Race and Movies An Examination of Stereotypes in Commercial American Theatrical Animation
A History of Animation in the United States
Animation is the process of creating a visual illusion by cycling thru static images in a quickly timed fashion as to imitate motion to the eye. In conventional means today, we use this term to more often refer to hand drawn or computer generated segments more than anything else. Hand drawn animation is usually referred to as traditional animation where as computer animation is usually referred to as CGI. In the animation industry, this technique is used most often in the form of a short segment ranging in time from three to four minutes to a half-hour program or less often a full length motion picture released to theaters.
The Silent and Golden Ages of Animation
Animated segments began to be produced by studios in the silent film era. These features didn’t gain the popularity or notoriety of later animated films yet it did have its share of outstanding characters such as Koko the Clown and Felix the Cat. The popularity of animated films in America came as a result of three major studios in the first half of the 20th century in what came to be known as the Golden Age of Animation. The three studios with the most impact in this era were Disney, Warner Brothers, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).
Felix the Cat
Disney’s success began with its trademark character Mickey Mouse with a series of short comedic theatrical shorts that were in the same vein as those of his predecessor Felix the Cat. Disney’s success with the character of Mickey and his friends led to other studios wishing to cash in on the new fad, notably Warner Bros. The studio experimented with a number of ideas and the culmination of their efforts would lead to the creation of Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid, Merrie Melodies, and finally Looney Tunes. The Looney Tunes shorts featured its own rouges gallery of cartoon icons, most notably Bugs Bunny and friends, who engaged in more physical and crude comedy than characters in Disney films. MGM also followed suit but was not as successful as Warner Bros. Nevertheless a number of MGM icons also emerged, most famously Tom and Jerry.
Bugs Bunny and Friends
Disney and Feature Length Films
In 1937, Walt Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the first full length animated feature film. The film was a colossal success and remains today as the 10th highest grossing film of all time  . Over the next several years Disney would release a number of other full length animated films including Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, and others. Due to the immense popularity of the outrageous antics of the Looney Tunes characters, popularity of Disney shorts waned and production was subsequently ended as the studio chose to focus more on its more profitable feature length films. As a result Disney began to distance itself in terms of style and content from its competitors.
 Adjusted for inflation
The TV and Renaissance Ages of Television
In the mid 1950s, the Golden Age of Animation came to an end. Decreased viewership combined with the high production costs of theatrical shorts forced many studios to close down their animation departments. Television also made a notable dent as many would now elect to stay home to watch shows instead of going to a theater. Joseph Hanna and William Barbera cashed in on this market with their studio Hanna-Barbera Productions. A number of animation techniques such as a reduction in animation quality were developed by the studio that cut down the costs that had ended the lives of previous studios. Disney continued to make a tremendous profit on its full length films and refused to animate for television. Many of Warner Bros animators such as Chuck Jones also refused to animate for television. As a result the majority of the shows produced during this era showed a noticeable decline in quality.
After falling into disarray by the 1980s, animation saw a renaissance in the 1990s and the new millennium. Warner Bros, Disney, and Fox opened their own television animation studios whose productions were a marked improvement over the previous four decades. The Walt Disney Company itself also faced another renaissance after a decline in it films following the death of Walt Disney. High quality films were produced that won multiple academy awards with features such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the Lion King.
Stereotypes in Animation
Because traditional animation and CGI do not use images with real objects, the genre lends itself to an exaggeration of reality. This is evident in the anthropomorphism of cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and their comedic actions which in reality in some instances would kill an individual. In the silent and golden eras of animation, comedy was a key selling point in attracting audiences to shows, allowing studios to recoup their financial investments. Comedic shorts became routine and as a result a number of norms came about. The aforementioned anthropomorphism and slapstick antics were usually in the company of sight gags, comic props, and racial and ethnic stereotypes. It is of no surprise that stereotypes are included in and a part of animation as they themselves are already an exaggeration of specific human traits and cultures.
The Traditional Negro Image
In the early advent of animation where Technicolor had not yet been invented as well as the use of synchronized sound, animators relied on the visual exaggeration to get their points across. Often lampooned was the mammy figure who with her large girth and kind subservient actions made her an ideal servant character. Also lampooned was the black minstrel who with his big lips, bulging eyes, lanky stance, and oversized hands and feet were able to play any musical instrument given to them. The Warner Bros character is often cited as a very basic form of the black minstrel as he retains many of these traits yet features a toned down look that obscures his race or ethnicity. The Disney character of Mickey Mouse also shares some of the same evolutionary history and physical appearance with that stereotyped image, obscured however by its anthropomorphized features.
