It's really hard to critique Disney, right?
September 1, 2015 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Walidah Imarisha is a professor at Portland State University, where she teaches a class on race and Disney. This is her interview with Bitch Media on the racial politics of Disney animals.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (110 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Watching THE JUNGLE BOOK with my daughter has almost ruined the film for me. I just can't see anything but how racist the depictions are, especially King Louie. It's stunning and a little heartbreaking.
posted by gerryblog at 1:46 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


> What I think is most useful—Henry Giroux talks about this, he has a great book called The Mouse that Roared—is equipping kids with media literacy, the ability to really think critically about what I’m seeing, about what messages it’s sending about me and the world, and do I want to internalize those messages?

I make fun of my film studies degree all the time, but this is exactly the most important thing of value I got out of it. If I had a dime for every time someone has told me "Lighten up, it's just a movie/TV show..."
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:50 PM on September 1, 2015 [38 favorites]




I'd be curious to hear her opinions of the black actors who choose to take on the roles that she criticizes.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:00 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


And we absolutely see this in The Lion King because again, we have the lions being coded as the top of the hierarchy, the ruling monarchy, and so being coded as white. And we have the hyenas who are voiced by two people of color, and really the main two people of color voices that we hear in that.

James Earl Jones and Robert Guillame might have something to say about that.
posted by designbot at 2:02 PM on September 1, 2015 [56 favorites]


I kind of wish the interviewer would have asked if there were Disney films with positive subtext... or Do "Wreck It Ralph" next.
posted by drezdn at 2:04 PM on September 1, 2015


There aren't a whole lot of opportunities for black actors (and especially weren't at the time when they were making something like Dumbo). I seriously doubt that she would have strong criticisms for Black voice actors in 1941 who managed to score a role, and I don't think Hollywood has changed so significantly that she would have strong criticisms even for someone as big name as Whoopie Goldberg or James Earl Jones, who are still pigeonholed and limited in their casting opportunities.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:05 PM on September 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's amazing how much culture Disney has managed to suck up. Besides their original properties, they have the Muppets now, Star Wars, and the Marvel Universe. Outside of those, they also have the biggest sports cable network.
posted by drezdn at 2:05 PM on September 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Since all the animals are African and presumably not descended from ancestors who went through a Eurasian bottleneck some tens of thousands of years ago, I think if you must transpose the Lion King onto contemporary human groupings it's best to suppose that all of them are black.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:06 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


James Earl Jones and Robert Guillame might have something to say about that.

Also Madge Sinclair, who voiced Sarabi.

Not that she doesn't have a point; Disney is better now, but it still has racism floating around.
posted by jeather at 2:08 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Though "better than 'Song of the South'" isn't really a high bar to clear.
posted by jeather at 2:10 PM on September 1, 2015 [13 favorites]


Now that I think about it, given that the supposed theme of The Lion King is The Circle of Life and that it is explicitly said that Lions are part of that because when they die their bodies become grass, how can Hyenas be the bad guys when carrion eaters are part of that process?

Also, less biologically and more sociopolitically, if the dominant Lions are all about the Circle of Life and recognizing that they are one with the natural environment, they're not very good stand-ins for European-descended culture which for the last few centuries has been distinguished precisely by its unwillingness to acknowledge anything of the kind.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:16 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Really great interview.

It's amazing how much culture Disney has managed to suck up.

I keep predicting that Disney is going to buy Nintendo at some point.
posted by painquale at 2:16 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I just can't see anything but how racist the depictions are, especially King Louie.

I'm one of those kids that grew up in the 90s and barely remember anything about the Jungle Book, but still recall in Talespin, where these characters (except Mowgli) were reimagined and Louie is the successful club owner rather than a self-proclaimed king. Now I'm curious to go back and watch some episodes to see if there was something racist I didn't notice (and to see if the show was any good in the first place).

I keep predicting that Disney is going to buy Nintendo at some point.

I'm more scared that Disney will make a bid for the LEGO Group.
posted by FJT at 2:20 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Surprised they didn't mention that Mickey Mouse's original design is essentially a blackface minstrel show performer with two big round ears balanced on top.

From Wikipedia: "When the sound era of cartoons began in the late 1920s, early animators such as Walt Disney gave characters such as Mickey Mouse (who already resembled blackface performers) a minstrel-show personality; the early Mickey is constantly singing and dancing and smiling."
posted by Paul Slade at 2:25 PM on September 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm just barely old enough to remember seeing Song of the South as a small child. It was decades old even then, but back before home video became commonplace you could still easily see old films in theatres, particularly as part of a family double features.

I recall how incredibly seductive its nostalgia was; for an era and a culture I -- as a Yankee kid whose family had until then lived abroad almost all his life -- knew nothing whatsoever about. I would be interested to watch it again because I suspect it's fucking dangerous. I remember only the warmth of it, the depiction of an Eden-like state. It's a little upsetting to think about that now and the influence it could have had on me if there had not been countervailing culture around me as well.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:28 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


One thing I wonder with stuff like the Lion King things is if they've ever had someone who has really studied semiotics go through their scripts and watch test screenings, or even worse they do have that person, and you still get the underlying messages in things like The Little Mermaid.
posted by drezdn at 2:39 PM on September 1, 2015


Walt Disney had an incredibly conservative framework. He felt that women should be in the home, he felt that there shouldn't be queer and trans folks in the world, he felt that folks of color should keep to their menial places.

it's incredibly conservative now, but in 1966, women were generally expected to be in the home, people pretended there weren't queer and trans folks and only the notion that folks of color should keep to their menial places was one that the mainstream was discarding and could be called conservative for those times

walt disney was middle of the road, mainstream america in the early to mid 60s and many of his views reflected that

you couldn't put out that scene with those two black crows or song of the south now - you could in the 40s and 50s and you could show them on TV in the 60s and not too many questioned it

there were a lot of things not to like about life back then, trust me, i didn't like them
posted by pyramid termite at 2:53 PM on September 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Um. Many people questioned it for the racist and sexist shit it was. But they had no power to change it.
posted by agregoli at 2:54 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think the crows in Disney's Dumbo are a glaringly obvious form of racism, but I still have trouble seeing Disney's King Louie as anything but a power hungry orangutan. He doesn't read as a human substitute to me.
posted by obol at 2:56 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I hesitate to get into this stuff, because I think a lot of it is people reading in stuff that's not there and looking for things to get offended about. (A lot of it, but not all of it.) But...

