Racial and cultural stereotypes at Disney: a problem with a long history

Racial and cultural stereotypes at Disney: a problem with a long history

For its portrayal of Mexican culture and the Day of the Dead holiday, the animated film Coco is receiving praise from Mexican-American audiences.

The film, which is already a historical box office record in Mexico, comes after Moana (2016), a Disney film about a girl from a Polynesian town, also received mostly positive reactions from the Polynesian public.

Both Coco and Moana used consultants to ensure that the films were respectful of the cultures in question.

MOANA – (Pictured) Gramma Tala and Moana. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved. (©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserv)

But Disney productions have not always been applauded for their portrayal of ethnic minorities. In fact, some popular films have been criticized for reinforcing stereotypes or for using racist elements directly.

Here’s a look at how ethnic minorities have been portrayed in previous Disney productions.

Few African Americans at Disney

In the 1941 film Dumbo, the leader of a flock of crows is called Jim Crow, an insulting reference to African-Americans. The poor and seemingly uneducated crows use slang and black vernacular while calling each other brotha (instead of brother, which means brother).

The film was criticized for its stereotypical portrayal of African Americans. “I will have seen everything when I see an elephant fly,” the birds sing in English typical of an uneducated person associated with black populations.




In addition Song of the South (1946), a Disney musical about Georgia after the Civil War, received intense criticism from civil rights leaders in the black community for its representation of African-Americans. They said that Uncle Remus’ collection of black folk tales was based on racist cartoons.




Native Americans

The 1953 Peter Pan animated film includes the song What Made the Red Man Red, a reference to Native Americans. A very red and obese Native American with two teeth appears on the scene as a peace pipe is shared around. A group of men dance among themselves while Peter Pan wears a headdress. The stereotype of the red skin is persistent in pejorative representations of Native North Americans.




More than four decades later, Disney released a film focused largely on the myths surrounding Pocahontas. The character tries to fight his white friend’s assumptions that she is an ignorant savage, and the film attempts to address the conflict between Native Americans and white settlers. The film was criticized for over-sexualizing Pocahontas and for neglecting the true sacrifices she made to maintain peace between her tribe and whites.




Asian

The Siamese cats Si and Am, in Lady and the Tramp (1955), spoke with a stereotypical Asian accent and had Asian-looking features. He was villainous and deceptively elusive with his bad English and lack of individuality, all stereotypes about Asians in America after World War II and the Korean War.

1998’s Mulan was attacked by academics for relying on American stereotypes about Asians. Villains had darker skin than heroes.

The film did not do well in China due to the portrayal of a Mulan who looked like a foreigner and a story very different from the original stories.

Middle East

Aladdin, 1992 sparked protests from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee for its opening song Arabian Nights. The lyrics, which were later changed, originally said in English: “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face / It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s my home.” (The Spanish version said: “And if they don’t like you there / they are going to mutilate you / how awful, but it’s my home”).




Film critic Roger Ebert said the film was peppered with racial stereotypes about Arabs.

“Most of the Arab characters have exaggerated facial features – aquiline noses, furrowed brows, full lips. However, Aladdin and the princess look like white American teenagers,” wrote the critic.

Maybe Coco and Moana mean a change of route for the company. However, the shadow of their previous mistakes has already spread over multiple generations.

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Racial and cultural stereotypes at Disney: a problem with a long history