Other Emerging Stereotypes
As time grew on and animation became more and more popular, a steady growth of characters came out based upon stereotyped images. Native Americans were portrayed as tobacco smokers who lived in teepees and fought against the soldier of the Union who were the “good guys”. Hispanics were most often represented as lazy individuals who wore sombreros and were constantly napping. Anthropomorphized versions can be found in Speedy Gonzales shorts where many secondary and tertiary characters were in this mold, despite that the protagonist was of almost a complete reversal of this image. Asians featured almost trademarked squinted and slanted eyes which were accompanied by a wide sly grin. Arab stereotypes were of large burly men who wielded scimitars and acted in a truly barbaric fashion of slashing at everything that came about them.
The Original Speedy Gonzales, a Mexican mouse (left), and the later revised one which shot to fame (right)
World War II and Stereotypes in Animation
With the advent of World War II, stereotypes took on a new form. Stereotypical images of the people of the countries of the Axis served in propaganda aimed at not only moralizing the troops heading out to war but also to help focus the general public on who the enemies were. Japanese characters in animated short films during this time were extremely exaggerated due to the fact that they were the primary opposition to the United States at the time. Many animated films produced during this era featured characters such as Donald Duck, Popeye the sailor, and Bugs Bunny, who often fought the leaders of the nations of the Axis and routinely won. These animated features are questioned as to whether or not they influenced the American public, old and youth, into despising these individuals for years after the war.
Bugs Bunny and a heavily stereotyped Japanese soldier in “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips”
Post Civil Rights
After the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 60s, animated stereotypes leaned towards a new image of political correctness. This was not noticeable in the full length feature films really as many of those stories were based upon Hans Christian Anderson and other English fairy tales. However on television shows such as “The Superfriends” (based upon the DC comics Justice League of America) featured outstanding characters such as Black Vulcan and Apache Chief who made the roster of characters more cultural diverse. These characters are notable in that it was noticeable that this was their only function in the shows as they were never key members to the plot.
The majority of animated shows and films today show little of the stereotypes of the past. Many characters have been developed as to the point that any one of any race or ethnicity can fill their role on a show or in a film.
Superfriends with notable heroes not based in DC Comics. Samurai (Top Right), Black Vulcan (Bottom Left), and Apache Chief (Bottom Far Right)
Why Examine Disney?
. The Walt Disney company has marketed itself as the face of the American public. Warner Bros and MGM, despite their vast contributions to the genre, have waxed and waned over the years whereas Disney has continued to flourish. This popularity denotes that possibly Disney films have hit a chord in its viewers that not only appease their comedic and visual wants but also falls in line with their moral beliefs and attitudes. Even more so Disney images and films have been an innovator in animation all over the world, heavily influencing styles and artwork, most notably in Japan where anime can be seen as a direct descendant of the Disney styles. Disney’s image has also been labeled as the face of Americanization in the world of globalization thus strengthening its power and giving it a good / evil balance.
The Five Films
The five films we have chosen from the Disney canon represent varying views of stereotypes and racism of a different culture and creed. Not only that but they span the entire lifespan of the company and are indicative of how stereotypes are not only used over the past 70 years but also how the public has reacted to those images.
This all-time favorite hit Disney adventure from 1941 is still touching audiences’ hearts everywhere, particularly children. Seemingly sweet, innocent, and a tale of overcoming differences, the optimism in the film can’t be missed. However, the darker side to Dumbo is Disney himself, incorporating black caricatures and stereotypes as forms of racist entertainment marginal to the main character Dumbo. This ironic incorporation is a paradox to the film’s message of accepting everyone the way they are, despite superficial differences.
Dumbo is brought to Mrs. Jumbo, a performing circus elephant as her newborn child but is ridiculed by all when they see his abnormally large ears. Mrs. Jumbo has undying love, however, for her baby elephant and eventually is locked up as a "mad elephant“ when she causes a riot protecting Dumbo from kids jeering and poking fun at his ears. Now alone, Dumbo eventually meets Timothy mouse who becomes his only friend and the ironic friendship helps him cope with the loss of his mother. Timothy mouse attempts to improve Dumbo's situations by influencing his incorporation into main acts in the circus arena. Dumbo messes up an act involving the other elephants and eventually ends up as a humiliated low-tier elephant-clown. Things look up after both Timothy and Dumbo accidentally drink water that is spiked with alcohol and hallucinate a very bizarre pink-elephant dance sequence, waking high up in a tree the next morning to laughing black crows. After initially poking fun at an "elephant flying" and being in a tree, Timothy gains their sympathy for Dumbo and they help Timothy convince Dumbo he can fly with a "magic feather" although he can fly without it. During the clown act of falling down a huge building, Dumbo loses the feather but flies up at the very last moment. Dumbo gets revenge on everyone who was mean to him, becomes the star of the circus, and lives happily ever after.
http://lnx.ginevra2000.it/Disney/dumbo.htm AWARDS AND NOMINATIONS: (1942 Won): Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (1942 Nominated): Oscar for Best Music, Original Song (1947 Won): Best Animation Design @ the Cannes’ Film Festival
Black Worker Scene: Towards the beginning of the film, the scene where the circus is being set up, the black stereotype of a working black brute is especially offensive although brief. They sing a stereotypical “working song” and are, of course, completely faceless. Not only is this simply creepy, but also depicts blacks as marginal brutes only useful working in the lowest tiers for the white bureaucrats of the circus. The faceless aspect removes any sort of real humane identity while all the white human characters have distinct faces. Albeit it is 1941 where most African Americans are forced into manual labor work at the bottom of the hierarchy, this scene seems to be regressing to times of slavery and bondage.