I just can't see anything but how racist the depictions are, especially King Louie.

I've heard this before, and I'm not sure how King Louie is supposed to be racist. Louie Prima was a white guy. He's not putting on an accent or anything. King Louie's supposed to be Louie Prima, ape-ified. The crows in Dumbo are one thing, that's a really loaded and dated scene. I'm not trying to troll here, but I'm honestly not getting the racist read on King Louie.

Googling "King Louie," I see that most of the results coming up are for a rapper who goes by that name. I realize that I may be living in a glass house here as far as stupid names go, but naming yourself after an ape from a Disney cartoon seems like a really weird choice for a rapper to make.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:01 PM on September 1, 2015 [14 favorites]


I'm more scared that Disney will make a bid for the LEGO Group.

Leggo-Disney sure sounds like some megacorporation from a children's version of Alien or Neuromancer...
posted by happyroach at 3:13 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ursula I love all things Disney but go back and watch Jungle Book and it's pretty hard not to read some racial coding in there. King Louie's big song is about how yeah, he's doing okay as a jazz-playing scat-singing monkey but he really wants to be a man, like Mowgli, and have technological power. See more here. It's not the only reading but it's certainly an obvious enough one that there was controversy even at the time about the character (who is not in Kipling's original story) and number.

Re: the Lion King while the most obvious parallel is to Hamlet, the circle of life stuff goes hand in hand with thematic ideas about the natural order of things. Again, I don't think it's the only possible interpretation, but reading The Lion King as a parable about the proper hierarchy of life is not a stretch at all, and it's a pretty conservative message even without bringing up race. ("When the proper authorities rule everything is great, when they don't everything dies, everyone has their place.")
posted by Wretch729 at 3:15 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I took a class in college called The Rhetoric of Disney. I expected it to be awesome, like this. But the professor was a Disney fangirl who only spoke positively about the Mouse.
posted by Ruki at 3:17 PM on September 1, 2015


Actually to go back to Lion King/Hamlet parallels Hamlet itself can very much be read as a story about the natural order being upset (ghosts, incest, patricide, regicide) with Hamlet having to restore it at the cost of his life.
posted by Wretch729 at 3:20 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Disney did hire many women artists, however. So there's that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:35 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the crows in Disney's Dumbo are a glaringly obvious form of racism

See also: the jazz cats scene from The Aristocats. Particularly the Chinese cat. Horrible.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:39 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have no reservations whatsoever calling Disney (the brand, the aesthetic, the empire) white supremacist to its very core.

But King Louie is not racist. Audiences of that day knew who Louie Prima was and they named the character Louie. Louie Prima was hugely famous. This is like the one single example of a non-racist characterization in the whole canon.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 3:47 PM on September 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Or the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp. A pretty weird racial caricature.
posted by GuyZero at 3:47 PM on September 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


All I can say is, I was amazed, 30 years after seeing "The Jungle Book", to see a picture of Louie Prima and realize he wasn't an African American.
posted by acrasis at 3:49 PM on September 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Disney did hire many women artists, however. So there's that.

Previously
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:51 PM on September 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


If you weren't aware that Los Lobos covered "I Wanna Be Like You," here you go.
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:52 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Or that line in the movie version of Aladdin (changed for the album and vhs/dvd releases):

Where they cut off your hand if they don't like your face
It's barbaric, but hey, it's home.

I believe also they added extra racism into Peter Pan with Tiger Lily but am not sure.
posted by jeather at 4:00 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Dumbo is an interesting example that I think is a little more complicated than CROWS=BLACK=RACIST. The scene openly acknowledges the idea of segregation. Dumbo and Timothy Mouse , a couple of outsiders themselves, waken up from their drunken escapade to find themselves in the "wrong part of town", the butt of a joke to some amused crows. Not realizing they're in a tree, Timothy Mouse scoffs at them, saying something to the effect of "What are you boys doing here? Go back to where you belong". The crows reply that it's Dumbo and Timothy who are in their neighborhood, and continue to have fun at their expense with the "When I Seen An Elephant Fly" number.

Dumbo, very much a marginalized character, is valiantly defended by Timothy for being ridiculed, and in the process, the crows seem to empathize with his marginalization. It's only fitting that Dumbo ends up in the wrong part of town, is befriended by characters rather like him, who become key to developing his peculiar talent, allowing him to overcome his oppressors.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:07 PM on September 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


A lot of the racism in Peter Pan comes from the original play and theatre productions.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:10 PM on September 1, 2015




Found the reference to added racism in Peter Pan. It's in Mari Ness's very interesting Disney read/watch-along.
posted by jeather at 4:16 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was literally seconds from posting that quote from Wikipedia (about Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima) - I can't track down the supposed source at the moment, though.
posted by atoxyl at 4:17 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sociological Images posted a link to research about--well--species stereotyping in children's literature. Unfortunately the PDF link to the original paper no longer works, but they provide citations.

Basically Martin argues that different social classes are almost always coded as different species (for example, manual labor is almost always done by pigs in Richard Scarry books) and that this predisposes children (therefore us) to think of class and labor distinctions as "naturally occuring".
posted by Hypatia at 4:34 PM on September 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


Someone was telling me recently that Mulan is problematic but they didn't remember why. The depiction of the Huns is certainly pretty racist but I'm not sure if that was it.

Just don't tell me anything bad about Lilo & Stitch...
posted by chaiminda at 4:39 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Don't forget "What Made the Red Man Red" from Peter Pan.
posted by isthmus at 4:41 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


If anything, King Louie becomes a great example of our ability to see things that aren't there.
posted by timdiggerm at 4:43 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately the PDF link to the original paper no longer works, but they provide citations.

I think this is the paper: What do animals do all day?: The division of labor, class bodies, and totemic thinking in the popular imagination. - John Levi Martin.
posted by cashman at 4:51 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was trying to find an article about the racial/class subtext of the Redwall series, but couldn't find anything any deeper than "Hey, how come MICE are GOOD but RATS are BAD? Redwall is RACIST."

