TheFirst Black Princess is a Frog Moving into the 21stCentury, it could be said that Disney has shown moderate progress dealing withracial discrimination in depicting heroes and heroines as multi-cultural. In 2009,Disney created its first black princess in the 49th Disney animatedfilm, The Princess and the Frog (2009). John Lasseter, Chief CreativeOfficer at Pixar and Walt Disney, in advance of the film’s release, stated: “Our first goal is tomake a great motion picture. But we have also worked very closely with a lot ofleaders in the African-American community, all across the nation, to make surewe’re doing something African-American families will be proud of.
” (Badger, 2016) However, it couldbe seen as problematic that the first black princess spends most of her time onscreen as a green skinned frog. Journalist Teresa Wiltz questions, “is Disneyhedging its bets, afraid of letting too much blackness play front and centre onthe big screen.” (Wiltz, 2009)On the other hand, Disney has depicted the black princess, ‘Tiana’, to be smartand bold, not intending to demean blacks in any obvious way. Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly argues that Disney “inserts noovert lesson in the history of civil rights into this faithful reimagining ofthe classic Disney formula: Dreams are fulfilled, wrongs are righted, loveprevails, and music unites.” (Schwarzbaum, 2009) Others argue, that the problem does not liewith Tiana, but with ‘Prince Charming’, “Though America has areal-life black man in the highest office of the land with a black wife, Disneyobviously doesn’t think a black man is worth the title of prince.” (Schwarzbaum, 2009) It is also significant to mention that the film wasset in New Orleans in the 1920s, however there are few situations that wouldnot of been allowed at the time of racially segregated America. William Blackburn, aformer columnist stated, “This princess story is set in New Orleans, thesetting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community.”(Blackburn, 2008) NewOrleans is situated in South America, at this time, in 1920s, New Orleans wasat the heart of the Jim Crow segregation laws.
‘Tiana’ works in a restaurant thatsits both blacks and whites which would not have been possible at this time,rather, there would have been ‘whites only’ restaurants. However it can beargued that Tiana and her mother sit at the back of the bus with other blackcharacters, while the whites sit at the front (See Fig 5) Disney here could have made aremarkable asset to teach young viewers about American history, however their attempt to makethese references have been covered and whitewashed as much as possible. “YouCan’t Call a Bunny Cute” As we move furtherinto the 21st Century, the 2016 feature length film, Zootopia, is fearless in its approachto teaching children about racial issues.
The film segregates different animalson their real physical abilities and tries to personify them, which in that,could be seen as a racist reference. Yet, it becomes acceptable because of theway Disney tackles this. A short synopsis of the film is crucial at this point;’Judy’, a small rabbit has a dream to be a police officer and move to the bigcity of ‘Zootopia’ however because of her size and the fact that she is just arabbit, her family want her to stay at home and take over the family businessof carrot farmers. Disney here successfully paints a picture of real liferacial and gender related issues. A particular line in the film demonstrates ateaching of a tiger police officer, ‘Clawhauser’, calling Judy,’cute’, it continues; Clawhauser: Oh my goodness, they really did hire a bunny! I gottatell you, you are even cuter than I thought you’d be!Judy: You probably didn’t know but a bunny can call otherbunny cute but when other animals do it it’s a little…Clawhauser: gasps I am so sorry!(IMDb, 2016).
In this script, thefilm addresses prominent contemporary issues of discrimination. “In this way, themovie progresses from a common refrain children may have heard before about notjudging a book by its cover and reminds adults of more tangible, memorablenuggets of truth.” (Glatter,2017) Because the social acceptance of stereotypes has changedover time, the prejudice that goes with it has also changed. It is notable atthis point that Disney’s has attempted to teach young viewers about thesegregations that is still poignant in a social society, taking a differentspin on the matter.
Disney here is revolutionary in its teaching. Disney’sInfluence on Popular Culture The hegemonic holdover popular culture that Disney possesses is extremely powerful, throughmerchandising, theme parks, television, children’s publications etc. One of themain reasons this is happening is namely due to general westernisation.Westernisation can be described as, “a country, place, or person is the process of them adopting ideas and behaviour that are typical of Europe and North America, rather than preserving the ideas and behaviour traditional in their culture.”(Collinsdictionary.com .
n.d) It could be said that Disney forces a westernised culturein their films, especially in their choice of actors and accents as previouslymentioned. It could be said that, “The United States dominates the current globaltraffic in information and ideas. For instance, American music, Americanmovies, American software, American technologies are ubiquitous nowadays.