The Crow Sequence: This scene is now famous for its black caricature representation. The blatant stereotype is most evident through the “Amos’ n’ Andy” dialect the crows speak when they find Dumbo and Timothy in the tree. Timothy is initially very rude to the main crow, who Disney had the audacity to name “Jim Crow”, as though the crows are known to be hostile and marginal characters of society. This clear parallel is far too obvious. Although many would argue that the black depiction here is sympathetic and they are the only characters that help Dumbo out, the show-like depiction along with a dance and singing jazz sequence pigeonholes the black identity as loopy, lazy-looking, and minstrel-like. The two main racist scenes in Dumbo is the brief and often overlooked “black worker scene” and the notorious “black crow sequence”. A brief description of both scenes and their racial stereotypes are discussed below. A continued analysis on the crow sequence will follow. http://www.scifistation .com /images/disney/dis ney22.jpg
The Moral Paradox
Dumbo, a movie about an elephant with no friends based upon his appearance, is ridden with hypocrisy due to the black caricatures. What was supposed to be an enlightening film with a moral of “accepting others’ differences” and the worthiness of every individual is contrasted with the crow sequence of blatant stereotyping. Thus, although the crow sequence is “sympathetic”, the paradox is still evident. Parents and children alike enjoyed the movie for over 60 years, recognizing Dumbo’s plight as an elephant who “has big ears”, living peripherally in the circus, yet they fail to apply the obvious moral to racist mechanisms in society, especially when, IN THE SAME MOVIE, there exists a rather obvious and unsettling racist cartoon sequence (the crow sequence) and a more subtle sequence as well (the working scene)
The Crows’ Controversy
Contemporary reviewers and audiences today find themselves split almost completely down the middle in terms of the movie Dumbo. On one hand many people claim that it is NOT racist because not only the crow sequence the so-called “best” part of the film in terms of optimism, liveliness, and fun, but the black caricatures are sympathetic, not villains. They are one of the only ones that help Dumbo and claim that over-sensitive critics are overreacting to a fun, happy scene that, if anything, breaks racial barriers by making them “good”. This side claims that the crows are not a racist stereotype, but have a racial identity.
On the other hand, re-watching Dumbo now in decades after its first release alarms many viewers due to the blatant stereotyping of blacks. The Amos n’ Andy dialect, dress, etc, everything about the crow sequence is poking fun, if not directly, at the African American. Although others may claim that the crows really had a human good side, this side argues that the crow sequence is far too short to create humanity in any of the caricatures, and all of them talked the same, acted the same, and had no definitive individual character. They are lumped together with their leader, Jim Crow (what?!), defining the African American as such, perpetuating decades-old stereotypes to a child-aged audience.
"Uh, what's all the rookus? C'mon, step aside brothuhs, uh, what's cookin' around heah? What new? What fryin', boys?“ – ‘ Jim Crow ’ in Dumbo
Author’s Notes: The unmistakably Amos n’ Andy dialect, the crows’ dress as well as mannerisms are reminiscent to the “coon” or “dandy” stereotype as fun-loving, lazy, watermelon-eating useless blacks. The jazz musical dance sequence, also argued to be the liveliest and climax of the film, is no doubt reminiscent of minstrel shows throughout the Jim Crow Era. This display of blackface known as minstrel shows, poked fun at blacks through mal-intentioned entertainment. Not only was it demeaning, as if the black-faced minstrel actor was some sort of sick puppet, it perpetuated the very stereotype that this was the only sort of activity “blacks were good for”, being foolish, stupid, brutish, slow, and they need to know their place. So sure, the crow sequence was sympathetic and they were the ones that helped Dumbo out, yet in the end they are left behind, living marginally because THEIR differences simply couldn’t be integrated into the “circus”, or should we say “society”, while Dumbo, with his big blue eyes and light skin, could. The proponents that argue that the crows are not a negative depiction but rather a positive spin on the stereotype also seem to completely ignore the fact that the main crow is named Jim Crow, as if that isn’t blaring enough. He is also the only crow whose voice is played by a white man, kind of reminiscent of black-face, but “black-voice”, perhaps. Although the crows help Dumbo and may be argued as a sympathetic depiction of an originally racist stereotype, knowing Disney’s inherent racism and understanding that it was 1941, this is a NEGATIVE perpetuation of a black stereotype. I, personally, believe that to say otherwise is appalling.