Nonetheless, I remember reading an interview when I was a kid, where the author, Brian Jacques, said that the style of speech for each species was based on the local accents of people around the UK. I wonder if those old books are similarly problematic? I haven't laid eyes on one in years. Anyone have any laying around they can flip through?
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 4:55 PM on September 1, 2015


The King Louie sequence is framed as a performance in a jazz club, centered around an ape inappropriately seeking equality. The song ends when Baloo busts in in a disguise that's pretty suggestive of blackface. Watch the sequence with that in mind and see what you think about the implications of the imagery.

Even if it's uncomfortable to call it racist, at best I think you have to concede that the sequence is very much of its time. It's a great song in a great movie but I don't find it easy to watch with adult eyes.
posted by gerryblog at 5:08 PM on September 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


From the desk of Brian Jacques
posted by drezdn at 5:11 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Given that the Redwall creatures are, with the exception of lizards from far off lands (The Pearls of Lutra), just various British accents (as you said), I don't think you'll find racism there. Nor classism, I think, because although the vermin hordes are uncouth (Cluny's initial horde are sailors, etc), they've got their fair share of lordly rulers (Mossflower, Marlfox). The woodlanders run the gamut as well, from Badger Lords and their elite hares (one practically expects Basil Stag Hare to report cabbage crates over the briny, wot wot) to the old, industrious moles of Somerset.
posted by timdiggerm at 5:19 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


My dim middle-school memories of Redwall involve sone pretty iffy racial politics. There was the one book where the Redwall mice try to raise a rat from birth. He poisons the abbot and joins a rat gang, and dies tragically. Then there was the corresponding one where the otter is raised by rats but refuses to kill for sport because of his inherent goodness. Not sure what conclusions to draw from the one where the ferrets have a weird Nazi-analogue state, though.
posted by Oxydude at 5:19 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Zippity doo dah

No discussion of race with the word "Disney" in it should go without discussion of this piece of trash.
posted by disclaimer at 5:20 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


(it was a ferret they raised from birth, but good example nonetheless)
posted by timdiggerm at 5:22 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think there are some Redwall predator characters who wind up being good in the end, though I don't think any of them are able to stay in Redwall. (Wow, I really wish my brain was storing something other than this information!)

I really think the main racist aspect of The Lion King is similar to this and not so much the casting. The hyenas are Bad and if they leave their place Bad Things Happen. The lions are Good and they should be in charge. It's very much about how we all are predestined to do things based on our birth.
posted by chaiminda at 5:38 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Wind In The Willows also pretty explicitly maps social difference onto species (and in a way that seems similar to Redwall), although it does so in a way that valorizes the English country gentleman (educated, comfortable, creatures of independent means- Mole, Ratty, and Badger) against both the aristocracy (Toad) and the lazy, vicious underclasses (stoats and weasels).
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:42 PM on September 1, 2015


(one practically expects Basil Stag Hare to report cabbage crates over the briny, wot wot)


I'm having a spot of trouble with your banter, old man.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:44 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is like the one single example of a non-racist characterization in the whole canon.

Pinocchio, the little puppet boy, is a racist characterization? Bambi the deer is a racist characterization? Alice from Alice in Wonderland is a racist characterization? Even if by canon you didn't mean the larger Disney canon but were instead just referring to The Jungle Book... how is Baloo a racist characterization? How is Bagheera a racist characterization? They are both voiced by white guys who were playing on their famous personas, and I don't think they are even slightly intended to represent any other ethnicity.

I saw the thing about Louie Armstrong in the Wikipedia entry too, and I'm not sure if you're trying to use that as a pro or anti argument about Disney being racist. It sounds like they started to cast Louie Armstrong because he was a beloved entertainer with a fantastic, unique voice and then they realized, "Oh, shit. We can't cast a black guy as an ape, that plays right into that KKK shit. Better cast a white guy instead." So they cast Prima and he Prima'ed the hell out of the role.

As somebody noted above, Prima was a big name in his day. Today it'd be like casting, I don't know, Michael Buble or something. (Not that they're similar entertainers, just that they are both quite famous white musicians.) People knew what Prima looked like, and the animators designed King Louie as a caricature of Prima in some respects.

I'm not saying that there isn't racist stuff in the old Disney movies. Song of the South is just awkward as hell however you look at it and Disney himself was a complicated guy with some contradictory and occasionally cringeworthy attitudes about race. But you have to engage with the Disney canon for what it really is, and not read a bunch of stuff into it.

I'm especially baffled by the suggestion that Disney movies were anti-LGBT. Now, I would not be at all surprised to learn that Walt Disney had some anti-LGBT attitudes, because he was a man of his time and as he got older he became more conservative. But can anybody name a character in Disney's filmography who reads as LGBT? Captain Hook was a fop, but I sure don't think we're supposed to assume he's gay or trans. Where is the anti-LGBT stuff? If your argument is that Disney movies are anti-LGBT because there are no LGBT characters in them, that way lies madness. Pretty much any mainstream American film before 1980 or so is going to be unwatchable for you.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:56 PM on September 1, 2015 [18 favorites]


. But can anybody name a character in Disney's filmography who reads as LGBT? Captain Hook was a fop, but I sure don't think we're supposed to assume he's gay or trans. Where is the anti-LGBT stuff?

Wasn't Ursula based off of a drag queen? A drag queen stealing voice from pretty young straight girl in order to steal her man isn't exactly a positive characterization.
posted by damayanti at 6:06 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Someone was telling me recently that Mulan is problematic but they didn't remember why. The depiction of the Huns is certainly pretty racist but I'm not sure if that was it.

I've heard trans people articulate discomfort and/or distaste at the crossdressing elements, both with Mulan disguising herself as a guy, but also the sequences where some of her male fellow-soldiers dress up as women and it's played for laughs.

Separately, some Chinese people I know dislike how Mulan departs pretty significantly from the original story. As a Chinese-American lady, I have very little patience for this branch of criticism because, frankly, fuck obnoxious 1500+ year old Confucian morality plays about how humility is the ultimate womanly virtue/ultimate glory for a woman is to turn down a reward for hard work and sacrifice on behalf of her menfolk.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:07 PM on September 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


As somebody noted above, Prima was a big name in his day. Today it'd be like casting, I don't know, Michael Buble or something.

