racism and sexism in Disney/ kids movies - Mothering Forums

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Old 06-08-2009, 10:32 PM - Thread Starter
 
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So, I was reading an article today about the movie the Princess and the Frog which features a black heroine in an animated Disney movie and talked about how some people weren't happy with it. There was a lot of discussion both ways but I didn't get the impression that anyone seriously considers it to be at all racist. BUT, they mentioned racism in other Disney movies and i was ashamed to admit that I hadn't caught any of it. Specifically they mentioned jive talking apes in the Jungle Book who wanted to "be human" and the sort of over the top punishments in Aladin as offensive to Arabs.
Anyway, since my filter is a little off kilter, can anyone list some of the bad ones for me? We watch very few feature length movies but have been enjoying the occasional "family movie night". We have liked Ratatouille and Finding Nemo best and have also watched Mary Poppins, the Aristocats, and Robin Hood (Disney).
Conversely, what are some good ones?
The article said kids really often will pick up on racist/ sexist/ homophobic undertones in movies so for now we'd like to avoid that.
I have two boys ages 5 and 2.

One movie I know I will try and avoid when they become adolescents is Ace Ventura (still reeling from how homophobic that movie was).
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Old 06-08-2009, 10:42 PM
 
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Well in PeterPan they refer to american indians as "Reds", and Wendy is treated HORIBBLY by peter and her parents.

Also if you can find a copy of the Briar Rabbit, (i think most places wont sell it anymore) that might seal the deal for you.

Here is an interesting article http://www.progressiveu.org/025805-d...nd-race-issues

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Old 06-08-2009, 10:48 PM
 
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The villain in Pocahontas is dark haired and has a beaky nose. Some think this is antisemitism at work.

The evil villianesse in The Little Mermaid is fat.

Dumbo is loaded with making fun of the black carnival workers.

If you pick the movies apart... none of them is very good. I don't own many of them because of these and other reasons.
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Old 06-08-2009, 10:52 PM
 
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Well the messages in disney movies are sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-much. A great documentary to watch is "Mickey Mouse Monopoly."

The most famous racist Disney movie is Song of the South, but, yes, the black-voiced monkies in the Jungle Book singing "I want to be just like you" is probably close second (although it's not much of a suprise that the Jungle Book is racist as it was originally written by Kipling, wasn't it?).

Sexism perminates disney movies and it drives me CRAZY! Granted much of it comes from the original stories themselves, but that is no excuse. First of all, WHY does every female character have to get married in the end to be happy? That bugs the *&^% out of me. OK, here are some others:

Belle in Beauty and the Beast allows herself to be verbally abused because she knows that underneath that Beast is a really nice guy. Can you say unhealthy relationship guide?

Mulan goes out into the world and kicks some majot butt but cannot make her family proud until she marries the beefcake. And the movie ends on this "happy" note.

Ariel (the little mermaid) gives up her voice to try and win her prince (yikes! Symbolism anyone? In the original version every step on her new feet feels like walking on knives...so the voice thing is more modern).

I know that there is much much more, but that is just off the top of my head.

ETA: I find the scene in Aladdin where Jasmine pretends to seduce Jaffar completely disturbing. IMO it teaches young girls that their power lies in their sexuality (not that this is an uncommon theme in today's culture, but is totally unacceptable in a kids cartoon).
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Old 06-08-2009, 10:56 PM
 
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Dumbo. The lyrics to the song the circus workers sing when they're setting up the tent reminds me of Song of the South.

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Old 06-08-2009, 10:56 PM
 
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You can also use the movies to educate your children about racism, sexism, etc. Our children will be inundated with these messages throughout their lives. At a certain point in their lives, you simply can't censor things anymore. So, why not start teaching them how to identify these hidden messages early? Critical thinking is an incredibly important life skill. You can teach kids to use their brains to filter the information they're receiving. You can teach them about racism (for example), and make them aware of ways to identify it. There are isms in just about everything you see on tv or in the movies, not to mention what's on the magazine racks at the grocery stores. If you teach your kids that the stereotypes and expectations are harmful and not something they should internalize, they will be able to more easily tell the differences between them and the truth.