” (communicationtechnology101,2016) Westernisation can also be seen in the spread of Hard Rock Cafesin many cities around the world, for instance. The fact Disney theme parks havebeen built in numerous countries including Japan and China is proof of Disney’shegemony. It is noteworthy to mention that InDisney park’s characters have to point with their full hand or their two fingers;this is because some cultures find pointing disrespectful. It is prominent herethat Disney does not want to offend other cultural groups.
This in itself isparticularly significant, that present day Disney does not want to offendcultures, not only through its animations, but also in every other medium. The media shapestoday’s society and Disney’s animations allow children to escape from the realworld and be immersed in these fantasies. The Disney Corporation invented theterm ‘edutainment’ in 1948, describing ‘education’ and ‘entertainment’. Thiscould be seen as problematic in early Disney animations, especially around thattime where racial stereotypes were portrayed. However, as segregation isdepleting, Disney touches on how we should not discriminate, this is seen as ahealthy education. Conclusion Walt Disney, in a1935 studio memo to Donald Graham, stated, “I definitely think that we cannotdo the fantastic things based on the real, unless we know the real,” (Hooks, 2017)a significant quotation, which may have manyunderlining meanings. Although, when applied to racial segregation it becomesambiguous, and rather ironic that 10 years after this statement he produces afilm portraying African American slaves as happy-to-serve (Song of the South 1946). Evidently, this statement cannot be inreference to ‘knowing real’ races and ethnicities.
All in all, indeedit is not inconspicuous that Walt Disney attributed racist undertones. However,Disney lived from 1901-1966, at a time when it was largely accepted than a blackman must give up his seat for a white man on a bus. “Although one would callthe attitude Disney has sexist and racist today, it was the norm at the timebefore WWII to employ these practices, and many American companies at the time,before WWII, had similar attitudes.” (Animation WorldNetwork, 2002) A very important point to be made here is that Disneymay get too much controversy on the way they depicted black characters, as, “Overly sensitive people see racial or ethnic slightsin every image,” (Barnes,2009) this statement could be seen as biased written by Floyd Norman, aDisney Animator. Though, there is truth in what is stated here, according to BrookeBarnes, New York Times Journalist, “Mainstream producers have largely avoided charactersof color for fear of offending minority groups.” (Barnes, 2009) The term minorityhere, is a key reminder of Disney’s intended Westernised audience and arguablyDisney did not aim to please the world, he chose to entertain primarilyAmerican viewers. It is also clear that the Disney corporations also agreedwith this view until the 1990s, when Aladdinwas created. Moving into thefuture, The Disney Corporation must continue to be systematic in the way thatthey portray other races and ethnicities, as slavery and racism are stillsensitive topics.
Despite the fact they may not be tolerated in modern society,both are still prevalent across the globe. Although, there is no doubt thatDisney’s character impersonations have improved from Song of the South (1946) to The Princessand the Frog (2009). It can be argued that Disney disguised racism inhidden areas of his works, whether it is through colours, accents or lyrics. TheDisney productions here are challenged with the statement, it was moreproblematic that Disney disguised stereotypes rather than laying them out onpaper. Furthermore, Disney’s attempt to depict other races ‘realistically’ hadmany Eurocentric renderings. Here, it should be necessary for Disney to createan animation that will illustrate exactly the sort of racism that was prevalentin 20th Century America as an educational asset; after all, Disneydid create the term ‘edutainment’.
However, Disney must be careful in thiscase, questions may arise such as; is a teaching necessary at such a young age?As children may pick up a prejudice and racial segregation may become a bigger problemagain. In conclusion, toanswer the key research question which has guided this dissertation, ‘does thedepiction of race and ethnicity improve over time in Disney’s animations inresponse to societal changes? Yes, to an extent. Over the last century, asearly animators died, including Disney himself, so did their stereotypicalviews. As The Disney Corporation becomes more diverse, to this date racialstereotypes are minimal in their animations, as the corporation attempt totackle the task of realistically interpreting race and ethnicity correctly.