Impact? Or Reflection of Racial Mechanisms Already at Work?
Although Dumbo was a huge hit during the early years of Disney’s feature-length film empire, it is a tough statement to say that Dumbo really impacted racial attitudes at the time, rather it was perpetuating (on a lesser scale than the macro-level), racial attitudes that had endured for hundreds of years. Simply, Dumbo is a great example of racist cartooning, and black stereotype in caricature, but was not one of the forefront films, such as “Birth of a Nation”, for instance, that could influence a viewer at the time to become racist if they weren’t already. If anything, viewers at the time probably dismissed the black stereotypes as simply a true aspect of life, laughed a little, and thought nothing much of it. It is a reflection of the racial mechanisms that had been turning all through the Jim Crow era. “We’re not racist, blacks are really like that…”
Contemporary viewers on the other hand probably find it blatantly offensive (well, some don’t as mentioned earlier), understanding that these stereotypes are no longer accepted in the mainstream ideology, although racism is still rampant today. Showing Dumbo today, although still regarded as a sweet and fun movie, might have a different influence on viewers, regressing our attitudes back to 1941 and previously.
I can’t really say which is the lesser of two evils, Dumbo impacting a new generation of racist children, through a crow sequence or Dumbo reflecting the already scary racial attitudes of the times. However, the latter of the two seems to be a more viable statement. It is also tragic that people still don’t realize the racism in Dumbo and will argue for its sympathetic renderings of black folk, particularly the Crow sequence, is also a frightening situation.
Peter Pan is a fictional character created by Scottish novelist and playwright, James Matthew Barrie (1860-1973), as well as the title of a stage play and novel based on the character. A mischievous little boy who refuses to grow up, Peter Pan spends his never-ending childhood adventuring on the small island of Neverland as leader of his gang, the Lost Boys. 1
In 1953, Walt Disney Animation released its 14 th motion picture based upon J.M Barrie’s original story. As with other Disney films, artistic license was taken in rewriting the films plot. However despite the changes the film remains remarkably close to the source material and served as the best visual representation of the original material beating out the numerous plays which had come before it. The film made $87.4 million dollars and was followed up with a sequel in 2002 entitled “Return to Neverland.”
Plot of the Film
One night Wendy Darling and her two brothers John and Michael are paid a visit by Peter Pan who flies through their window chasing after his own shadow Peter with the aid of his fairy sidekick Tinkerbell teach the children how to fly and together they head off to Never Neverland. It is here that they meet the ragtag crew of The Lost Boys and battle against the Pan’s nemesis Captain Hook. Along the way they experience a number of smaller misadventures such as Wendy going with Peter Pan to save the Indian Princess Tiger Lily. The film ends with the traditional climatic battle between Peter Pan and Captain Hook who is devoured by a crocodile. In the end, Wendy and her brothers return home where Peter stays in Never Neverland, remaining a young boy.
Native American Stereotypes
This film’s concern with racism lies in the portrayal of Native Americans. The portrayal is highly stereotypical, with Native Americans being shown as warlike primitives who speak in guttural tones. This comes into play when Captain Hook captures the Indian princess Tiger Lily.
The lost boys are excited to go and find some Indians. They sing a song “We’re off to find the Indians.” This song isn’t that bad but it does mention the term red skins.
Also the Indians in this movie are portrayed by having red skins. Every Indian in this film has red skin. One of the lost boys states in the movie: “ Indians are cunning but less intelligent”
The lost boys and Captain Hook mention that the Indians are savages. Wendy states: “Do you want to stay here and grow up like savages?”
The song: “What makes the red man, red?”. This is the song that the Indians are singing after Peter Pan saves Tiger Lily and brings her back to her village. After she is returned safely, her village gives Peter Pan and the Lost Boys a celebration.
Controversial Segments of the Film http://cache.tias.com/stores/hga/pictures/38314a.jpg
Released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1992, Aladdin was a firm step in a new direction for the animation studios of Disney. Aladdin marks their first real departure in a full length animated film from the traditional European fairy tales to those of other cultures, in this case the Arab world. The film grossed $217 million dollars in the US and another $504 million internationally making it the most successful film of the year. At the 1993 Academy Awards it won Oscars in the categories of Best Song (A Whole New World) and Best Original Score.
Source Material and Plot
The book of “One Thousand and One Nights” also known as “Arabian Nights” serves as the source material behind the film. “Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp” is actually one of many short stories featured in the multi-volume anthology. As with many Disney films, the plot has been rewritten from its original material.
