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Eight Reasons People Will Say Disney's The Princess and Frog is Racist

  • Dec 14, 2009
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So, The Princess and the Frog is coming out soon. In the past Disney has been accused of racism--both fairly and unfairly. This new film is there way of saying, "We're not racist." Indeed I don't think everyone at Disney is racist.  What follows is a list of some of the things people like to point to the most when speaking of racism in Disney movies.  Are they a bit of a stretch?  Actually... probably not.  Because when most of these were made it was often, well, tolerable to be racially insensitive.  Some of them, such as Fantasia and Song of the South, Disney has been trying VERY hard to make us forget that they happened.

I have to preface this list by saying that when most of these films would've been made... being racially insensitive wasn't exactly seen as being racially insensitive at the time.  I ALSO have to say that these observations (made by others, mostly, not myself) don't necessarily make the movies themselves all that bad.  You can still enjoy them to your heart's content.  It's just to say that some of those observations... yeah, they're there... and some of them may not be a stretch.  I didn't point them out, however.  You can find stuff all over the web which talks about this.  In fact, for many of these all I did was type into Google Disne, Racist and low and behold... you'll get A LOT of results.  No doubt if you're a big Disney hater you've heard it all before.
Walt Disney
If we're going to start things off with this particular list... might as well start it off right.  Walt Disney built an empire, but it's no secret that a lot of people think he's an Anti-Semite.  Was he?  Well, it's hard to say.  It's no secret that Disney has been a bit insensitive.  In the sense that in one particular short of The Three Little Pigs the Wolf dressed up as a Jewish Peddler.  This seems to be where it started.  Unfortunately we don't entirely know.  It's confusing.  Some have often labeled Walt a Nazi Symphathizer who rather looked up to and was inspired by Hitler.  That one sounds a little hinky given his Pro-America and often Anti-Nazi cartoons he produced during the war.  So it's impossible to say whether or not this is a stretch because there are so many out there who love Walt Disney so much that even if he were an Anti-Semite they wouldn't believe it.  After all, he made children's cartoons and family entertainment... he couldn't possibly be a somewhat mean person could he?  COULD HE? Well, it's possible that Walt Disney just MIGHT'VE been an anti-semite. There's certainly a lot more out there pointing in that direction than the opposite--and not all of them who point it out necessarily hate Walt Disney. In fact, quite a few seemed to love him in spite of that.
Lady and the Tramp
Where Are People Getting At: The Siamese Cats.  They speak in a lot of broken English and are buck toothed and everything.  It's definitely not going to make you cringe, but man oh man will you look at and think, "Whoa, Disney has come a long way!" This is because they're also slanted eyes and portrayed as rather evil... actually that seems to be a big theme throughout this list.  The reason why Disney seems to be accused of racism a lot is because they make their stereotypical characters... usually associated with evil or something bad.  This is why Lady and the Tramp is often cited.
Dumbo the Disney movie
Where Are People Getting Off At: Those crows.  They're black, jive talking crows.  Did I mention one of them is named Jim Crow?  It's mostly that they're given a ton of African American stereotypes that people point to.  Although, unlike most of the other stuff, they're actually heroic in a way.  It doesn't actually make the insensitivity here that much better for some, but at the very least what you get is something that, at least according to some people out there, was quite... well... progressive.

At least it would be easy to think that if there wasn't another scene wherethe African Americans are singing about being treated like second class citizens... which doesn't really feature the crows at all.
Where Are People Getting Off At?: Well, first there's this line: "Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face," which was eventually altered and changed to "Where it's flat and immense and the heat is intense."  That actually didn't strike a nerve so much as the idea that the movie takes place in the middle east.  In a place where it is clearly supposed to be Arab.  No one, of course, has an accent (of course if they did they might say THAT was racism) and Aladdin is--for some odd reason--white.  Princess Jasmine is--for some odd reason--white.  But they made sure that JAFAR looked ethnic enough!  Although, to be fair, Aladdin and Jasmine aren't exactly white... they're just not allowed to have accents and they're not allowed to look quite as ethnic as the bad guys.  And the first movie by itself seems okay until you watch The Return of Jafar where the petty thief who releases Jafar from his lamp is strangely... much more ethnic looking as well.  At some point you look at it and think... "Wait a minute..."

Peter Pan
Where Are People Getting Off At:  This is a favorite of so many.  Because of this particular portion right here:

That whole, "Why is the red man, red," kind of stuff.  The part that really makes people think?  The part where they mention that the red man is red because he was kissed and it just never turned back.  This implies that at one point the red man was actually white and that their skin color was changed.  You know, like Michael Jackson. 

