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Analysis of Disney’s Representation of Racial and Disability Stereotypes in Their Films

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Introduction: By the age of three, children are racially aware and already performing prejudices. (Nigel Benson, 2012) Disney has had a long history of making entertaining movies aimed at children, but during that time, did we notice the racial and disability stereotypes within the movies? There is the definitive racial aspect of people of colour as even to this day, they are abused because of their skin tone and during the time Disney first started making their feature-length films, Walt Disney himself was racist and wasn’t any nicer with people with disabilities. I decided to research this project as I did not realise any stereotyping until I watched Aladdin once again not so long ago; the opening title song when released in cinemas in 1992 had shocked many as it included extreme racial stereotyping of the Arabians. This essay is going to outline the different ‘stages’ of Disney movies and how they illustrate stereotypes towards the younger generation Subsection 1: Disney Movies from 1940-1970 During the early time of Disney Animation Studios, Disney released classic films that are still watched today although there are some racial patterns included. Dumbo which was released in 1940 is about a young circus elephant who is born with comically large ears and given the cruel nickname Dumbo.

One day is he teased by some kids which angered his mother which then gets her locked up. Then he discovers that he can fly with his ears surprising everyone at the circus. This is a positive aspect of disabilities as it shows that Dumbo had overcame his taunts of his large ears which could possibly have given hope to young children with disabilities at the time, and that they could find good use of them as during that time area, disabilities were looked down upon and seen as negative abnormalities whereas Dumbo reveals otherwise. Some may argue that Dumbo’s ears were not a disability but just a flaw that he was born with. This is true but it depends on how one would view Dumbo’s abnormality and whether they think it is a disability or not. In my opinion, I think it was to act as a metaphor for disabilities to aid young children in growing up and to help them find a good use of their disabilities. As well as this, the lead crow actor, known as Jim Crow, was named after the state and local laws that reinforced segregation throughout the early to mid 20th century (Wikipedia, 2018). There are some other faults with the crow cast of the film – white actor Cliff Edwards voiced Jim Crow and the rest of the crows were voiced by black composer Hal Johnson and his all-black choir (IMDb, n.d.) . This shows clear leadership roles with the main and the highest rank of the crows being voiced by a white man and the rest of the crows being voiced by black actors. Some may argue and say that stereotypes like these are coincidental and the Disney producers would not have thought about racial stereotypes like these. In my opinion, I do not think that this is true because as it is a movie that went into the cinemas and gained a lot of money, the cast and the movie plot would have had to be reviewed by many people so I think that giving the crow cast these voice actors was not an accident and was thought over by the producers. Fifteen years later, Disney brought out the beloved movie Lady and the Tramp which is known for its famous spaghetti scene. But like many movies it consists of a negative racial stereotype. A quite humorous song which was included into the movie was the song We Are Siamese sang by the two Siamese cats, Si and Am.

The animators drew the cats with slanted eyes and noticeably broken English accents to fit the racial stereotype suggesting that the cats were stereotypical Hollywood portrayals of Asians. This is supported by the fact that the Siamese cat originates from Thailand. In addition to this, in the song the two cats cause mischief which coincides with the fact that in the late 19th century, similar stereotypes were used to reinforce the fear of the so-called yellow peril. It was the notion, that east-Asians posed as a threat to the rest of the world that led to strict anti-immigration policies to keep them out of the United States (Screen Rant, 2017) In the late 1960s, The Jungle Book was released in theatres with its live action movie gaining a big box office hit of 966.6 million USD (Wikipedia, 2018), but was that an improvement to its animated film? Comparably to Lady and the Tramp, The Jungle Book also includes some racial stereotypes, but on the black jazz musicians that voice the apes in the song ‘I Wanna Be Like You’. The apes speak in ‘jives’ which is a form of slang associated with black jazz musicians. As well as this, the apes also want to become human which could possibly coincide with the way that black people were treated in this time period which was “not human” and racism was still highly used by white Americans. However, not all the apes were voiced by black musicians; white actor Louis Prima voiced King Loue which could or could not be a coincidence as his character is a “king” and is voiced by a white man whereas the rest of the apes are not kings and are all voiced by black people. Therefore, the film’s song includes negative ideas towards black people even though this is only a small portion of the film. Following on from cultural and racial stereotyping in movies, The Aristocats in 1970, portrays stereotypes of a lot of races; Thomas’ gang is all racially stereotyped.

Pepe is the womanizing Italian cat and wears a red scarf and Billy Ross is a Russian cat that looks like Joseph Stalin (Screen Rant, 2017). As well as this, Shawn Gahan is a Chinese cat that has slanted eyes, buck teeth, and plays the piano with chopsticks. From a recent survey that I conducted, one person had pointed out that “Shawn Gahan also speaks gibberish which was to make fun out of the Chinese and their language.” Accordingly, the films’ songs were very negative in how they portrayed the Russian, Italian and Chinese races. Overall, Disney has not improved their stereotyping of racism due to the fact that films such as Lady and the Tramp, Jungle Book and The Aristocats, all have extreme racial stereotypes of races such as black-Americans, Chinese and Italian. In contrary to this, they have not included any disabilities that were portrayed as negative, but have shown how one had overcome his disability which was in Dumbo. Although nobody could foresee the future and know that racism would not be tolerated in the future, they needed to improve their films otherwise as time would go on, they would have lost a lot of their audiences as a result of racism being used a lot less. Subsection 2: Disney Movies from 1992 onwards Disney’s Aladdin, soon to be made into a live-action movie, has one of the most concerning negative racial aspects in the movie industry. Its song Arabian Nights, as mentioned before, has a critical stereotype of Arabians. It has the lyrics: Oh, I come from a land From a faraway 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. (Frook, 1993) Firstly, the song mentions that Arabians ‘cut off your ear if they don’t like your face’ and it also calls them ‘barbaric’. After its release, Arab-Americans were extremely offended by what Disney has stereotyped them as which they should have been as many people know that in Arab cultures, they do have extreme penalties for crimes such as robbery and murder so Disney included that into the song which was wrong. When the filmw as released to video, they changed the lyrics to: Where it’s flat and immense And the heat is intense It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home. (Frook, 1993) Arabs were still unsatisfied with the use of the word barbaric but after this, Disney were done making changes as they mentioned it to be “humorous” and that “people should take it light-heartedly” (Screen Rant, 2017).

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Analysis Of Disney’s Representation Of Racial And Disability Stereotypes In Their Films. (2019, August 08). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
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