are we teaching them? We are teaching them the same  prejudices that have been handed down from generation to generation by our ancestors. The cycle must be broken. This way of thinking is no longer acceptable and is detrimental to our future society. Our children must learn better than we did. They must learn not to judge someone because they are different. I believe that Disney needs to take a good look at their movies and commit to sending a better message to our children.


 Mickey Mouse Monopoly, 2001. 26 Ibid.



Bibliography Beck, Jerry. Animation in Art. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004. Chadwick, Bruce. The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film. New York: Random House Inc., 2001. Holwerda, Adam. “Racism in Disney Films”. 5 December 2 006. adamholwerda.com/cartoonviolence/2006/12/racism-in-disney-films.html. (accessed 15 June 2013). Hub Pages. “Is Disney Racist?”. 2013. Anaydena.hubpages.com/hub/is-disney-racist. (accessed 15 June 2013). Lev, Nadya. “Sunflower, the Centaur Disney Wants to Forget”. 15 December 2011. coilhouse.net/2011/12/sunflower-the-centaur-disney-wants-to-forget/. (accessed 15 June 2013).  Mickey Mouse Monopoly:Disney, Childhood & Corporate Power. Dir. Miguel Picker. Prod. Chyng Sun. Media Education Foundation, 2001. (accessed 15 June 2013).  Nelson, Ashley. “Disney‟s Dumbo: racist or not?”. 13 August 2009. www.examiner.com/article/disney-s-dumbo-racist-or-not. (accessed 15 June 2013). Storify. “Hidden Racism Within Disney Movies”. December 2012. storify.com/snelltl/are-disney-movies-racist. (accessed 15 June 2013). Storify. “Princess and the Frog: Another Racist Disney Movie?”. December 2012. storify.com/must64ahk/princess-and-the-frog-still-racist. (accessed 15 June 2013). Towbin, Mia Adessa, Shelly A. Haddock, Toni Schindler Zimmerman, Lori K. Lund, and Litsa Renee Tanner. “Images of Gender, Race, Age, and Sexual Orientation in Disney Feature-Length Animated Films”. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy 15, no.4 (2004): 19-44 Word Press. “Disney Stereotypes: Lady and the Tramp”. November 2012. Bintmedia.wordpress.com/Disney-stereotypes-lady-and-the-tramp/. (accessed 15 June 2013).

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