It's never too early to start these lessons.

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Old 06-09-2009, 01:06 PM
 
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The most famous racist Disney movie is Song of the South, but, yes, the black-voiced monkies in the Jungle Book singing "I want to be just like you" is probably close second (although it's not much of a suprise that the Jungle Book is racist as it was originally written by Kipling, wasn't it?).
Whoah, hold on there! It would be a mistake to draw any conclusions about Kipling's Jungle Book based on the Disney movie version, which is quite different. In the book, the monkeys are just monkeys, and no comparison to black people is implied in any way.

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Ariel (the little mermaid) gives up her voice to try and win her prince (yikes! Symbolism anyone? In the original version every step on her new feet feels like walking on knives...so the voice thing is more modern).
She loses her voice in the original story, too. But yes, that movie, and probably every Disney movie, is full of sexism.
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Old 06-09-2009, 03:03 PM
 
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Whoah, hold on there! It would be a mistake to draw any conclusions about Kipling's Jungle Book based on the Disney movie version, which is quite different. In the book, the monkeys are just monkeys, and no comparison to black people is implied in any way.
I respectfully disagree. If no comparison is intended then why are they all voiced by black folks?

And I am not drawing any conclusions about Kipling's Jungle Book based on the Disney version LOL! Kipling was simply a very racist writer, and the Jungle Book is no exception. Sorry, but Kipling makes me crazy...such a great writer but such an imperialist schmuck (White Man's Burden anyone?).
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Old 06-09-2009, 03:15 PM
 
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You can also use the movies to educate your children about racism, sexism, etc. Our children will be inundated with these messages throughout their lives. At a certain point in their lives, you simply can't censor things anymore. So, why not start teaching them how to identify these hidden messages early? Critical thinking is an incredibly important life skill. You can teach kids to use their brains to filter the information they're receiving. You can teach them about racism (for example), and make them aware of ways to identify it. There are isms in just about everything you see on tv or in the movies, not to mention what's on the magazine racks at the grocery stores. If you teach your kids that the stereotypes and expectations are harmful and not something they should internalize, they will be able to more easily tell the differences between them and the truth.

It's never too early to start these lessons.
Great point. I believe we all try to screen what our kids watch to begin with but there is virtually NOTHING in the media that teaches my kids what they are taught at home. My kids were reading those "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books and I finally pointed out to them that the "hero" of that book is a complete jerk and they aren't supposed to follow that example.

It's also tricky for me to say that the princess marrying the prince is bad, but I agree about what the women put up with is bad.

Once I was complaining to dh about a sitcom based on an African-American family was so over the top and that if I were African-American, I would find it offensive. He countered by asking me to identify one, white, mother on TV that I was like...it just isn't out there.

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Old 06-09-2009, 03:24 PM
 
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You can also use the movies to educate your children about racism, sexism, etc. Our children will be inundated with these messages throughout their lives. At a certain point in their lives, you simply can't censor things anymore. So, why not start teaching them how to identify these hidden messages early? Critical thinking is an incredibly important life skill. You can teach kids to use their brains to filter the information they're receiving. You can teach them about racism (for example), and make them aware of ways to identify it. There are isms in just about everything you see on tv or in the movies, not to mention what's on the magazine racks at the grocery stores. If you teach your kids that the stereotypes and expectations are harmful and not something they should internalize, they will be able to more easily tell the differences between them and the truth.

It's never too early to start these lessons.
I agree to a large extent. It's one of the reasons I'm grateful to have the opportunity to homeschool. I guess the challenge is how do you get your children to be aware and think critically without sucking the joy out of things, you know? How do you find the balance between taking things at face value and digging deeper? I'd appreciate any resources/ideas.

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Old 06-09-2009, 03:32 PM
 
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I respectfully disagree. If no comparison is intended then why are they all voiced by black folks?
No comparison is intended in the book. The choice to have them voiced by black folks in the movie has nothing at all to do with the book.

