I decided to grab a fellow Disnerd to discuss racial representation in Disney’s 90’s “Renaissance” films. We filmed an hour and a half long conversation…so I edited it down to the highlights. Less than ten minutes, I promise!
There’s also a transcript below the fold.
Leah: Welcome to The Magical World Of where you’re never too old, you’re just too dead inside. We’re trying something a little new today. I decided to bring in a friend of mine who’s really Disney obsessed too, and we’re just gonna shoot the shit. It’s gonna be the–
Ian sits down in a Pokemon costume.
Ian: Hey guys! I’m Ian.
Leah: Where’s your Disney stuff?
Ian: I thought we were just talking about, y’know, stuff that we loved as kids, and adults aren’t supposed to like, but we all like anyway? Like —
Leah: — yeah, but not Pokemon!
Ian: Oh, c’mon, who got the new Pokemon game?
Leah: No, there’s no Pokemon on my site. Get out! Go change.
Ian harumphs and leaves.
He returns in a Harry Potter costume.
Ian: Alright, I changed into something more magical.
Leah: Seriously, dude?
Ian: This is The Magical World Of —
Ian: Ravenclaw, wands…
Leah: First of all, Ravenclaw can suck Gryffindor’s dick.
Leah: Second of all, we’re doing Disney today. It’s a Disney Shit Show. I love Harry Potter, we’re gonna expand into Harry Potter eventually. Surprise! But today it’s Disney. Get your shit together.
Pulls out a wand.
Leah: Robus Transformus!
Ian’s costume disappears and is replaced by a Princess Minnie Mouse hat.
Ian: I’m back. I got a cool hat. Alright. Now we’re actually gonna start the show. In case you thought this was the Shit Show? This was just the warm up.
Leah: It’s gonna get a lot shittier guys.
Real Talk Now
Leah: We’re gonna talk about racial representation in Disney’s renaissance. Fun!
Ian: And we have so many opinions about this.
Leah: I think we also usually talk about racial stuff in the “easier” Disney movies, like Dumbo, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp —
Ian: — Ah, that shit’s racist. It’s like, y’know, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like?” I don’t know Peter Pan, but I know that’s racist.
The Little Mermaid
Leah: Not much to say there.
Ian: Not really much to say there.
Leah: We do have a Jamaican, who is a crab, and is red.
Ian: That is true!
Leah: Was voiced by a black man, who then went on to play Mufasa in the original Broadway cast of Lion King.
Leah: Fun fact for the day!
Beauty and the Beast
Leah: That’s whiter than The Little Mermaid, because they don’t even have semi-black crab.
Ian: There we go.
Leah: There’s people of color.
Leah: Really the first [Disney] movie to have non white protagonists. Not saying it’s not okay for this to happen, but it is interesting that none of the characters were voiced by people of color. They’re alllll white. I have no problem with you voicing a person of a different race if we have a lot of representation of it, but because we are in this racist society, it does kind of raise an alarm when you have your first movie of not white people voiced by — except for one singing voice — entirely white people.
Ian: It kinda feels like they took whatever stereotypes and historical tidbits they could think of from 500 years of history and just stuffed them all into one movie.
Leah: To be fair, though, they were heavily influenced by One Thousand and One Nights.
Ian: You’ve got harem girls, the dress overall is very skimpy. I think this is very obvious in the way that they dress Jasmine.
Ian: Because, okay, she is the sultan’s daughter. The sultan’s daughter does not go running around in these skimpy outfits, people. You are clearly just taking this stereotype of an exotic middle-eastern woman, and making her look like that no matter what her actual role is in the movie.
Leah: Do you happen to know what the typical sultan’s daughter would wear?
Ian: It would be conservative. Because she would be an important person of state.
Leah: It’s definitely the romanticized western view of this culture.
Leah: But, that being said, we’re finally seeing a different culture besides Europe.
The Lion King
Ian: There’s no denying that they’re animals. However —
Leah: Yeah, they literally don’t have skin color.
Ian: Well, animals do have skin color, they just have fur on top of it…
Leah: Fur color.
Ian: Well, Scar. But —
Leah: Oh, okay, that one I’ll give you. But we’ll get there.
Ian: Take Lion King in the context of, sort of, all modern western depictions of Africa. Western culture views Africa as this one big entity that they don’t even really think about. That enables people to not really think about it critically, to humanize it. And you can see that mostly, I think, in the scene after Simba talks to his father in the sky. And then he’s like, “Oh, I have to go back home and save everyone!” So he is literally in the middle of the jungle.