1001 Nights Synopsis “ Aladdin is an impoverished young man named living in China, who is recruited by a sorcerer to retrieve a wonderful oil lamp from a booby-trapped magic cave. After the sorcerer attempts to double-cross him, Aladdin keeps the lamp for himself, and discovers that it summons a surly djinn that is bound to do the bidding of the person holding the lamp. With the aid of the djinn, Aladdin becomes rich and powerful and marries princess Badroulbadour. The sorcerer returns and is able to get his hands on the lamp by tricking Aladdin's wife, who is unaware of the lamp's importance. Aladdin discovers a lesser, polite djinn is summoned by a ring loaned to him by the sorcerer but forgotten during the double-cross. Assisted by the lesser djinn, Aladdin recovers his wife and the lamp.” 1 Film Synopsis Jafar, the evil vizier of the Sultan of Agrabah wishes to get his hands upon a magical lamp located within the hidden Cave of Wonders. However he learns that only one may enter the cave, a noble beggar and thief named Aladdin. Aladdin in the meanwhile meets and falls in love with the rebellious princess and is falsely arrested for her “kidnapping.” While in prison a disguised Jafar convinces Aladdin to go to the Cave of Wonders and retrieve the lamp. After retrieving the lamp though Jafar unsuccessfully tries to kill Aladdin who ends up keeping the lamp and releasing the Genie inside. Aladdin returns to Agrabah as a prince with the genie and attempts to win the heart of the princess. However he is revealed to be a beggar when Jafar steals the lamp and makes his own wishes. Aladdin saves the day when he convinces Jafar to wish to be a genie, thus imprisoning him in his own lamp and winning the heart of the princess. 1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aladdin
Persian Stereotypes and Controversy
Due to the fact that this was the first Disney film that not only crossed studio norms but also examined the Arab world, a number of inferences have been made relating to the characters and their world.
The culture of the world portrayed in the movie is a hybrid of Persian, Arab, and Indian backgrounds
Characters refer to “Allah” instead of “God”
There is a distinct image that the majority of people in this world are in poverty, illustrated by the vast number of street merchants and the mud housing. This is contrasted to apparently the few who are wealthy in the film who live a far more opulent lifestyle than those they preside over. This is illustrated with the Sultan’s palace being roughly half the size of the entire city.
The Controversy with the Main Song “Arabian Nights”
A large controversy erupted over the original lyrics to the song “Arabian Nights.” The lyrics initially featured in the film were claimed by the American-Arab Anti-Defamation League to be offensive and politically insensitive. As a result the following home video release was edited to include replacement lyrics.
Original Lyrics “ Oh I come from a land, from a faraway place Where the caravan camels roam Where they cut off your ear If they don't like your face It's barbaric, but hey, it's home” Edited Lyrics Oh I come from a land, from a faraway place Where the caravan camels roam Where it's flat and immense And the heat is intense It's barbaric, but hey, it's home
Released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1995, Pocahontas was the 33 rd full length animated feature released by the studio. The film was the first Disney animated feature to be based upon actual events. The film follows in Disney’s trend of the 1990s of straying from the traditional European fairy tale story. The film grossed $141.6 million domestically and $347 million internationally. It won the 1995 Academy Award for Best Song for “Colors of the Wind.”
Original Source Material
As the first Disney animated feature based upon actual events, the source material are the happenings of the Virginia colony settlers in 1607 and their relations with the Native American tribes that lived in the area. The original historical accounts note the starving of the Jamestown settlers and Much of the material has been simplified as well as a number of artistic liberties were taken due to the fact that the film was targeted to younger viewers. This was among many arguments that lead to criticism on the historical accuracy of the film.
Pocahontas statue in Jamestown, VA
At the center of the controversy with this film is the fact that the events of the life of Pocahontas have been romanticized to the point where the story is historically inaccurate. As such the debate remains as to what is potentially more dangerous, exploring the actual darker truths of the original subject matter with children or distorting historical events giving them less of an impact
Other Controversies Include:
Pocahontas’s Age : In real life she was around the age of 11 when the events of the film transpired. In the film she appears to be in her early to mid 20s
Distorted physical images of Native Americans : While not as stereotypical as those that appeared in the film “Peter Pan”, the Native Americans in this film take an appearance that is slightly European, much in the same way characters in Aladdin shared the same trait.
Released in 1946, “Song of the South” was one of Disney’s first forays into mixing animation with live-action acting. This same technique would be used to a greater extent in Disney’s later more popular and well known film “Mary Poppins.” The film is notable for the large amount of controversy surrounding its release. It has not garnered any Academy Awards
History of the Film
The film is based upon Joel Chandler Harris’ collection of actual plantation stories during the mid 1800s. These tales which featured the characters of Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and others, served as tales analogous to fables. Interestingly enough Dennis himself did hold many racist views of blacks. The book series initial popularity was not only because the entertaining tales but the depiction of characters served as an idealized model of post slavery life at that time.