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And I am not drawing any conclusions about Kipling's Jungle Book based on the Disney version LOL! Kipling was simply a very racist writer, and the Jungle Book is no exception. Sorry, but Kipling makes me crazy...such a great writer but such an imperialist schmuck (White Man's Burden anyone?).
Have you actually read The Jungle Book? I'm not going to argue that Kipling wasn't a racist or imperialist, or never wrote anything racist, but I think you'd have a hard time arguing that the Mowgli stories in The Jungle Book are racist. Most of the characters are animals. All the people (including Mowgli, the hero) are Indian, but their race is not even mentioned; they are described simply as "men."
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Old 06-09-2009, 09:16 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I agree that the movies can be used for teaching but I feel my kids are WAY too young to get that yet (I'm not saying all kids this age are but mine are not at that point yet). But they may absorb some of the negative subtle messages.
I'm also bothered by how completely bad the bad characters always are. And almost always ugly to boot.
But I've also read about how fairy tale characters are symbols and children understand this. They relate to the symbol rather than the individual character. So it seems pretty important to avoid racist and sexist charactures, you know?

So are there any good ones?
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Old 06-09-2009, 11:57 PM
 
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The evil villianesse in The Little Mermaid is fat.
Only the first one. The villain in the second on is skinny.
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Old 06-10-2009, 11:22 AM
 
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the obviously black (race, not just color) crows in the disney "dumbo" movie always got to me. first of all, CROWS. : second, singing & jiving. third, riding the train's caboose. 'well i be done see about ev'ry thang, when i seen a elephant fly'?! seriously!!!

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Old 06-10-2009, 12:16 PM
 
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I, too, was shocked with Peter Pan - the "red Indian" stuff and the really, really overt sexism. Also Dumbo.

To name a few movies we've liked & I've found acceptable - Brother Bear; Milo & Otis; The Little Foot movies; old musicals like Singin' in the Rain and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. My son also loves Robin Hood and Sword in the Stone (I didn't watch that one carefully so I don't know about it).

I do let them watch most of the princess movies (and the first 3 Star Wars), and the Jungle Book though, too. I was so culturally illiterate as a kid, I think there's something to be said for being able to talk to peers about kid-culture. And I'm not doing Hannah Montana or Sponge Bob etc... so I feel like they have to have something. And while I am offended by the ape stuff in Jungle Book, I truly, truly think it's way over the heads of my kids.

That said, I do balance our movies out with a variety of music and books with various strong characters, and as they get older we will definitely be discussing more about what they watch.

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Old 06-10-2009, 03:16 PM
 
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You also have to consider time frame.

Dumbo is from 1941, Peter Pan is from 1953, The Jungle Book is from 1967.

You can't really expect them to be anything better then what things were like at the time.

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Old 06-10-2009, 04:30 PM
 
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So are there any good ones?
How about Bambi? Lady & the Tramp? The Lion King? 101 Dalmations? - oh wait, Cruella had some gray hair, so that's ageist, right?

I never noticed ANY of the things everyone is talking about on this thread when I was a kid. And when I noticed them as an adult, I definitely chalked it up to the time period that they were created, like MusicianDad said. I think some of the more recent movies and the objections to them are pretty far-reaching. What are some of the villains supposed to look like? If they are pretty and have no distinguishing features then how can they be recognized as villains? (for the most part, not all Disney movies have ugly villains) I think a bigger worry would be if EVERY Disney movie villain had the same type of feature, like they were all fat or had a beaky nose, then that could be construed as Disney trying to perpetuate one trait as being "bad".

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Old 06-10-2009, 04:58 PM
 
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What are some of the villains supposed to look like? If they are pretty and have no distinguishing features then how can they be recognized as villains?
Yeah, everyone knows good-looking people with no distinguishing features can't be evil. That's how we tell who's good and who's bad in real life, right? If they're fat or ugly or have beaky noses or something, they may be up to no good, but if they're really pretty we know they're okay. We wouldn't want to get kids confused about that by making the heroine ugly (by our society's standards) or the villain good-looking (by our society's standards.)
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Old 06-10-2009, 05:01 PM
 
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I, too, was shocked with Peter Pan - the "red Indian" stuff and the really, really overt sexism. Also Dumbo.
Peter Pan appalled me.