Honestly, I think that the best parallel would be Robin Williams in Aladdin. Well-known comedian with an extremely recognizable style of speech cast as the voice of the ultimate Disney comedic sidekick character. The character is fun on its own, but there's an added bonus if you're aware of who this guy is and you get the reference.

If your argument is that Disney movies are anti-LGBT because there are no LGBT characters in them, that way lies madness. Pretty much any mainstream American film before 1980 or so is going to be unwatchable for you.

Yeah, but how is the fact that "everyone was doing it!" mean it isn't prejudice? I mean, eliding a group you don't like might be more subtle than having villains with overtly gay stereotypes constantly showing up around on the Big Screen, but it's still a way to deny that they're a legitimate thing.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:17 PM on September 1, 2015


From Vice: Why So Many Disney Villains Sound 'Gay'
posted by peeedro at 6:18 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just don't tell me anything bad about Lilo & Stitch

I have zero patience for Disney, especially all the endless princess shit everywhere, but I watched Lilo & Stitch recently and cried and cried. Aw, man. I'm planning to watch it again soon. (I never cry and I never rewatch, so this is significant to me.)

Now let's trash talk Pocahontas.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:24 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


If your argument is that Disney movies are anti-LGBT because there are no LGBT characters in them, that way lies madness. Pretty much any mainstream American film before 1980 or so is going to be unwatchable for you.

not unwatchable, we just recognize that that sucks instead of making excuses for it when someone brings it up. and then we put pressure on hollywood to fucking get on that shit. this is also not a problem with the past, in 2015 things are still overwhelmingly cis, straight, white, and male. i watch and i complain.

elsa's whole storyline reads as closeted queer. CONCEAL DON'T FEEL
posted by twist my arm at 6:36 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Lilo and Stich is pretty unimpeachable in this regard.


Also, The Emperor's New Groove.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:38 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Emperor's New Groove is pretty disparaging toward demon llamas.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:39 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Lilo and Stich is pretty unimpeachable in this regard.

Lilo and Stitch, the more I watch it, is pretty much a goddamn miracle in terms of character design.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 6:41 PM on September 1, 2015 [13 favorites]


Cashman ftw.

These kinds of discussions are also made difficult by Disney's bowdlerization and erasure practices. Yes, many people know that Song of the South is just unavailable because Disney won't release it. Most people do not know that Fantasia originally had racist "pickanniny" centaurs in the Pastoral Symphony section; it certainly wasn't in my 1990s childhood VHS copies. Yet if you tell this generation of people "Fantasia contains racist material" you will hear them say, in all honesty, "No! I've seen Fantasia and it's not there!"

Disney is really a special case in media from 70 and 80 years ago continuing to remain contemporary--yet contemporary because of its own special kind of memory holes.
posted by Hypatia at 6:44 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's absurd to single out Disney for this stuff. This Bugs Bunny scene is from 1960. It wouldn't be shown today but it remained unremarkable for quite some time. Mainstream US culture thought nothing of this sort of thing at least into the 1970s.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:00 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


From Vice: Why So Many Disney Villains Sound 'Gay'

James Adomian - Gay Villians
posted by Lorin at 7:00 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


New Orleans jazz was code for Black. Especially when being sung by an ape. If the Armstrong story is true, it means that instead of a literal Black New Orleans jazz singer, they went with their second choice, an (olive-skinned, Sicilian-American) New Orleans jazz singer who just sang in that same coded style. If the Armstrong story is false, the part about the code is still true.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:21 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I kind of draw a line between the stuff made during Disney's lifetime and everything after. I am a lot less interested in modern Disney and wasn't even thinking of characters like Jafar, et al. Folks can argue about that stuff if they like, but I have no horse in that race.


not unwatchable, we just recognize that that sucks instead of making excuses for it when someone brings it up.


I don't know, does it really "suck" that there are no LGBT characters in the old Disney cartoons? I mean, I'm trans myself, and I'm all for LGBT characters... but where would they even fit in those movies? Those were early to mid-20th century cartoon fairytales for a family audience, and expressions of sexuality of any kind were naturally all but nil. Generally you've got a princess and a prince falling in love, and the sexuality of everybody around them isn't even addressed. (In Pinocchio you have no romantic element at all.) Would Snow White really be better if some of the dwarfs were gay? Would Sleeping Beauty be better if the Fairy Godmothers were lesbians? Should Geppetto or Thumper have been openly gay? Any of that stuff would have just felt tacked on and weird, for those stories, that era, that studio and that audience.

You could make an interesting movie now about a trans princess in the old-time-y Disney mold, but is it really a bad thing that the Disney studio didn't go there in 1948? (And I already hear some of you saying that would have been awesome, but it would have only been awesome as a camp disaster and you know it.)

I think it's fair to get angry about genuinely hateful stuff and it's fair to be annoyed by naive but offensive stuff, but there's not much point decrying old Disney cartoons for not representing LGBT folks at all. We were invisible in the culture then, and even in some alternate universe where LGBT characters were totally accepted back then, we probably still wouldn't have been in those films.

Underpants Monster, I was about to argue with you but then I realized that an argument between Ursula Hitler and the Underpants Monster would literally be the silliest thing ever. (Although it does sound like a fine name for my debut LP.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:29 PM on September 1, 2015 [17 favorites]


On the LGBT issue, I taught Frozen last semester in a mid-level English course for undergraduates and it was amazing to me how strongly the class split on whether Elsa was a strong female character or a coded LGBT (or disabled) character. When we talked about Frozen 2 (which is in production) the class was just about 50/50 on whether it would ruin what was special about the character to pair her off with a guy (as seems almost existentially certain that they will, perhaps even Hans in the name of narrative parsimony).
posted by gerryblog at 7:42 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ursula Hitler and Underpants Monster would be a great name for an album! But it sounds like a terrible Disney cartoon.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:46 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not that this is relevant to the Walt Disney era, but as a closeted teen I always kinda assumed The Little Mermaid was a queer narrative? She's got that whole cave full of human paraphernalia that she collects in secret even though she doesn't entirely understand it...her dad finds it and completely loses his mind...she sacrifices her relationship with her family and friends to pursue her love (and...gives up her voice? OK not sure where that fits in)...yay, in the end they come around and she gets to stay in her weird relationship nobody she grew up with understands, and they love her anyway. I just remember walking around gay neighborhoods and hearing "Part of Your World" going through my head.

