Without a doubt, Disney is the most well-known company in the world. Currently, Disney is regarded as a trailblazer of controversial topics such as sexual identity, politics, ethnicity, and race. As a result, the vast majority were dismayed that some of the programming aired by Disney was, and to some degree still is, problematic in portraying some cultural stereotype (Coyne 1909). Any of the films continue to pique people’s interest to this day. Disney’s reputation is fraught with dubious material that portrays racial stereotypes. Among the notable ethnic examples were reinforced in The Song of the South, Aladdin, and also in Pocahontas. This paper will thus unveil how various components of Disney characterize raciest orient, savage and people of color in Aladdin, The Song of the South and Pocahontas films.
The film is derived from tales fixated in Eastern World. The tales are from Arabian Nights in Agrabah, a location entirely fixated on the western fantasies. Originally, Agrabah was supposed to be in Baghdad but changed due to the US-Iraq uptight relations. Although the story is fictional, it, however, alludes to what the westerners think of the orient people through its alluded character tropes. Middle-East is presented as violent and backward in comparison to America (Salsitz 155). Of the many poignant things in the film, the casual equalization of the most female characters from the region cannot be ignored. The ‘harem girl’ trope often appears covertly and sexually. Brown women are portrayed as always sexually available, the same case to how the westerns depict Harems. White is the norm in the film, hence pushing other racial groups to the margins. Projecting race into animated characters does not imply that racial assumptions are not prevalent. The Arab leads in the film are strongly Americanized both in accent and physique as compared to the villain (Salsitz 155).
On a higher note, the film, the film is controversial in its construction of the maleness of African Americans. Tiana’s father, a character in the movie, dies in the early stages of the film. Other black male characters in the film also seem off as they depicted as old and illiterate, and even physically challenged (Salsitz 161). The blackness evokes historically and socially constructed tropes. Hence the black women are stereotyped as hyper-sexual and nurturing mothers (Coyne 1910). Despite the films effort to promote multiculturalism, the idea remains somewhat superficial as the issue on race was not dealt with, and interracial relations, for instance between Tiana and Naveen was reduced significantly. Avoidance to address matters of high importance like racism shows insensitivity and ambiguity of the issues, hence their promotion to some degree (Salsitz 161). Rather than being erased, racial conflicts are sanitized and simplified. To appeal to the broader audience of the white people, Disney reconstructs a color-blind scenario that is invisible to the ethnic challenge.
The Song of the South
The entire film is racism first, in the sense that it depicts happy slaves who live on a plantation in post Civil War. People who explain the racism in the film as a product of its specific time are nevertheless compelled to acknowledge that its popularity grew as years went be based on its uncertain status (Ritterhouse 7). The racial stereotyping run further deeper in that James Baskett who characterized as Uncle Remus was barred from attending the film’s premiere even after winning ‘honorary’ due to segregate laws in the Atlanta. The movie was released in the wake of Double V campaign which was a time when the US was promoting victory over racism and fascism. To prove that the film was racist, it was criticized by box-office and viewed as a backward as NAACP and OWI had over the years created a less stereotypical and positive African-American image (Ritterhouse 14-15).
Although the film is trip off the political, ideology and political setting, the attires can show it was during the slavery time. The word slavery is never uttered, but, the economic relationship between slaves and their masters is deliberately left vague. The plantation was turned into a ludicrous utopia where whites and blacks coexist. However, one thing is clear that the servile and inferior blacks are content with working in the fields. To say so, the movie is insulting to the American minorities as it depicts the South as the peculiarly gauche. In his book, Sperb refers the film as the most notorious of Disney’s films in reference of how it uses historical events of racism to gain fame and popularity (Ritterhouse 6).
Disney dismissed racism criticism of the movie by claiming that it is a mere authentic representation of the life of the young Matoaka, a Powhatan woman. However, taking a closer look at the presentation of the film is far from what Disney claims. At the very origin of this mythohistoric film is insidious racism (Couzelis 139). Stereotypically, the film portrays the lifestyles of the Native Americans by exemplifying racism in its derogatory and stereotype plot, and unethical plot. Governor Radcliffe, whose only concern is wealth and gold acquisition, keeps referring Native Americans as savages, as Indians and also uncivilized all because they speak broken English or even behavior different from other people. Lyrics to the song Savages are too offensive to Native American children who occasionally attend public school. The lyrics lack incredibility and sensitivity to this group of people who are portrayed as unpredictable individuals governed by uncontrollable desires and emotions. It is somewhat paradoxical that the Indians in the film sing a song that it is offensive to them. The natives in the film must again rely on Milo who is a white American in to ensure their survival and decipher their ancient language (Salsitz 158-9)
Beyond an effort for character diversification and tolerance efforts, the depiction of racial relations in Disney’s films contrasts with its representation of racists history. The efforts to promote multiculturalism is rather superficial, and the issue on race has instead not been overly dealt with accordingly. Racial conflicts emanating from the films are sanitized and simplified in the instance that they were not deleted. The color-blind world constructed by Disney made racism less critical and non-important. Disney was always trying to appeal to the broader audience, therefore, choosing not to pose a challenge to the racial status quo. To some extent, the company used the racial content of their films to gain popularity and make more sales even though they knew that the film was controversial. The white Americans stood to benefit from whatever the relation they had with the Blacks and the Native Americans. Although Disney has tried to screen its films for racial facets, its past, however, is tainted with racism aspects.
Couzelis, Mary J. “Generic Pocahontas: Reinforcing and Subverting the Whiteness of Mythohistory.” Children’s Literature 43.1 (2015): 139-160.
Coyne, Sarah M., et al. “Pretty as a princess: Longitudinal effects of engagement with Disney princesses on gender stereotypes, body esteem, and prosocial behavior in children.” Child Development 87.6 (2016): 1909-1925.
Rittenhouse, Jennifer. “Disney’s Most Notorious Film: Race, Convergence, and the Hidden Histories of Song of the South by Jason Sperb.” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society111.4 (2014): 630-632.
Salsitz, Maureen. Imagineering Multiculturalism: Examining Multiculturalism at Disney California Adventure from 2001-2017. Diss. The Claremont Graduate University, 2017.