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Representation of Race in Disney Films Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 18th, 2019


Stereotypes refer to the firm and over-generalized subscriptions or beliefs that people have about some particular classes or other groups of people. Stereotyping encompasses one of the biggest ways that people use to simplify their social world by reducing the amount and the depth of information analysis.

Stereotypical approach to the issues of people’s culture, racial and ethnic characteristics has the capacity to make them ignore the existing differences amongst individuals hence making them concentrate on the negative side of the life of others. In other words, it hinders one’s capacity to think critically by invoking fallacious approaches to the way he/she perceives others.

“By stereotyping, we infer that a person has a whole range of characteristics and abilities that we assume all members of that group have. Stereotypes lead to social categorization, which is one of the reasons for prejudice attitudes (i.e. “them” and “us” mentality), which lead to in-groups and out-groups” (Linn and Ponssait 50).

However, cases of positive stereotypes exist. Examples are “judges (the phrase “sober as a judge” would suggest a stereotype with a very respectable set of characteristics), overweight people (who are often seen as “jolly”) and television newsreaders (usually seen as highly dependable, respectable and impartial)” (Caraballo Para. 6).

Over the years, studies have been conducted to investigate racial, cultural and ethnically instigated stereotypes. “Most students at that time would have been white Americans and pictures of other ethnic groups included Jews as shrewd and mercenary, Japanese as shrewd and sly, Negroes as lazy and happy-go-lucky and Americans as industrious and intelligent” (McLeod Para. 6). Racial stereotypes have been confirmed through research as favoring the holder’s race.

Racial stereotypes are not a province of one ethic group. Instead, as psychologists argue, every ethnic group exhibits stereotypes of other groups. The phenomenon is a natural behavioral aspect of human beings. According to the findings of Katz and Braly, people viewed the white Americans as determined, reformists, and conscientious. On the other hand, they termed the black Americans as musical, ignorant and lazy. Ethnic stereotypes are spread widely and are predominantly shared amongst particular members of social group.

From 1930s, it remains anticipated that cultures must have changed given the various forces of dynamic cultural changes combined with technological advancement that foster intercultural collaboration. Studies in 1951 and 1967 concluded that racial stereotypes had changed from negative to positive despite the fact that “beliefs that particular groups held particular characteristics still existed” (Ramsey 40).

However, studies have a drawback emanating from information gathering. As a result, the results of scholastics study posses’ some critics in terms of the results capacity of reflectivity of real situations on the ground. Stereotypical representation in the television and films for instance Disney Classics has the capacity to give rise to racial stereotypes effectively since media constructs what might end up to appear in reality.

Disney Classics constitutes paramount memories of youngsters globally. The films have stories with characteristic good endings. Unfortunately, the consequences of watching Disney movies are far from what parents think. Disney Corporation, through its movie releases, portrays racial stereotypes to children at a tender age.

Apart from children being encouraged to pay visits to Disney parks of amusement, they have a large opportunity to experience stereotypical racial regards through enormously broadcasted Disney channels, which uphold credible subscription to pop culture. For entertainment purposes, children born within 1980s and 1990s or generally in the last generation, find themselves enjoying Disney movies not based on their own choice.

According to Giroux, “Given the influence the Disney ideology has on children, it is imperative for parents, teachers and other adults to understand how such films attract the attention and shape the values of the children who view and buy them” (Para. 3). It is paramount to investigate racial stereotypes in Disney releases such Aladdin, The Jungle Book and, The Princess and the Frog since Disney corporation seems to take advantage of parents not recognizing the movies’ undesirable repercussions to kids so as to make big business.

Presentation of racial stereotypes in Disney movies

Racial stereotyping in Aladdin

Walt Disney created Aladdin in 1992. The movie presents the Middle Eastern lifestyles animations. While not paying keen attention to the ardent success of the movie in theatres, critics argue that the move inculcates racism within Arabic communities. Racial profiling is evident right from the introductory songs of the movie.