When the film was released, it is notable that it tried to pander to many difference crowds at the same time. Disney tried to avoid usual stereotypes of African Americans as to garner black audiences but at the same time deliberately painted a picture that white segregationists living in the southern United States would not object to.
The films live action segments include a black actor dressed as Uncle Remus, the narrator of the original Brer tales. Remus’s image was model after that of an old plantation slave. In the film he would serve to introduce each segment via a segway and he would also play around with two white children.
What is so Controversial?
The Uncle Remus character himself appears to be a complete stereotype of slavery era African Americans. His clothing denotes that he is poor while his facial constructs include large pink lips in contrast to his very dark face, bulging cheeks, and large always open eyes.
The Uncle Remus character is looked upon as subservient to the white children of the film. They exert a form of control over him that he appears to acquiesce with. Many African Americans today would refuse to act in such a manner.
The dialogue of the animated characters of the film is that of a Deep South Black dialect. As with the crows from Dumbo, much of the speech sounds uneducated and foolish. The usage of the term Brer is constant which means “brother”. It is however accurate to how the original text was written as illustrated in a passage below.
“ Brer Rabbit, he wuz high up fer de job, but he study en study, he did, how he gwinter git ‘cross de water, kaze ev’y time he git his foot wet all de fambly kotch cole” – Uncle Remus
The Fight Today
“ Song of the South” is the most contestedly wanted film to be released to the public in a home video format by popular opinion, beating over cult films such as “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and the original unaltered Star Wars trilogy. Despite the massive amount of people who want to purchase the movie, Disney has refused to budge in releasing it to the American public. The film has seen home video release overseas in England but has never appeared on shelves in America. Arguments rest between studio management who believe that the public is still not ready for such a film to be released to them. Ironically it is the public who has been raising the loudest voice in that the film should be released in its original unaltered form. Historians are looking upon this battle between the Disney organization and consumers as a view into race relations during the1990s and early 2000s. It can be argued that this dispute helps to illustrate where the line for what is politically correct and what isn’t is drawn and that despite advances in race relations over the course of the latter half of the 20 th century we still exist in a world where Black and White images of each other are not yet fully understood. The only segment of this film to exist on DVD is a portion from Disney’s “One Hour in Wonderland” special on the Alice in Wonderland Special Edition DVD. The segment includes the famous song Zip-a-dee-doo-dah and a brief Brer Rabbit tale.
On March 10 th , 2006, A Disney Shareholder’s Meeting took place in which a release of Song of the South on DVD becomes a hotly contested topic. Below is a segment of the speech between a shareholder and Disney CEO Robert Iger.
"My name is Howard Cromer. I live in Cypress, I'm a Disney shareholder. I'm actually delivering a message from my son, 10. He wants to know in recent years, in the midst of all your re-releases of your videos, why you haven't released Song of the South on your Disney Classics?" [Applause] "And, he wonders why. Frank Wells told me many years ago that it would be coming out. Well obviously Frank Wells isn't around anymore, so we still wonder why. And by the way, Mr. Iger, he thinks it was a very good choice when they made you CEO of Disney." [Applause] Iger: "Thank you very much. You may change your mind when I answer your question, though. Um... we've discussed this a lot. We believe it's actually an opportunity from a financial perspective to put Song of the South out. I screened it fairly recently because I hadn't seen it since I was a child, and I have to tell you after I watched it, even considering the context that it was made, I had some concerns about it because of what it depicted. And thought it's quite possible that people wouldn't consider it in the context that it was made, and there were some... [long pause] depictions that I mentioned earlier in the film that I think would be bothersome to a lot of people. And so, owing to the sensitivity that exists in our culture, balancing it with the desire to, uh, maybe increase our earnings a bit, but never putting that in front of what we thought were our ethics and our integrity, we made the decision not to re-release it. Not a decision that is made forever, I imagine this is gonna continue to come up, but for now we simply don't have plans to bring it back because of the sensitivities that I mentioned. Sorry."
References to Related Journal Articles
Animation and Stereotypes
The best cartoon you've never seen Jaime J Weinman. Maclean's. Toronto: Mar 27, 2006. Vol. 119, Iss. 13; p. 57 (1 page) – A look at the short “Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarves”
That‘s Enough, Folks . Sampson, T., Henry. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1998. – a look at black stereotyped characters from 1900 to the 1950s
Snow Whitey? Robertson, Gail. Canadian Dimension. Winnipeg: Sep 1998. Vol. 32, Iss. 5; p. 42 (3 pages) – A look at the stereotypes in a number of Disney films
Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation . Bendazzi, Giannalberto. London: J. Libbey, op 1994.