OTOH, we bought Dumbo about a year ago (our local video store has been selling off all their VHS for $2.00 each). I'd probably watched it about six times before I even realized that the crows were supposed to be black. I think I'm kind of oblivious.

We have most of the Disney movies now (because of the above mentioned video store). We won't buy Peter Pan. That movie bothers me on almost every level...the Red Indians, Tinkerbelle attempting murder, and it's somehow all just fine, Peter Pan himself, etc. etc.

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Old 06-10-2009, 05:01 PM
 
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Yeah, everyone knows good-looking people with no distinguishing features can't be evil. That's how we tell who's good and who's bad in real life, right? If they're fat or ugly or have beaky noses or something, they may be up to no good, but if they're really pretty we know they're okay. We wouldn't want to get kids confused about that by making the heroine ugly (by our society's standards) or the villain good-looking (by our society's standards.)
Her perfect evil beauty is why I found Nicole Kidman in The Golden Compass so chillingly effective. Brrrrrrrr.....
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Old 06-10-2009, 05:02 PM
 
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We wouldn't want to get kids confused about that by making the heroine ugly (by our society's standards) or the villain good-looking (by our society's standards.)
Gaston from Beauty and the Beast was a really nasty specimen, and he was supposed to be the best-looking person in the village.

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Old 06-10-2009, 05:02 PM
 
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I think some of you are reading in to it a bit much.
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Old 06-10-2009, 05:06 PM
 
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Yeah, everyone knows good-looking people with no distinguishing features can't be evil. That's how we tell who's good and who's bad in real life, right? If they're fat or ugly or have beaky noses or something, they may be up to no good, but if they're really pretty we know they're okay. We wouldn't want to get kids confused about that by making the heroine ugly (by our society's standards) or the villain good-looking (by our society's standards.)
So parents are teaching their kids who are "evil" and who aren't in real life by cartoon Disney movies? If someone was, then those kids are going to have a LOT more to learn about real life. I could see kids getting confused in real life if EVERY villain was fat or was a really wrinkly old man, but since every movie has a different-looking villain, how are all these kids getting confused? And the Evil Queen in Snow White was very pretty and very evil. I doubt that whole generation of kids then went around thinking that all pretty women with red lipstick were evil. We gotta give kids more credit than that, right?

I just re-read your post and now I'm not sure if you were being sarcastic and actually agreeing with me or not? If so, sorry, and never mind my response.

Also, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was "ugly" on the outside. Just sayin...

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Old 06-10-2009, 05:09 PM
 
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I think some of you are reading in to it a bit much.

Not to be condescending or anything....:
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Old 06-10-2009, 06:12 PM
 
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I just re-read your post and now I'm not sure if you were being sarcastic and actually agreeing with me or not?
I was being sarcastic and disagreeing with you.
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Old 06-10-2009, 06:14 PM
 
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Old 06-10-2009, 06:28 PM
 
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Yeah, everyone knows good-looking people with no distinguishing features can't be evil. That's how we tell who's good and who's bad in real life, right? If they're fat or ugly or have beaky noses or something, they may be up to no good, but if they're really pretty we know they're okay. We wouldn't want to get kids confused about that by making the heroine ugly (by our society's standards) or the villain good-looking (by our society's standards.)
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Old 06-10-2009, 06:30 PM
 
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Okay, seriously, do kids really associate black crows or black monkeys with black people? I can't say my kids ever have, and they've seen just about every Disney movie.

Though one I will give you - dd1 made comments about First Nations being savages after watching Pocohantas, which we dealt with, and then got rid of.
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Old 06-10-2009, 07:00 PM
 
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Okay, seriously, do kids really associate black crows or black monkeys with black people? I can't say my kids ever have, and they've seen just about every Disney movie.

Though one I will give you - dd1 made comments about First Nations being savages after watching Pocohantas, which we dealt with, and then got rid of.
Oh, really? I thought the portrayal in Pocohontas was a million times better than...say...Peter Pan. Every time I think of that scene, I just cringe.

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Old 06-10-2009, 07:05 PM
 
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Yeah, the way I remember it, Pocahontas makes it pretty clear that the English settlers who think of native Americans as savages are ignorant and completely mistaken.
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