Walt Disney is one of the biggest entertainment companies to exist with an annual revenue of $59.43 billion (Statista). Yet, some would find it a bit shocking that racism and stereotypes would exist in their films. Because in most homes Disney’s movies are a beloved collection. Though, a lot has changed since the early 1920s when Disney was first founded (Farland, David). But, the question still remains today, do racism and ethnicity exist or play a role in Walt Disney’s animation?
Many have argued and believed that most of Disney’s cartoon animation and films have portrayed ethnicity and racial bias along with stereotypical gender roles (Underlying Racism in Disney).
Compared to Disney’s early animated films, that openly showed racism like Dumbo and Fantasia, Disney has made some progress in improving diversity and depicting ethnic heroes and heroines like Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995), Mulan (1998) and etc (Nunez, Veronica). However, these films contain racist connotations and a distorted portrayal of other cultures (POC, Nerdy).
Though she is not heroic and before the film was released, Disney’s first African-American princess Tiana “The Princess and the Frog” was already undergoing scrutiny for its stereotypical portrayal of African Americans (Barnes, Brooks). Like Disney’s original classic princesses like Snow White and Cinderella, Tiana was hand-drawn, wore a tiara, had an upsweep hairdo, was a songbird, strong-willed and found her prince charming though all odds. Yet, some critics question: Was the film based in New Orleans in the 1920s to degrade African American stereotypes or uplift them? While others were offended by the film’s storyline being based in New Orleans, due to the devastating tragedies of the to the community.
Another issue critics had with the film was Prince Naveen and how he was voiced by a Brazilian actor “Bruno Campos”(Barnes, Brooks). Though in Disney’s offense he is not white. Others believed Disney studio doesn’t think a black man is worthy of the title prince. The characters hair and features described as non-black did not make it better for their defense. At the end of the day, some critics wanted a black prince. Along with Ray the firefly voiced by “Jim Cumming” some people believe his voice was too much like an uneducated southern African American (Barnes, Brooks).
A rumor surfaced about an early script of the film and the Disney’s princess early name and her role in the film. Her original name would have been Madeleine. Maddy for short, but some believed the name was too close to the racist name Mammy (Barnes, Brooks). Maddy’s role in the film would have been a chambermaid for a Caucasian woman, a historical profession for an African American during the 1920s. To a lot of people, the character reminded them too much of slavery and the idea was quickly ignored.
But, while others bashed Disney for sticking to stereotypes, others saw differently and applauded Disney for trying to be diverse and add diversity. A web designer from Los Angeles stated “Who knows if Disney will get it right,” she added. “They haven’t always in the past, but the idea that Disney is not bending over backward to be sensitive is laughable. It wants to sell a whole lot of Tiana dolls and some Tiana paper plates and make people line up to see Tiana at Disney World.” While members of the N.A.A.C.P. gave extremely positive feedback about the film (Barnes, Brooks).
Though a lot has changed and evolved since the early Disney, people today can’t believe that such an aspiring, positive and innocent media could still have some racist undertone in its animation (Underlying Racism in Disney). Early films like Dumbo that had a crow named Jim Crow and portrayed the crows as pimped hat wearing uneducated speaking crows (YouTube). The Jungle book: All of the animals in the film had proper accents yet, King Louie and the monkeys all spoke jive and wanted to become “real people”(POC, Nerdy). Directors of the film wanted Louie Armstrong to be the voice of King Louie but did not want to offend the N.A.A.C.P. by voicing a black man the character of a monkey (YouTube).
Though judgment is not being passed on the people that we behind the scenes during this time because, certain films where a product of their time and normal to their society. However, films like Aladdin is no excuse. In 1993, The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee was not thrilled with the Aladdin soundtrack and complained to the company for a lyrics change (Barnes, Brooks). (“Where they cut off your ear/If they don’t like your face/It’s barbaric, but, hey, it’s home”). The committee saw this as disparaging towards the Arab people. Disney did comprise part of the lyrics and released an updated version of the lyrics on VHS (YouTube).
In conclusion, I am still a very huge Walt Disney fan. But, I feel as though a bit more consideration can go into the idea and production of Disney’s films and animations that are based on people ethnicity, culture, and race so that people are not offended. Disney’s executives feel as though people should stop jumping to race and conclusions about their films when critics feel as though they are trying to be sneaky about including stereotypes or trying to be offensive about their films (Barnes, Brooks). It’s not their intentions.
A producer at Disney also stated “We feel a great responsibility to get this right. Every artistic decision is being carefully thought out” (Barnes, Brooks). While cast members have defended the company as well. Anika Noni Rose voice of Tiana (The Princess and The Frog) stated “There is no reason to get up in arms,” she told reporters at a Los Angeles Urban League dinner. “If there was something that I thought was disrespectful to me or to my heritage, I would certainly not be a part of it” (Barnes, Brooks).
In the end and until the end of time, people are going to have their own personal opinions about Walt Disney’s films and if they portray racism and stereotypes of people from different background. Who is to say that they are right or wrong? Because, in the end, everyone is entitled to their own personal opinion and feelings and at the end of the day, you can’t please everyone.
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