Controversial cartoons: The unlikely animation of yesteryear Robert L Tefertillar . The World & I . Washington: May 2000 .Vol.15, Iss. 5; pg. 183
7 Minutes: The life and death of the American animated cartoon Amy M Davis . Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television . Dorchester-on-Thames: Jun 1999 .Vol.19, Iss. 2; pg. 265, 2 pgs
Disney and its conservative critics: Images versus realities Ostman, Ronald E. Journal of Popular Film & Television. Washington: Summer 1996. Vol. 24, Iss. 2; p. 82 (8 pages)
http://www.regent.edu/acad/schcom/rojc/wainer.html (this is a site that shows a specific argument that those deeming Dumbo as racist are overreacting)
http://www.washingtonfreepress.org/17/Disney.html (Here is a discussion of Disney’s racism in general)
http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/coon/ (A great analysis of the coon stereotype)
(An online discussion between users on their contemporary reaction to Dumbo, including racial issues)
"Saving Other Women from Other Men: Disney's Aladdin.“ Addison, Erin. Camera Obscura: A Journal of Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies, vol. 31. 1993 Jan-May. pp: 5-25.
"2 Films Spin Their Own Special Magic” .“Britt, Donna. (Column) Washington Post v115 (Fri, Nov 13, 1992):D1, col 1, 18 col in. (comparing Walt Disney film 'Aladdin' to documentary film about black soldiers in World War II)
Corrigan, Don. "Aladdin - Like Much of U.S. Entertainment and Media - is Flawed by Stereotypes." St. Louis Journalism Review v22, n153 (Feb, 1993):13 (2 pages).
Felperin Sharman, Leslie "New Aladdins for Old." Sight & Sound ( III/11, Nov 93; p.12-15. Discusses the attraction of the Aladdin story to filmmakers and its representation of Arabs, with particular reference to the 1992 Disney production.
Felperin, Leslie "The Thief of Buena Vista: Disney's Aladdin and Orientalism." In: A reader in animation studies / edited by Jayne Pilling. London : J. Libbey, c1997. --MAIN: TR897.5 .R43 1997 Fox, David J. "Disney Will Alter Song in 'Aladdin.'" (changes come after Arab-Americans protest that lyrics are racist) Los Angeles Times v112 (Sat, July 10, 1993):F1, col 5, 17 col in.
Geist, Kenneth "Aladdin ." (movie reviews) Films in Review March-April 1993 v44 n3-4 p127(2) Gorchev, Leila. "When Will it be Okay to be an Arab?" (on Disney film Aladdin and its portrayal of Arabs) (Column) Washington Post v116 (Sun, Dec 27, 1992):C7, col 2, 16 col in.
Irwin, Robert "Aladdin." (movie reviews) TLS. Times Literary Supplement Dec 24, 1993 n4734 p14(2) "It's Racist, But Hey, It's Disney." (racist lyrics in song from Walt Disney Productions movie 'Aladdin') (Editorial) New York Times v142 (Wed, July 14, 1993):A14(N), A18(L), col 1, 6 col in.
Klawans, Stuart "Aladdin." (movie reviews) The Nation Dec 7, 1992 v255 n19 p713(4) UC users only Macleod,
Dianne Sachko. "The Politics of Vision: Disney, Aladdin, and the Gulf War." In: The Emperor's old groove: decolonizing Disney's Magic Kingdom / edited by Brenda Ayres. pp: 179-91. New York: P. Lang, c2003. --Main Stack PN1999.W27.E48 2003 --Bus & Econ PN1999.W27.E48 2003
Maslin, Janet "Aladdin." (movie reviews) The New York Times Nov 11, 1992 v142 pB1(N) pC15(L) col 3 (26 col in)
Phillips, Jerry. "Telling Tales to Children: The Pedagogy of Empire in MGM's Kim and Disney's Aladdin ." The Lion and the Unicorn: A Critical Journal of Children's Literature vol. 20 no. 1. 1996 June. pp: 66-89.