There are definitely many problematic aspects of The Little Mermaid but I definitely felt like it was on my side at the time. And in 1988 that wasn't the kind of story anyone else was really telling in kids' movies.
posted by town of cats at 7:47 PM on September 1, 2015 [17 favorites]


Just a quick reminder: Disney is actively destroying the public domain in an act of just stunning hypocrisy.

I urge you to refrain from buying their products for yourself or others.
posted by Gin and Comics at 8:00 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Or the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp. A pretty weird racial caricature.

Huh. I used to sing that song when I was a kid. I don't remember--

[starts to watch the video]

holy shit

they made the cats bucktoothed

they totally fucking did

[sighs, adds Lady and the Tramp to a list that begins with Song of the South; you probably have a similar one]
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:10 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Halloween Jack, at this point I think I actually have an inverse list. Winnie the Pooh movies are fine, I think...Alice in Wonderland...once I can talk to them about women and power a bunch of the princess ones are OK, but certainly not before elementary school or so. Bowdlerized Fantasia is fine, but I found much of it dull as a kid. 101 Dalmatians is a little misogynist ("crazy woman driver!!") and really it's horrific that Cruella's whole scheme is to murder literally over 100 puppies for a coat, but probably fine.

On the "no" side...Peter Pan, Dumbo, Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, Aristocats, racial caricatures. Aladdin and the Lion King are more subtle but also probably worth a serious discussion. Pinocchio is just weird weird weird. Bambi is painfully sad.

I haven't seen most of the others, or not recently enough to know what's in 'em.
posted by town of cats at 8:20 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jeather, that barbaric Aladdin line may have eventually been changed, but it was still definitely on my cassette tape version of the soundtrack in the early 90s.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:03 PM on September 1, 2015


Isn't it possible to read 101 Dalmatians as an allegory about the Holocaust?

I like Winnie the Pooh, though there is a claim that it reinforces imperialism.
posted by drezdn at 9:05 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is a lot of coded LGBT stuff in Disney's 90s stuff, and I think the only argument is how much of that the studio heads were aware of and how much the filmmakers were sneaking it in. I think The Little Mermaid was almost certainly meant as a queer allegory, at least to some extent. But back in the Walt days, no, there was nothing of the sort. Although, interestingly enough, there was plenty of Freudian butt stuff.

Pinocchio is just weird weird weird.

Pinocchio is awesome, awesome, awesome, arguably the greatest thing the studio ever did. Please don't deprive your kids of such an extraordinary film. When you refer to "bowdlerized Fantasia", I hope you mean the version that's been in circulation for decades, without the centaur scene, and not that you're showing them some other edit. The centaur aside, I don't see what anybody could find offensive about the film.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:20 PM on September 1, 2015


Oh, yes, I mean the centaur edit.

I didn't watch Pinocchio until I was in high school and probably haven't seen it again since, and I'll definitely own up to the fact that my views on it are heavily influenced by the incoherent Disneyland dark ride based on it. But I just don't feel like I get it, and it certainly doesn't read to me like a movie for children. UH, what age range do you think could actually appreciate it on its merits? Maybe I'll revisit it.

Still, my list of "Disney movies I'm totally comfortable showing my kids" is a mighty short list.
posted by town of cats at 9:36 PM on September 1, 2015


Of course, people say the Bandar-Log are Kipling's racist satire on the Indians, anyway.
posted by Segundus at 9:38 PM on September 1, 2015


I think it's fine to show Pinocchio to little kids. It will probably scare them silly, but most of the great kid movies are terrifying to kids.

It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized Pinocchio is basically a warning to kids that unless they behave and work hard and stop telling lies, they will end up a part of the working class. Pinocchio slacks off and misbehaves, and he turns into a goddamn donkey. All of the boys who misbehave become little beasts of burden. (And that's not just the Disney version; it's from the original tale.) That donkey stuff is terrifying in the film, and Pinocchio is the only child we see who escapes that fate. It is hardcore parental propaganda, so at least if you show it to your kids you can bet they'll be better about doing their chores for a while.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:58 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Most of what I wanted to say about King Louie has been said, except that it was incredibly uncomfortable to watch in the movie theatre: even as a seven year old kid I knew that there was something very wrong, and very insulting, about the whole sequence.

Baloo and Bagheera, on the other hand, were a delight.
posted by jrochest at 11:04 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Something a little problematic about how in Lion King Scar's policy is peaceful coexistence, working together with people of other species, whereas the film's clear view is that these other kinds of people are parasites who will bleed our country to death and must be excluded.

I don't know whether it's fair to blame Disney, though, because it seems they were not really responsible for the actual content of the film, merely copying it wholesale from a Japanese original and wherever.
posted by Segundus at 11:21 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


One of the most jawdroppingly racist films I've seen in the last ten years has to be freaking Happy Feet. But because that film is very much bound up with how racial difference is constructed, consumed, and then fetishised for more acts of performative consumption in this particular cultural moment, I suspect not many others will see it as problematic. But bloody hell, is that a film that deals in broadly offensive racial stereotypes and blithely assumes the genetically determined nature of culture.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:10 AM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


That donkey stuff is terrifying in the film

I saw Pinocchio as the first movie I ever saw. I was like, 2 1/2 or 3. Saw it in a drive in movie theater (this would have been, um... jeez, 1971ish (although Wikipedia tells me it wasn't re-released that year, but I know it was my first movie and it was at a drive-in. maybe not an official re-release?)...

Anyway, it wasn't the donkey stuff that was terrifying. It was that motherfuckin' whale. Jeebus! I had nightmares about it for quite a while afterward. This is stuff that I remember from being around 3 years old, and I basically remember nothing from that time of my life.