Voices of concern are particularly raised with regard to introductory lyrics, which carry a strong message of racism aimed at being spread to young people. It is crucial for parents, teachers and adults in general, to be cognizant of the vulnerability of the young viewers to believe in whatever they hear and watch.

Walt Disney should thus plead guilty for exposing young minds to labels within the society knowingly by categorizing people along some predetermined social profiles. Through watching this animation, American kids grow with complexities in the manner in which they perceive Arabs. They associate Arabs with underdevelopment, inhumane traits such as violence and theft.

The introduction carries strong words of racism. It starts as “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” (Maio Para. 16). Surprisingly, this forms the first part of the song yet it attracts incredible attention of racism protagonist.

It depicts countries of the Middle East as vast deserts inhabited by people who ride camels. Ideally, this description has gone absurd since not all parts of the Middle East are deserts. To be precise, although countries like Kuwait and UAE remain far removed from the generalization, they form part of the Middle East. The movie creates a vivid allegation of the Middle East by associating it with violence-engulfed region by claiming that it is barbaric though people still call it home.

Furthermore, the song claims that “a fool off his guard could fall and fall hard, out there on the dunes” (Maio Para. 17) and goes further to suggest that guards at work should fully be cognizant of their surrounding lest they die. Watching this movie consequently creates shockingly enough mental images to make one never to dare step on Middle Eastern soil. Upon completion of the first song, encounters are made of an Arabian attempting to strike a sale of broken pot.

This not only invites negative perceptions of the Middle East occupants but also tend to portray them generally as people driven desire to deceit and the power of manipulation and dishonesty. Children exposed to the movie thus see Arabs as people who cheat throughout their life in an attempt to eke out their living. Next to follow in the story development is the fairy tale hero, Aladdin who makes an effort to escape from the police.

Police are recorded yelling at the top of their voices at him indicating how they really wanted to chop his head off. This has the capacity to give a reflection how Arabs ensure that justice is fulfilled in their land: through brutality and bloody interventions. Maio laments, “The evil characters, like Jafar, look very Arabic. On the other hand, “Aladdin looks and sounds like a fresh-faced American boy. One of the evil characters, Jafar, looks very Arabic (Libby Para. 5).

Children growing watching this movie, while still well acquainted with the manner in which justice is accomplished in their native home country, would see Arabs as ogres with fatal weapons welded on them to make sure they always have something to hurt one’s neighbor, either at will or at the slightest provocation.

This is a stereotypic representation since the fact is that Arabs are human beings with feelings and humane characters just like everyone else. Opposed to Aladdin’s generalization, some inhumane characters occur within every societal setting: no society is very free of such people.

More shocking in the film is the way locals seem related to the stereotypic presentation. The local residents have Arabic accent while the hunted one’s by the blood thirsty and cruel law enforcers speak standard American English.

The sad part is the probability that the young viewers may grow thinking that, whether the stereotype holder is right or wrong, is not a big issue as long as he belongs to Aladdin’s race while on the other hand, Arabs are ever wrong under all circumstances. This line of thought seems to be in line with the perception that boss (in this case a non-Arab: an American) is always right.

Henry Giroux says that “The Aladdin character in that movie portrays “bad” Arabs with thick foreign accents while Anglicized Jasmine and Aladdin speak in standard Americanized English” (Giroux Para. 7). Language is part of the culture. Catalysts that aggravate the notion of cultural differences and how belonging to a particular group of people make you better than that other person with differing cultural ideologies also escalate the problem of ethic acts of atrocity.

Racial stereotype representation as a result should encompass one of the negative traits that parents should amicably attempt to avoid inculcating in their children at an early age as much as possible. We should remember that too much emphasis on a particular phenomenon could easily translate into a norm.

On watching any interesting movie or a careful analysis of any other artistry work, the audience tends to behave and act in accordance to the heroines as opposed to the villains. Therefore, by differentiating the hero of Aladdin in terms of not only accent but also on facial statics and skin pigmentation, makes the audience believe that people with lighter skin stand more endowed with the ability to rule against other people with darker skin.

