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Disney being racist….repeatedly: film edition

Let’s talk about Disney’s  films. Specifically, animations. I think Disney has a habit of ensuring most non-white characters can not be human for the full movie. Whether these decisions were actively meant to avoid showing characters of colour on screen for most of the movie or not, I feel it unacceptable to have such a long pattern of dehumanization. Here is a list of some examples I have noticed: 

 The Princess and the Frog 

Disney fans from all over were excited about Disney’s first black princess. In a magical story about a beautiful, strong, hard-working black woman in New Orleans trying to save up to get the restaurant she and her father dreamed of. She meets a prince, and they go on a fantastic magical adventure where they face good and bad magic. They succeed and fall in love — the perfect Disney plot.The movie showed a great view of life in New Orleans and the greatness of jazz music being part of the culture. Unfortunately, in this 1 hour and 38-minute long film, the leading black woman was human for only 40 minutes.  This caused a lot of conversation as the expectation of a black princess was not accurately represented, as British critic Peter Bradshaw wrote, “Disney may wish to reach out to people of color—but the color green wasn’t what we had in mind.” 

   Spies in disguise 

Blue Sky Studios, owned by Disney, released this long-anticipated film starring famous actor Will Smith as the main character voicing a black character Lance Sterling. A charismatic spy is turned into a pigeon within the first quarter of the film and spends most of the movie as a pigeon trying to save the day. 

   Soul

A new Pixar film shows the life of Joe, a jazz enthusiast and band teacher who travels to another dimension of ghosts and spirits. In the film we see clips of life in the black community seen through the jazz music and the dressing and hairstyles of the black characters. The main character however, turns into a cat and a blob of a ghost for half of the movie. Once again robbing non white characters of their representation through inadequate screen time. I think this denies viewers from developing intimacy with non white characters as it is almost impossible to relate with an animal compared to a human being.

Brother bear

The same pattern of depicting non white characters as animals is repeated here. In a film where the importance of family and spiritual connection is brought out perfectly. Kenai, the main character, rushes up the mountain in anger to kill the bear that stole the fish he and his brother had gathered for the ceremony and that aided in his older brother Sitka’s death. Kenai succeeds in killing the bear, and as punishment for his actions, he is transformed into a bear by the great spirits. Kenai remains a bear for the entire movie and even in the sequel.  

Emperor’s New Groove

The hilarious film of an arrogant emperor who goes through a life changing experience to help him better understand his subjects and how to rule better. Emperor’s new groove once again shows poor representation of the Indigenous community. Kuzco, who is of indigenous descent, is the emperor of the Kuzconian Empire in Peru. Kuzco’s humorous arrogant personality made him a fan favourite. Once again, Disney pulled a Disney and turned Kuzco into a llama for the more significant part of the film. Making the character building of Kuzco seem transferred to an animal.

Disney is releasing a new movie this year called Iwájú that is meant to be a Pan-African series; let us just hope that the character will remain human for the entire film. Does Disney say that they want to be inclusive and represent all peoples and represent non-white characters as animals? The films are all great and exciting; my main concern is, why can’t characters of colour remain human for the whole movie?

 

Leah Ngigi

Wilfrid Laurier '24

Leah is a cheerful yet shy girl who finds herself lost in writing, nothing like playing around with words to create something interesting and enjoyable. She's a lover of music, art, fashion and films. Feel free to chat about everything and anything on instagram (@leah_n.gigi)
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