Then he runs through the dessert…
…to then get back home to the Savannah.
Let me tell you, there is no place in Africa where you go from the jungle, through the dessert, to then get to the savannah.
It doesn’t happen! It’s this whole image of “Oh, Africa, ooh it’s this wild, exotic place.” No, actually, there are different countries, there are different regions, there are different cultures in Africa. And you don’t just go from the jungle to the dessert to the savannah! Aahhh!!!
Leah: I think the problem with the movie is not with the historical inaccuracies in terms of the love story. It’s the historical inaccuracies in terms of how white people and Native Americans got along and attributing racism to the fault of one fat guy who wanted gold. It’s like, racism, this guy’s fault!
Ian: And then, oh! Once the white people decide to revolt against Ratcliffe, oh then it’s all happy! The Native Americans, they’re gonna give ya some corn —
Leah: — And Barack Obama was elected president and racism was over.
Leah: It’s got a lot, like, Colors of the Wind. That song is on point in many things. [John Smith] is talking about savages, and [Pocahontas] is like, “Oh, what you mean by savages, bitch?” And she goes, “What you mean is ‘not like you.'” And that’s so relevant.
Ian: That is so boom.
Ian: Ironically, one of the things that I liked most as a kid is the message that I actually have a problem with now. That you can have these people from different cultures, different races, and they come into conflict, but in the end they discover that they’re all human and they should all be nice to each other. And you know what, Disney? That is a real nice story to tell to all the white little kids who are living in a continent that was stolen from the Native American people after we massacred them, we took their land, we took their livelihoods, and now? “Oh yeah, we should be nice to each other.” Well, that’s so nice of you to say.
Ian: And I like it when people recognize humanity across difference. But there’s a bit of a historical revisionism.
Leah: I liked that they had Pocahontas stay there to deal with the issues. It kinda did recognize that there was more work to be done.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Ian: Obviously the plot of the movie actually revolves around race relations. It’s much more historically accurate in that the white people wanted to kill everybody who wasn’t white.
Leah: We have the gypsies who have built these defense mechanisms of this lair, and these two people come into them that are, y’know, not one of their own, they’re outsiders, and they’re really hostile to them! But it’s not demonized. It’s like, well that’s what they gotta do. This is a defense mechanism they’ve had to put up. I kind of appreciate that, especially in the light of recent events.
Leah: It was a bi-racial couple.
Leah: And there was no real mention of the fact that it was bi-racial. He didn’t treat her as the exotic woman.
Leah: We got some Greek people…
Ian: The muses are black.
Leah: They’re Like Diana and the Supremes. Everyone else is white, cuz it’s Greece.
Ian: Except for Hades. He’s blue.
Leah: Fair representation, they didn’t whitewash it or anything.
Leah: There’s so much good stuff in Mulan!
Leah: This was based on a [Chinese] fairytale. It’s set in [China]. It’s actually voiced by Asian people. There we go, finally. Although, Pocahontas did have Native American voice actors.
Ian: On the other hand, they do also do things like have the family eating dinner sitting on the floor on cushions. Actually, only Japanese people do that. Chinese people did not eat on the floor. They had chairs. They phoned that one in.
Leah: It’s a woman of color [protagonist]. She’s a really well developed character.
Leah: Just to clear. God, we love those movies. All of them. So much.
Ian: Oh my gosh.
Leah: But, we were just looking at it from a purely racial representation, and they’re still lacking. We’re getting better. Moana is coming out. We have Big Hero 6 which was awesome for racial diversity [except for my one issue].
Leah: I would like to recognize, yeah we are white.
Ian: It’s important for white people to think about these issues and to educate themselves. Actually thinking and engaging critically with issues or race.
Leah: We need to talk about these things. It’s not like, “Oh well, do you wanna make racism go away? Stop talking about it.” No, that doesn’t make it go away. That makes it go away for white people, that doesn’t make it go away for anybody else.
Leah: Alright, well thank you for watching the Disney Shit Show. I hope it’s been shit-tastic for you.
Ian: As shit-tastic for you as it has been for us.
Leah: Check out themagicalworldof.com for more sass and Disney shit-tasticness. Because, Ian? You’re never too old.
Ian: You’re just too dead inside.