Aladdin is also known by an alias name Ali, while princess is known by the alias name Jasmine. Westernization of main heroes makes the audience draw closer attention to them, hate, and repel from the losers who are mainly presented as pure Arabs. Aladdin and Jasmine remain evidently depicted as “fresh-faced American children, while the evil characters like Jafar are very Arab looking” (Giroux Para. 8). Again, the bread-police face presents police as heirs of Arabic genes.

The princess and the frog

The Princess and the Frog is a Disney corporation movie lately released in 2009. Like all other releases of the corporation, it seems dominated by stereotypic representations. In spite of heavy critics, even much earlier before its release, it hit the market strongly showing in over 3000 theatres.

However, it is seen as an improvement of racial stereotype representation since it was “the first Disney fairytale to have an African American princess” (Matea Para 1). The opening scene of the princes and the frog is set in a manner likely to depict realism of animated films, which is not always the case. Referring to mis-en-scene, “the film begins with a movement of dissolvent as the image of the big mansion come into the frame as the “camera” tilts down from the sky…” (Ramsey 19).

To every viewer, it apparent that the movie is set within the neighborhood of white people, as white people are seen driving flashy cars that were in thing during that time in streets. As the camera zoom the house to give a quick view, a princess is shown on shelves, all of which are white. At this stage, the film begins to emphasize on the existing differences between the white and the blacks to create and shape minds of the viewers into that of racial stereotypic inclinations.

Matea argues, “The movie has received some criticism for being stereotypical to African-Americans due to characteristics such as Princess Tiana’s dialect, wide-hips and wig” (Para. 5). By contrasting the color pigmentation of the princes to the background, the film develops a concept of misplacement of blacks living amongst white since they live all white, and thus they have no identity of their own. Furthermore, whites dominate all the streets. Does it mean that there are no blacks, who have equal ability to own cars?

As the film progresses, the audience is introduced to an African American child who happens to be the main character: Tiana. Tiana’s mother, who serves as a house cleaner is black. Tiana’s image brings out amicable differences between black Americans and their white counterparts. “The white girls are dressed as a princess in pink with big dress, and Tiana just in normal green clothes: color of the frog” (Giroux Para. 9).

The disparities in clothing styles seem to be very important to the Disney Corporation in their attempts to create racial stereotypical minds. The little white girl together with her father is dressed in clothing associated with wealthy people. The farther is presented as fat, a character choice seen as portraying opulence among whites and poverty amongst the blacks.

In fact, during the days when the film was developed, skinniness was likely indictor of challenged living styles attributable to poverty. Consequently, portraying whites as fatty and blacks as skinny, no much other effort was required to drive stereotypical representation point during to historical racial, cultural and ethnic hatred.

Tiana and her mother leave the setting room and walks in darkness. As they do so, sadness stands out in the little black’s child face. Meanwhile, the white little girl receives a promise of a dress by her opulent farther. The whites stand out as happy people to the extent that even their shadows are happy while the blacks walk in the darkness (Matea Para. 11).

Could it be even possible for the audience to get a glance, of black’s shadow? All that is left to them is to unveil the rest for themselves through their power of imagination, which obviously due to stereotypical shift of people’s lines of thought they have received so far, the shadow need be ‘sad’.

Tiana and her mother take public transport and remain portrayed as having bitter reactions toward the houses of the wealthiest as if they posses’ feelings of being left out in destitution. Unfortunately, this is an instillation of a wrong belief, as there are blacks who are equally or even more wealthy than white Americans as we all know it today.

Looking at the public transport it is more of a sight of common encounter to see both black and white Americans opting for public transport. The film portrays dissolved effects. The viewers are moved from enormous white inhabited mansions, with clean streets to prefab, tiny and unfenced houses with every one confused outside the shelters.