Pinocchio has a lot of really fucking scary stuff going on in all kinds of ways, from body horror to violence to stranger danger... I dunno. I survived it.
posted by hippybear at 1:25 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


We grew up with a lot of the 12" Disney movie-to-album "listen and read along" long play records in our house. Robin Hood (possibly also not racist?), The Rescuers (hmmmm having to think about that one), The Aristocats, oh, jeez, a lot of them. Oh, yes, and Song Of The South.

Two things about having grown up with that: 1) I still sometimes say "oh, please don't throw me in that thar briar patch", because it means a specific thing that is useful, and

2) my awakening to the fact that SOTS was racist was when I was about 10 and, after having listening to this record for a number of years while turning the pages and reading the words (which never matched what was spoken on ANY of those releases...grrrr)... and gone to the gigantic open it on the floor size dictionary and having tried to look it up... I was yeah in 4th grade so I was 10... I said at dinner one night, because it had been bugging me for a while and I wanted to know... "So, Mom... Dad... What exactly does 'tar baby' mean?"

It took a while to explain why I was asking while they stammered and stuttered with shock and a bit of outrage and a lot of confusion as to why in hell I would even know that term.
posted by hippybear at 1:33 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Someone mentioned Mulan earlier. The weirdest thing about that movie is: in a movie that's supposed to be set in Imperial China, Mulan's sidekick is a dragon named Mushu (like the dish: moo shu pork, get it?) who speaks like a caricature of an African-American man.

Mulan meeting Mushu.
posted by colfax at 2:37 AM on September 2, 2015


Oh, Monstro is scary as hell, no doubt about that. But to me the terror of the donkey transformations was at least as bad. Those poor little donkey kids! That's one of the most awful things I've ever seen, and I've seen some awful things.

I've entertained the idea of doing one of those "how it should have ended" cartoons where the parents of those kids arrive on Pleasure Island with torches and pitchforks, rescue the kids and put the bastard who owns that island on trial. In court he tries to defend himself by saying that the children brought it upon themselves with their own naughtiness, and the judge just looks at him for a minute and then bangs his gavel and says, "So, so guilty. Get this piece of crap out of my sight." Then we see Lampwick as a kid again, running back to school, and little Alexander (the one "who could still talk" and was pleading for his mama) back home eating some soup his fat, happy mom made for him. We hear sweet, tranquil music and know that these little children have all been freed from their terrible curse and given the second chance they all deserved.

Smash cut to a gallows on a high cliff, the former owner of Pleasure Island slowly swinging back and forth from a noose, the rope creaking in the wind. His face is purple, his eyes bugged out. It is a horrible scene, yet we can feel no pity for this creature, knowing all he's done. We hold on the shot for an uncomfortably long time. Finally a crow swoops in, quickly plucks out one of the man's eyes and then flies off.

We fade to black as these words appear on the screen: THE END, GOD DAMN IT.

So, yeah, you could say I was kind of traumatized by that part of Pinocchio.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:42 AM on September 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


Someone mentioned Mulan earlier. The weirdest thing about that movie is: in a movie that's supposed to be set in Imperial China, Mulan's sidekick is a dragon named Mushu (like the dish: moo shu pork, get it?) who speaks like a caricature of an African-American man.

Here, as in many other cases, it really comes down to what's inherent in the character and how much is coming from the voice actor. In Mushu's case, we're talking about Eddie Murphy, who's not really the master of cross-cultural subtlety. So some of the characterization might just come out of the the voice actor's reading.

The interesting thing about Disney movies in this regard is that they're usually dubbed in foreign markets, even if that's not done regularly there (children and subtitles don't go well together). So they're not as intrinsically tied together as many Americans might think.
posted by pseudocode at 2:52 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Did you know that the Genie in Aladdin sounds like a white American man?
posted by timdiggerm at 2:56 AM on September 2, 2015


Did you know that the Genie in Aladdin sounds like a white American man?

It's fine if you don't see the issue, but I still find it weird that you see similar stereotypes about black people in Disney movies from the 90's that you see in Disney movies from the 40's and 50's.

As far as Eddie Murphy's voice acting goes, as far as I remember, his character in Shrek was amusing and over-the-top but not such a jarring stereotype as in Mulan, so I think a lot of the responsibility for that character lies at Disney's feet.
posted by colfax at 3:34 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Emperor's New Groove is pretty disparaging toward demon llamas.

It is a great movie, but part of the awkward trilogy of Disney films in which people of color are turned into animals (Brother Bear and The Princess and the Frog are the other two).

The fact that Eddie Murphy is always getting cast as an animal sidekick is a part of that same icky pattern.
posted by chaiminda at 4:18 AM on September 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


Given that the Redwall creatures are, with the exception of lizards from far off lands (The Pearls of Lutra), just various British accents (as you said), I don't think you'll find racism there.

I'm not sure that's quite true. I'd agree that the characterizations don't necessarily line up with real-world racist stereotypes (because, as you say, they're largely drawn from British accents). However, there is some major species essentialism going on in the books that closely parallels racism, and once you start noticing it, it becomes pretty uncomfortable.

This leads to, for example, Outcast of Redwall, in which a baby ferret is taken in by the abbey (after much hemming and hawing about how maybe they shouldn't, because ferrets are inherently bad). This baby grows up in the loving environment of the abbey just like all the heroic mice, but whoops, it turns out he can't deny his ferret nature of being a thief, liar, and all-around bad person, so he ends up getting kicked out. His only minor redemption is having a change of heart and dying to save a friend at the end, but the lesson is clear: ferrets are bad and don't belong with the good-hearted mice, voles, badgers, etc.

This pattern repeats itself a few times in the series: certain species are just bad, though there can be a very rare case of a single good member of that species (that nonetheless gets treated pretty badly and isn't allowed to ever be fully part of the community).
posted by tocts at 4:45 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


From Wikipedia: "When the sound era of cartoons began in the late 1920s, early animators such as Walt Disney gave characters such as Mickey Mouse (who already resembled blackface performers) a minstrel-show personality; the early Mickey is constantly singing and dancing and smiling."