Nadel Alan "A whole new (Disney) world order: Aladdin, atomic power, and the Muslim Middle East." In: Visions of the East: orientalism in film / edited by Matthew Bernstein and Gaylyn Studlar. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, c1997. --Main Stack PN1995.9.E95.V57 1997
Phillips, Jerry and Ian Wojcik-Andrews "Telling Tales to Children: The Pedagogy of Empire in MGM's Kim and Disney's Aladdin." The Lion and the Unicorn 20.1 (1996) 66-89 UC users only
Scheinin, Richard. "Angry Over 'Aladdin;'"Arabs decry film's racial stereotypes. Washington Post v116 (Sun, Jan 10, 1993):G1, col 1, 36 col in. Shaheen, Jack. "Aladdin: Animated Racism." Cineaste, vol. 20 no. 1. 1993. pp: 49 UC users only
Sharman, Leslie Felperin. "New Aladdins for Old." Sight and Sound v3, n11 (Nov, 1993):12 (4 pages). Simon, John "Aladdin." (movie reviews) National Review Dec 14, 1992 v44 n24 p53(2) UC users only
Staninger, Christiane. "Disney's Magic Carpet Ride: Aladdin and Women in Islam." In: The emperor's old groove: decolonizing Disney's Magic Kingdom / edited by Brenda Ayres. pp: 65-77. New York: P. Lang, c2003. --Main Stack PN1999.W27.E48 2003 --Bus & Econ PN1999.W27.E48 2003
White, Timothy R. and J. E. Winn "Islam, Animation and Money: The Reception of Disney's Aladdin in Southeast Asia." Kinema, Spring 1995
Disney's Pocahontas: Reproduction of Gender, Orientalism , and the Strategic Construction of Racial Harmony in the Disney Empire Kutsuzawa, Kiyomi. Asian Journal of Women's Studies. Seoul: Dec 31, 2000. Vol. 6, Iss. 4; p. 39
Disney's 'politically correct' Pocahontas--Race in contemporary American cinema : Part 5 Kilpatrick, Jacquelyn. Cineaste New York:1995. Vol. 21, Iss. 4, p. 36
Jamestown's Pocahontas Schwartz, Amy E. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Aug 26, 1995. p. A13
Coming to classrooms: The real Pocahontas story Kershaw, Sarah. New York Times (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Jul 12, 1995. p. B6
Is 'Pocahontas' really for children? Black, M Sean. New York Amsterdam News. New York, N.Y.: Jun 17, 1995. p. 25
Song of the South
"Take a Frown, Turn It Upside Down": Splash Mountain, Walt Disney World, and the Cultural De- rac[e]-ination of Disney's Song of the South (1946) J ason Sperb. Journal of Popular Culture. Bowling Green: Aug 2005. Vol. 38, Iss. 5; p. 924 (15 pages)
Disney vs. history Graham, Otis L Jr. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Washington: Sep 14, 1994. Vol. 41, Iss. 3; p. B1 (2 pages)
http://www.corporate-ir.net/ireye/ir_site.zhtml?ticker=DIS&script=1010&item_id=1225645 (webcast of Disney Stockholder Meeting of 2006)
www.songofthesouth.net (website devoted to the preservation of the film with articles)
Over the course of the 20 th century, the Walt Disney company has become a symbol of the American people and it shared culture and beliefs. Among the majority of organizations that branched out globally during the course of the century, it has been noted in refraining from goal displacement in staying true to its intentions of providing wholesome family entertainment. However as illustrated by the subject matter of some of its films, we come to question what exactly is deemed wholesome to the American public. A number of questions emerge that need to be mulled over including:
Is there a line to be drawn between artistic liberty and the opinions of the public?
Does Disney have a responsibility to show politically appropriate material to the public?
How should images be marketed in a world that is now highly globalized?
Should the correcting of past mistakes involve the censoring of images, despite their historical significance?
How should one cater to all audiences without offending anyone?
Is there a line that denotes what should and should not be censored? If so how do we decide where that line is and how does it shift?
Works Cited and Bibliographies
Aladdin (Disney Special Platinum Edition) (2004) Disney 2004
Alice in Wonderland (Masterpiece Edition) (1951) Disney 2004
Dumbo (60th Anniversary Edition) (1941) Disney 2001
Looney Tunes - Golden Collection (1955) Warner Bros 2003
Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Volume Two Warner Bros 2004
Peter Pan (Special Edition) (1953) Disney 2002
Pocahontas (10th Anniversary Edition) (1995) Disney 2005
Walt Disney Treasures - On the Front Lines (1943) Disney 2004
Harris, C., Joel. Uncle Remus. D, Appleton and Company. New York and London 1908
Sampson, T., Henry. That‘s Enough, Folks . Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1998. – a look at black stereotyped characters from 1900 to the 1950s
Various Writers. Oriental Tales XIII: Alaeddin and the Enchanted Lamp. 1914
Harvard Business School Case. Disney: The Entertainment King . Case No. 9-701-035 Page 21. Exhibit 7: Top Grossing Animated Films of All Time .
"Center for American Music." Minstrelsy . Center for American Music. May 2006 <http://www.pitt.edu/~amerimus/minstrel.htm>.
Wainer, Alex. Reversal of Roles: Subversion and Reaffirmation of Racial Stereotypes in Dumbo and the Jungle Book . Spring 1994. Sync: The Regent Journal of Music and Video. May 2006 <http://www.regent.edu/acad/schcom/rojc/wainer.html>.
Wasko, Janet. Understanding Disney: the Manufacture of Fantasy . Malden: Blackwell Inc., 2001.