Does it mean that blacks only inhabit un-conducive residential areas especially in the new generation? This is not right. Disney Corporation seems not to present reality but rather disguise it to take advantage of their selling point since according to the corporations, history, stereotypical representation of facts draws great public interest especially to those who have high desires to explore and unveil ‘realism’.

Shockingly enough, the environment is presented in such a way that it has the capacity to distinguish between the black and white races. “The color change from the other place goes from a lot of light in the streets to a dark environment with a darker sky” (Ramsey 24). The substantially big variation in the manner in which the Tiana’s mother work at home and differences of the whites and the black houses fosters racial stereotypic differentiation. Again, gumbo is yet another stereotype.

At the beginning of the scene, a woman is singing a song that sounds like to inflict hope. What is surprising is that the voices are specially made for each character in accordance’s to racial differences. “Black people have black people accents while the white girl has a southern white accent” (Ramsey 24).

At the background, Tiana and her mother put a song that seeks emphasis on the existing differences between housing. The lightning strikes, and acting as the only source of light in the black Tiana’s house, emphasizes that she walks in the darkness together with her mother. In contrast, whites are in the lighted zones. To emphasize on the differences in living standards between the poor blacks and the rich whites, differing level of illumination are crucial.

As many critics perceive The Princess and the Frog film, the falsified beliefs about the differences between the whites and the blacks results to the general association of blacks with poverty and living in health wise inappropriate environments for human inhabitance. Consequently, blacks seem less portrayed as human since they do not suffer from such conditions, which is false. All human beings are the same and have similar perceptions to issues. The racial differences are just physical!

The Jangle Book

As the case is in all Disney movies, The Jangle Book also has many scenes that portray racial presentation. In The Jangle Book, done in 1967, orangutans and gorillas seem depicted as sounding like black people. The film points out an instance where Alonzo steals a car.

Evidently, this must be the most likely negative stereotypic thing that flashes in the minds of youngsters whenever they come across individual talking in Chihuahua accent. According to Sun and Picker, “…They clearly have stereotypical Asian features such as slanted eyes, buckteeth and very heavy accents and are depicted as sinister, cunning and manipulative…a young naked child who Shere Khan pursues normally strays in the night to end up in a cave occupied by wolves” (40).

The child, about a year old, squeezes in between the young wolves’ to feed onF their mother. “Touched by his fearlessness, she protects him from the enraged tiger, and adopts him as one of her own, calling him ‘Mowgli, the Frog’. As a new ‘cub’ he is accepted into the wolf pack by Akela, the leader of the pack, despite the protests of Shere Khan” (Sun and Picker 47).

In this regard, Asians are portrayed negatively in that they can easily adapt to the jangle conditions to the extent of even feeding from wild animals and soon later, to be governed by rules of the jangle as reflected in fairy tales and traditional myths. Any person especially children brought up being exposed to this kind of films will thus always remember scenes of Asian, young children sucking wolves and thus they will live seeing an ‘wolf’ shrouded within an Asian skin.

The Jungle Book film borrows widely from the Rudyard’s books stories. However, Kipling, the film creator, brings in some additions, which portray racial representation.

For instance, as Charles Carrington writes “that the impulse was derived from a scene in Haggard’s Zulu romance, Nada the Lily, where, in a riot of supernatural fantasy, Umslopogaas is presented as running with a pack of wolves (though there are no true wolves in Zululand)” (Sun and Picker 56). From the perspective of the Rudyard, the books were supposed to be fables but on filming the original intent changes to that attempting to foster racial differentiation amongst small kids.

This is a necessary cause of alarm since as according to Ramsey, the “National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), children between 2 and 5 years of age start to become aware of race, ethnicity, gender and disabilities” (26). Kids learn stereotypic behavior from parents and the surrounding environment while not negating their caretakers. The environmental influences of stereotypic behavior here refer to any source of information that can be acquired through observation and acts.