This one actually comes off as a fairly convincing argument because the pieces seem to fit.  The biggest thing that makes it convincing is that the film--whether intentionally or unintentionally--makes it seem as though everyone is born, well, white and that everyone's skin color changed from white to something else.
Jungle Book
Where Are People Getting Off At: This is another favorite.  People who scream racism love to do it whenever you have a monkey involved.  In this case King Louie is often looked at here.  The reason people make this particular connection, however, is because all the monkies in The Jungle Book are all jive talking and reminisicent of African American tribal dancing etc.  What urks people about it, though?  The fact that most of the other characters are more sophistocated.  All of them speaking in clear tongues and what is considered to be more "high brow" and sophistocated accents.

It's easy to see how they make that leap (it certainly makes more sense than the people who jump to the conclusion that King Kong is racist) and given that racial sensitivity was just not a big thing with a lot on this list at the time of release, it seems quite clear that perhaps this one isn't exactly jumping to conclusions.  This really isn't quite as big now as it used to be.
Song of the South
Where Are People Getting At: This is one of Disney's most controversial films out there.  It portrays Uncle Reamus in the south working on a plantation and smiling all happy and free.  Technically he is free.  It takes place AFTER the civil war.  What could possibly go wrong with portraying an African American as a happy slave worker?  Well, probably the fact that the film gives the impression that being an African American during this time was awesome.

The guy who played Uncle Reamus never got to attend the premiere.  So the question becomes, was Disney really trying to make people think that slavery wasn't that big a deal?  It's not like that was really uncommon either (Gone with the Wind, anyone?) and even today that's still a pretty common sentiment to hold.  That people focus way too much on the horrible aspects of slavery.  So it wouldn't surprise me if this was true.  Although the whole, "Uncle Reamus was the star... now let's make sure he can't come to the premiere!" thing is a little iffy.  Perhaps it may not have gotten much of a release because of America's history involving slavery and because Disney probably did find it a little insensitive themselves.
Fantasia (movie)
Where Are They Getting At: This one is pretty big.  So much so that Disney has been trying for decades to make people forget that they did this one.  And this is because this is one that a lot of people truly saw as racist and insensitive. 

That ten second clip (along with a bit more) was eventually cut out of Fantasia entirely.  It's been one that Disney has been trying to bury because of how it portrays, well, sunflower.  She's clearly supposed to be African American (she has the big pouty lips, which was actually quite common to draw... let's face it Fantasia was made in a time when black was not beautiful).  It's the idea that she fits the role of a slave perfectly.

Even Disney eventually saw this as being really insensitive.  That's why they pulled it and the other stuff on this list typically remains.  Because here Disney realized, "Holy shit, that's TERRIBLE!"  They kept it in the 40's because it was pretty normal.  In the 60's?  With the civil rights movement reaching its height?  Oh no, you did NOT want this clip in your movie.  Basically, of all the things on this list, this is one thing the company has acknowledged as being racist.  And Disney has been trying to bury the hatchet on it ever since.

What did you think of this list?

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January 25, 2010
Very interesting list, Sean! I think Disney movies reflect the thoughts and views of the general public at the time. Our country has made leaps and bounds over the decades with race issues and I believe Disney has well. "Sesame Street" was the true pioneer of breaking down racial boundaries with kids programming, not Disney. =)
December 27, 2009
People are becoming far too concerned with "sensitivity" and they're doing it in all the wrong ways. I was probably about 6 when I saw SONG OF THE SOUTH. I had one parent who was a rabid racist and one who was not, so theorectically I could have gone either way. I was exposed to all those cartoons that were mentioned with jive talking crows etc. PETER PAN was one of my favorite movies--though I preferred the Mary Martin TV version. And I'd give Kipling a bit more credit for THE JUNGLE BOOK than I would Disney--although Walt & company put the emphasis more on a group Americans "get" than on Mowgli and Indians. Remembers Kipling's JUST SO STORIES? Tales of animals or peoples being the way they are because of some silly event that had occured to them in the ancient past--like the Indians in PETER PAN being red because they had blushed and just stayed that way. Pretty harmless actually and yet we choose to look at it and make it into something truly ugly. You want ugly look at the Bible. Remeber the curse that God laid on Noah's son because he saw dad naked? A lot worse than staying red just because you blushed. Not much discernable damage here from having seen SONG OF THE SOUTH and PETER PAN. (Or even having heard that ludicrous Biblical tale of Noah's son.) I doubt that I ever thought of the Old South or even the South of the Reconstruction as full of happy Darkies. I'm not concerned with anything Disney past or present has turned or is turning out. I AM a bit concerned with other things however such as Fox railing against Obama for attempting to "brainwash innocent school children" when he broadcast his stay in school message to them recently--even though Republican God Ronnie Raygun had done virtually the same thing during his administration. I AM concerned with supposedly Liberal groups attempting to remove HUCKLEBERRY FINN from school and public library shelves because it contains the word "nigger". Have they ever read the book? Obviously not because if they had they'd know that it's one of the most vicious attacks upon racism ever written by a "Beloved Humorist" or anyone else for that matter. There are far more serious things, more subtantial threats, to worry about than Disney.
December 27, 2009
Totally agree with you, I just found the idea of what Disney had done to be very intersting.  I wasn't attempting to make it "ugly" (I know there's far worse out there) and I'm not really concerned about it.  Just thought it would be something interesting to put out on the floor.  Like I said, though, I don't really think that it really harmed any children so much as the idea that it would've furthered negative stereotypes that they might've had already.  Or in some cases (without the aid of a parent) would've planted the seed in their mind.  I love each of the films on this list (except Song of the South... it bored the hell out of me) and they're good movies, but I don't think that means those things aren't there.  And perhaps you can give Disney a pass on the fact that they were, at the time, mostly perpetuating what certain groups of people were thinking, but historically I don't think it would do any good to get rid of change the films (we keep Birth of a Nation for a reason).  I was just talkinig about Disney, it wasn't meant as a sort of way to give a pass to anything else or even to suggest censorship or anything like that.  I thought it would be a fun and amusing list.  I'm not exactly someone who is racially sensitive.  When I came to these observations, for example, I wasn't incensed or even upset.  Just rather amused.  I get what you're saying about the Cable Meddia and the Banned books too, but this particular list wasn't talking about that stuff... and I wasn't trying to make it seem as though this is a lot worse than anything else you pointed out.

