By Natasha Lane
At first glance, Disney seems like it’s all about big musical numbers, happily-ever-afters, and finding your true love. As children, we’re blinded by all this sparkle and glitter. However, take a deeper look at some of your Disney favorites. You’ll see there is much more going on than what you think you would find in a children’s movie.
Here are four Disney movies you didn’t know were racist:
1. The Jungle Book (1967)
Based on a piece of writing by Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book (1967 version) is a lively, animated children’s story. The main character, Mowgli, is raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves. Though he behaves similarly to his wolf family, Mowgli is not beyond imitating the other animals in the jungle.
One particular scene stands out in the movie.
After meeting Mowgli, King Louie of the Apes, in typical Disney fashion, breaks into song. “I Wanna Be Like You,” written by Lucy Woodward expresses King Louie’s desire to be a man along with his natural limitation to ascend to that point.
Consider this message: along with the “scientific” labeling of black people as apes, the fact that the apes are the only characters who speak jive (a style of slang associated with black jazz musicians), and the stereotyping is plain to see.
2. Dumbo (1941)
The fourth Disney animated film, Dumbo, is a heartbreaker if there ever was one. Dumbo’s mother, Mrs. Jumbo, is deemed mad and locked away after defending her son, who was being tormented by a group of boys. Now motherless and an outcast among the other elephants because of his large ears, Dumbo finds himself in need of companionship. Thankfully, a friendly mouse named Timothy is there to cheer him up with a night out on the town.
After partially recovering from a hangover (child appropriate?), Dumbo meets a group of crows who have heavy Southern accents and speak in jive. If that’s not enough, the leader of the group is named Jim Crow, a reference to the racial segregation laws of the 19th and 20th century. To wrap this up, the movie includes “Song of the Roustabouts” sung by black faceless circus workers. This song uses racial slurs and references the “joys” of slavery.
3. Fantasia (1940)
Probably one of the most confusing and amazing Disney movies ever, as a child Fantasia left me awe-struck. From the magic of Mickey Mouse to the looming, dark cloud that was the elderly wizard, this eight-sectioned movie taught children about the wonder of magic, the mystery of the unknown, and racial superiority. Great.
Sunflower (a character in the original release, not in the modern) is a tiny, dark-skinned centaur with braided hair who obligingly serves the taller, white, blonde centaurs who are very feminine. Sunflower decorates their manes, polishes their hooves, and wraps ropes of flowers around them. To add to this racist fire, Sunflower does all of this happily and seems amazed by the white centaurs beauty. She’s the Disney example of a pickaninny, a racist portrayal of black children.
4. The Princess & The Frog (2011)
Praised by many as bringing the first black princess to the big screen, The Princess & The Frog advocates a sub-type of racism: colorism. Colorism is discriminating against someone based on their skin tone. Usually, those of a darker tone are victims of this discrimination.
In The Princess & The Frog, Tiana falls in love with and marries Naveen, a prince from Maldonia (the exact location is never revealed). Though it is implied (or maybe assumed) he is from Africa, Naveen is racially ambiguous, leaving audiences confused as to whether he is African, Indian (the name has some Indian origin), or Latino. Of course, nothing is wrong with interracial dating. However, considering the “black power” and “pioneering” atmosphere of this film, it’s odd the prince would have to be light-skinned or racially ambiguous, instead of clearly being black.