Some of those early Micky cartoons are really eerie and probably frightening for children. For whatever reason, the popular ones seem to have featured "haunted" or "Hallowe'en" themes. No wonder the Haunted Mansion got built.
posted by theorique at 4:49 AM on September 2, 2015


I really think the main racist aspect of The Lion King is similar to this and not so much the casting. The hyenas are Bad and if they leave their place Bad Things Happen. The lions are Good and they should be in charge. It's very much about how we all are predestined to do things based on our birth.

But only the proper bloodline of the lions. Simba is the real lion king - Scar is a member of the royal family, of course, but only a pretender to the throne. It's promoting hereditary monarchy.
posted by theorique at 4:55 AM on September 2, 2015


Wildly successfully, given the subsequent uptake of hereditary monarchy as a fad or trend among young persons.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:07 AM on September 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Mickey Mouse (Goofy, Donald, etc) universe is pretty clearly just barely wading into the water with regard to race species relations, don't you think? Everybody's best friends without regard to taxonomy, and at least class Aves seems to be accepting of inter-species families, but the fraction of inter-class relationships and mixed-class children we can identify isn't approximately the Gini-Simpson index, it's approximately zero.

So what's the explanation? Is assortative mating just that much more powerful when the differences are more exaggerated? Are they in a transitional period with regard to bigotry, and no duck in Duckburg dates a dog without getting the "I'm afraid we've got a few geese in our family tree, but that doesn't mean you can marry one of those hairys!" lecture? Is there a limit to cross-uplifted-species fertility, so people who want non-adopted children have to pick mates accordingly? Do mixed children just all come out Lady-and-the-Tramp style, resembling one parent or the other without any blending?

Combine the second and fourth hypothesis and you're forced to face new and nasty possible answers to the "what happened to Huey, Dewey, and Louie's parents", "who was their father", and "why does nobody talk about it" questions, too. "Let's just send them to live with their uncle and get this whole scandal behind us. Thank goodness they can pass for Duck!"
posted by roystgnr at 7:20 AM on September 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


Wildly successfully, given the subsequent uptake of hereditary monarchy as a fad or trend among young persons.

I dunno, you should see my Facebook feed every time Prince George has an outfit or whatever.
posted by naoko at 7:50 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


AND HOW COME GOOFY CAN TALK BUT PLUTO CAN'T THEY'RE BOTH DOGS

WAKE UP SHEEPLE
posted by town of cats at 9:53 AM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


designbo: And we absolutely see this in The Lion King because again, we have the lions being coded as the top of the hierarchy, the ruling monarchy, and so being coded as white. And we have the hyenas who are voiced by two people of color, and really the main two people of color voices that we hear in that.

James Earl Jones and Robert Guillame might have something to say about that.


We aren't talking about the skin color of the voice actors. That's facile and pointless. By your measure, "Amos 'n' Andy" didn't support racial stereotypes because the TV show featured black actors.

The dominant characters sounded white. The lackeys of the villain sounded like vaudevillian black characters, and had key features of typical black faces as well: black lips, dark skin (in most shots), and the broadened whites around the hyena pupils accentuated the contrast with the skin (a la blackface conventions).

It can even be argued that Scar is presented in full-on blackface in some scenes: much darker "skin" than Simba, white palms and feet soles (or gloves in traditional blackface), a broad white band around the mouth parodying thick lips, a broad, dark nose, and dark eye rings.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:21 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


jrochest: Baloo and Bagheera, on the other hand, were a delight.

I just realized that, as a kid watching The Jungle Book, I was convinced Bagheera was black. I knew the voice belonged to Buffy and Jody's "manny"/butler on Family Affair (a TV show I adored), but Bagheera was an older, kindly, stern and scary but trustworthy black man.

Baloo in the dress and coconut lips was definitely blackface, though.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:35 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


hippybear: Anyway, it wasn't the donkey stuff that was terrifying. It was that motherfuckin' whale. Jeebus! I had nightmares about it for quite a while afterward. This is stuff that I remember from being around 3 years old, and I basically remember nothing from that time of my life.

Since that story dates back to the Old Testament, it's safe to say you aren't alone. The story is scary. The part that freaked me was my belief that the roof of the belly would drip whale-spit onto them (I understood the concept of being in a mouth much better than being in a stomach.) As I grew older, I wondered if they had to dodge acidic stomach drippings.

Anyway, it's certainly an idea that grips imaginations.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:45 AM on September 2, 2015


The Mickey Mouse (Goofy, Donald, etc) universe is pretty clearly just barely wading into the water with regard to race species relations, don't you think? Everybody's best friends without regard to taxonomy, and at least class Aves seems to be accepting of inter-species families, but the fraction of inter-class relationships and mixed-class children we can identify isn't approximately the Gini-Simpson index, it's approximately zero.

So what's the explanation? Is assortative mating just that much more powerful when the differences are more exaggerated? Are they in a transitional period with regard to bigotry, and no duck in Duckburg dates a dog without getting the "I'm afraid we've got a few geese in our family tree, but that doesn't mean you can marry one of those hairys!" lecture? Is there a limit to cross-uplifted-species fertility, so people who want non-adopted children have to pick mates accordingly? Do mixed children just all come out Lady-and-the-Tramp style, resembling one parent or the other without any blending?

Combine the second and fourth hypothesis and you're forced to face new and nasty possible answers to the "what happened to Huey, Dewey, and Louie's parents", "who was their father", and "why does nobody talk about it" questions, too. "Let's just send them to live with their uncle and get this whole scandal behind us. Thank goodness they can pass for Duck!"


I demand that the next Disney short be Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar Visit the Fertility Specialist.

Doctor (who is, of course, a stork): Well, I don't know what kind of baby you'll have, but your Grand-mare back in France will be very happy. Now, if you'd kept on dating Goofy, your son could have been a bull terrier. Just don't let her date human boys if it's a girl; they'll all want to ride her to town and then get the milk for free. If you have any discomfort in your legs during pregnancy, that'll either be a charley horse or calf pains. By the way, my cheap imitation Groucho Marx voice is no longer a copyright infringement, since Disney bought the Vlasic Pickle company last night.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:29 PM on September 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Baloo and Bagheera made me think of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in all those old Road to [EXOTIC LOCATION] buddy comedy movies they made in the 1940's.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:32 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting post and interesting conversation.

