On the Issues of Race and Disney Culture

Perhaps I should let you in on the reason I started being so racially conscious.

It all started when a friend posted a picture claiming that the ethnic representation in Disney movies was fair. A few of my friends and I commented on how that wasn’t true. We waited for a response, but our friend nstead deleted the picture and ignored the issue. So why did she post something controversial, and then refuse to face opposition. Because she is a member of what I like to call the “white Disney” state of mind and I’ll explain a little bit what that is.
White Disney is a class of racism where people are not discriminatory, but still racist. In order for you to really understand that, let’s define the two. Discrimination is an act, racism is a way of thinking. The thing is that people think that both are actions so they don’t realize when they are being racist, especially Disney fans with a whitecentric attitude because “it just makes sense.” I hope to kind of help people realize and maybe even change that attitude. Of course this type of thinking isn’t exclusive to Disney fans, it’s prevalent all throughout literature and cinema, but I’m going to focus just on Disney.
Now while I know that there are a lot of Disney princesses and all of them could be used to analyze the subject of race I’m going to mainly focus on the last five Disney royals from the last four Movies, because that’s where the public controversy seems to be focused.The following paragraphs will be the most common defenses that I have seen along with my responses.
Statement one: “These stories were written by white people who live in ‘white’ countries so they’re characters have to be white.”
This is actually the most common one that I see and it seems to make the most sense. Until you actually look at the facts.
Frozen is based on the story “The Snow Queen” written by Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish man, and people in Denmark are white, so check. And of course we all know the story, the evil troll with his magic mirror, The young boy Kai kidnapped by the beautiful ice queen, sweet little Gerda who saves him, the garden of eternal summer… wait, hold on, that’s not frozen. Frozen isn’t even about the same thing. Oh well.
Tangled is based on Rapunzel written by the German Brothers Grimm, two white men. And although in Tangled they don’t include the husband who stole radishes for his wife, the fact that the prince who finds Rapunzel is rendered blind by Rapunzel’s mother, or that Rapunzel bears twins in the wilderness, we should honor the brother’s grimm by keeping the race that they deem acceptable.
And while we’re defending that stories written by white men should keep white characters, why don’t we talk about The Princess and the frog, which features the first black disney princess, Tianna. The story takes place in New Orleans, and has mostly black characters. It’s based off of the story “The Frog Prince” by the beloved black author…The brothers grimm. Weird, didn’t we just establish that their stories should stay white?
Statement two: “It’s a children’s movie.”
This one actually makes absolutely no sense to me. So, it’s a children’s movie, but does that mean that the characters have to be white? There are children in America, in Denmark, in Germany, all over the world who are not white, and you know what? Chances are that if they are white they have friends who aren’t, yes even as children. If you honestly think that children are so racially insensitive that they would be uncomfortable if people in the movie were not the same race as them, maybe you’re teaching racism.
Statement three: “It wouldn’t be realistic.”
Are you trying to say that ethnic people and people of color aren’t real? That they dont exist. That a story featuring ethnic characters would have to take place in a land too fantastical for even Disney? That movies with a talking snowman, magic hair, a woman who turns into a bear are nit so far gone, but racial equality would tip it over the edge. Literally, realism has no place in this discussion.
Statement four: “It has to be relatable.”
The first time I saw this one all I could think was, “Wow, just when I thought it couldn’t get more racist.” Has it occurred to you that maybe ethnic children need someone to relate to as well? Because, assuming that we can only relate to people who are our own race, Black, and middle eastern, and Native American children are near alone, and Hispanic and Indian children are completely neglected. So what do you say to that ethnic little girl who doesn’t have a Disney princess to represent her?
Statement five: “What are you talking about? There is representation, just look at Tianna. And like Jasmine and Pocahontas or Something.”
You know, the fact that you have to point out all of the ethnic Disney princesses and can literally count them on half a hand really says a lot. Let’s talk about Tianna though. Tianna, my only real choice as a favorite. You know because she’s the only one I can actually relate to and even though we don’t really share any facial similarities she’s the one I look like. Her world is so filled with stereotypical “blackness” that this effort at representation, misrepresents black culture.
“Well what about the trolls in Frozen?”
How can you tell that they’re ethnic? How about their caracaturized ethnic features. How about the fact their characters are over dripping with stereotypical ethnicity used mainly for comedic effect. The real question though is, why do they have to be ethnic? It’s because they have tribal magic, something primitive and uncivilized, which is not representative of white people at all. But wait! The trolls are in Frozen, which takes place in Denmark, where only white people live.
My goal today was neither to accuse nor offend anybody, I apologize if I did and I hope that you don’t mind my being controversial. This does not cover the extent of what I would like to see represented in Disney, of course it would be great to see interracial families, religious representation, different body types, and other moves toward overall diversity, but racial equality, it’s a pretty good place to start.


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