This environment thus constitutes the racism stereotypes as presented in the films and television broadcast which happens to be the modes that Disney Corporation utilizes to reach its clients. As Ramsey notes, at the age of two and five children “can accurately identity “Black” and “White” when labeling pictures, dolls and people” (27) and this knowledge find its way to pre-school and hence compounding the problem of racism by spreading it to children who otherwise might not have even gotten an opportunity to experience it.

Furthermore, “The fable of the man-child who became master of the jungle, but who could not resolve the dilemma of his ambivalent life, the apparatus of Indian animal lore, the strange ethical concept called the Law of the Jungle, are Rudyard’s own and have no counterpart in Rider Haggard’s work” (Linn and Ponssait 51). As a repercussion, even if the movie’s original content may be argued to contain racial prejudicing information, Kipling’s film The Jangle Book serves to increase the gravity of the racial stereotypes incredibly.

Although an Italian and thus light skinned, Louis Prima is portrayed as singing similar to a black man together with his monkey. With regard to Giroux work, “The ‘jungle-bum’ Baloo speaks for his stereotypical jive-talking self. In contrast to these ‘types’, creatures with dignity and power, like Shere Khan or Bagheera, tend to have upper class ‘English’ accents clearly implying class and authority” (Para. 10).

Dismissal of the film as just fables meant to entertain children should face radical critics since given the ability of the film scenes to influence children in the manner in which they interrelate with their counterparts from different races.

The film presents Mowgli as a man who cares very little about the minute issues characterizing life, not by his own predicament but according to the way, his teacher Baloo has taught him. All that he knows is how to eat fruits and get contented. The enormously expected confrontation with Spere khan emanates more of from his stubbornness and ignorance as opposed wisdom protection and need for self-preservation.

By scrutinizing the life path of Mowgli, The Jangle Book attempts to provide a certain moral growth in a particular direction which shows little respect for blacks since they are ‘buffoons that are only comparable to wild animal since he can better establish relationship easily with them rather than normal human beings: whites’. What a racial stereotype representation does the jangle movie inculcate in little children?


As parents and teachers, we should question the credibility of the Disney movies in terms of their capacity to foster intercultural cohesion despite their entertaining power disguised within racial presentations. The movies not only need to be accused of racial stigmatization but also fostering the much undesired ‘species-ism’ and anthropomorphism. For instance in The Jangle Book, on careful scrutiny of the films a question on the limitation of women capacity arises, even their absence in the depiction as power figures.

“How many strong women can you think of in Disney films that aren’t virgins, witches, or harridans…Mowgli belongs to the long line of Disney orphans, and merely encounters one potential father figure after another” (Linn and Ponssait 52). Giroux Laments that “…When a female of the man–cub’s own species finally appears at the end of the film, she is diminished, housework orientated and apart from singing singularly bereft of conversation” (Para.12).

Surprisingly the Disney Corporation productions are treated with scary regards with blatantly tools of racism for instance the songs that characterize the films, for Instance Songs of the South effects disregarded. This song in fact “…appeared on BBC TV in a morning slot” (Ramsey 28) with the ideology that it was just children means of entertainment. It is thus paramount for adults to conduct calm scrutiny on the films on offer to check their contribution towards fostering intercultural and antiracial demands globally.

Works Cited

Caraballo, Lidia. National Stereotypes, 2010. Web.

Giroux, Henry. Animating youth: The Densification of Children’s Culture, 1995. Web.

Libby, Brunette. Stereotypes and Racism: Children’s in movies, 2002. Web.

Linn, Susan, and Ponssait, Alvin. Watching Television: What are Children Learning

About Race and Ethnicity? Child Care Information Exchange 128.1(1999): 50-52.

Maio, Kathy. Women, race & culture in Disney’s movies, 1999. Web.

Matea, Racheal. Racial Issues in Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’ Considered by DePaul community, 2009. Web.

McLeod, Saul. , 2008. Web.

Ramsey, Plumpton. Growing up with the Contradictions of Race and Class.

Washington, D.C: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2003.

Sun, Chyng, and Picker, Miguel. Mickey Mouse Monopoly. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2001.

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