With my young son I've spent some time watching old Disney films and a variety of other kids shows of my 70’s childhood. Remarkably some fared better than I expected like the Little Rascals (the shorts we watched were way less racist then I remember - still problematic of course) others fared far worse like many of the b-list Hanna Barbera cartoons such as Hong Kong Phooey (yikes that's a racist show). A bigger shock, mostly because I hadn't rewatched them in decades & I had fond memories of them, was how casually racist Looney Tunes cartoons were and how they were that way for an extended period of time.

While my son is still pretty young, and we'll likely not rewatch many of these shows & films we’ve sampled, the racial & sexual caricatures in these films have really spurred some lively conversations & teaching moments about race, sexism and how we treat others. I can understand how some people might want to keep such material away from their children, however my attitude has been to keep the out and out hateful material out of his hands but to make a curated selection made available on supervised occasions where we always talk about the problems with the stories & characters in way he can understand. Critical thinking when it comes to our entertainment and what it tries to say or what it inadvertently says about our society is a really important skill to have.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:31 PM on September 2, 2015


The Underpants Monster Baloo and Bagheera made me think of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in all those old Road to [EXOTIC LOCATION] buddy comedy movies they made in the 1940's.

The Odd Couple would be closer. Checking Google, TJB came out two years after TOC debuted on Broadway. (And doesn't the past participle of "debut" come out stupidly in English? "Debued" would be so much nicer.)

Does anyone remember the book version well enough to say if Walt might have lifted Neil Simon's couple to flesh out these characters, or if the bumbling dude/overworrying gentleman duo is true to the original?
posted by IAmBroom at 6:35 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ashwagandha, that sounds like some fine parenting to me. Make old stuff available, and put the problematic aspects in context.

Yeah, the Little Rascals is weird because characters like Buckwheat and Stymie are very much part of the gang and they're depicted as being just as capable and likable as the other kids... but they've got that 1930s racial caricature patois and every now and then there will be a gag that's just flat-out racist. They're charming films, except when they're not.

IAmBroom, I think the personalities of Baloo and Bagheera developed based on the personas previously established by those actors. Phil Harris was a big, goofy bear of a guy. Cabot wasn't exactly a sleek panther of a man, but he always played smart, very proper English fellows. Pairing them made for a natural contrast. Baloo is a naturally happy fellow, not as grouchy as Oscar, while Bagheera isn't nearly as neurotic as Felix. Oscar and Felix are both depicted as too extreme, while Baloo and Bagheera represent different but valid approaches to life: happy-go-lucky vs. sensible and grounded. Neither one is wrong, exactly, and Mowgli has to find his own place on that spectrum. Oscar and Felix are definitely the classic slob/snob pair, but they didn't originate that dynamic.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:17 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Don't forget "What Made the Red Man Red" from Peter Pan.

I recently re-watched this scene from Peter Pan while doing some research on Native American stereotypes. I remember seeing that movie when I was really, really young and being a little confused and unsure about what was going on in that scene, but, sadly, I was also at least a little happy to see Native Americans depicted for once because it was just so rare (disclosure: I am Native American). But re-watching it as an adult made my jaw drop. It is astonishingly awful.

Tiger Lily in general makes my stomach churn. The complete sexualization of her for white man’s consumption is horrifying to me, considering the history of sexual violence still being perpetuated today. I don’t even want to really consider the amount of damage her character has done in the public mind. Representations matter so much.

Also, if from my knowledge as an Ojibwe woman, I had to conjure a list of the most disrespectful ways to treat Native American cultural/ceremonial objects, “stepping on a drum” would be pretty much at the top.
posted by giizhik at 11:21 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting; this interview is fascinating. I kinda want to complicate her interpretation of The Lion King a bit, though.

Imarisha is reading The Lion King specifically as a reflection of white attitudes in the USA (and South Africa) in the '80s-'90s. It makes sense to situate the film there; that was the context in which it was made, after all. But in reading Simba/Mufasa strictly as white and Scar/hyenas as black and the story as upholding segregation, you lose the most powerful theme in the film, that of a transhistorical Africa. The music and art design explicitly draw on twentieth-century Afrocentrism, though filtered through a Disney sensibility. And James Earl Jones as Mufasa is certainly a POC voice, even as racial stereotypes are reinforced in the characterization of the Black American-coded hyenas.

What is Jeremy Irons doing playing the villain here? Well, he's about as colonial-English-sounding an actor as you could want (seriously, how many period films has he been in?), and this plus Scar's obvious Hamlet origin makes me see the character as more European than the rest of the Pride. Scar being defeated isn't the return of the segregationist order; it's a triumph of a decolonized Africa, hence the return of the land to a state of growth after exploitation. The restoration of the natural order at the end of the film is one of African self-determination. Imarisha mentions Mandela in the interview but doesn't note that the film is trying to capitalize on (and depoliticize) his rhetoric.

The Lion King is appropriative, sure, and a clear attempt by a white-led company to commodify Black culture for a mass audience. But it's not about the American city; it's about a romantic Garveyist-lite version of Africa.
posted by thetortoise at 2:19 AM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


But re-watching [What Made The Red Man Red] as an adult made my jaw drop. It is astonishingly awful.

The cynic in me is pretty sure that if you showed that clip to a representative sample of US citizens and asked them why that scene is often cut from broadcasts, significantly more would identify the problem as the fact that children smoke in it, as opposed to the unbelievably overt racism. (That same cynic is pretty depressed about this fact)
posted by tocts at 9:42 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Wind In The Willows also pretty explicitly maps social difference onto species (and in a way that seems similar to Redwall), although it does so in a way that valorizes the English country gentleman (educated, comfortable, creatures of independent means- Mole, Ratty, and Badger) against both the aristocracy (Toad) and the lazy, vicious underclasses (stoats and weasels).

TheWhiteSkull - if you haven't yet encountered it, may I take this opportunity to recommend Jan Needle's novel Wild Wood? It's a flipped-perspective commentary on The Wind in the Willows, and its social inequality and injustice, from the point of view of a Wild Wood ferret - sharp, brilliant, and very funny.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 6:09 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


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