Of course, I do agree with much of your Obama stuff.  Totally agree with you there (Glenn Beck... ugh!) although what's quite disturbing about Fox News is that a lot of people are really hopping on that one (and I'm in the process of doing a write up of one of their hosts now but it's very difficult).  And you can find quite a bit of terrible crap online (there's some cult website totally against Obama because of, you guessed it, the color of his skin and you have an ENTIRE NEWS NETWORK trying to say those people don't exist!).

Pulling Huckleberry Finn would be terrible.  Mark Twain was a big critic of racism and often rallied against it in his writing.  I'm not for banning anything

I get what you're saying and all.  Totally agree, but you make it sound like I was on some mission to paint Disney in a bad light.  Although, as you can imagine, the dicussion and such going on within the context of this list has probably amazed me more than the list itself.  I just thought it would be amusing for others too.  I don't think it detracts from the quality of the films or makes them bad or anything.  They were just observations.  Like I said, these are reasons I believe that people will say their newest animated film is racist.  I haven't done a search yet, but there's always that portion of the public ready to pounce on it.  I think some of these observatioins are a bit of a stretch.  

But I do agree that some people are getting a bit too sensitive about some of these things.  That was part of my point with this list.  In particular, though, I'm just interested in what people are going to say about The Princess and the Frog.  Some people don't like the idea of Disney putting up a Black Princess just as a means to say they're not racist (and in the process forgetting that Disney made a film called Mulan--granted she wasn't a princess, but still... Disney has come a long way).  But I don't want the wrong idea by this list to get out either.  I know there's much MUCH worse out there but when I crafted this list it was done just in time for Disney's new film but it wasn't meant to suggest anything was "truly ugly" or crafted as a means to dismiss anything else.  it was crafted for the same reason many of my other lists were crafted: Amusement.  I'm not easily offended by well... much of anything.

I'm actually a lot more surprised at the discussion going on rather than the list in and of itself, though.  This is one list where every time I log on, someone is discussing it.
December 29, 2009
Oops. Sorry Sean. I didn't actually mean YOU although since it's a response to your list it obviously appears that way. I sometimes go off on tangents depending on what's happened during the course of the day and other people aren't privy to that information. It's sort of a response to everyone else's responses to your list.

Don't forget that Disney also had a Native-American princess in the form of Pocahantas.
December 14, 2009
I love Disney history, so this was a GREAT read for me. Thanks for giving me more insight into some of these controversial clips. I may be a little biased because I'm a "Disney-does-no-harm-ever" fan, but I truly believe alot of these scenes were created due to historical ignorance. I obviously wasn't alive back then but it seems like what we see now as "stereotypes" and "generalizations" was just simply "common knowledge" (unfortunate as it is) back then. I guess we'll never really know, though.
December 15, 2009
But that's not really true. A lot of people took offense back then and I'm not just talking about the various people who were being mocked and ridiculed. Now, I too am a fan of Disney animation, but the man himself was not the most PC of people.
December 14, 2009
You could also add the Asian cat from "Aristocats" and the portrayal of Native Americans in the old short film "Pioneer Days" in which the Natives are savage vicious wolves intent on attacking the pioneers (how's that for revisionist history?).
I think that Walt was certainly insensitive and thought in cultural and racial stereotypes, but the argument that he was a racist is a little bit unfair I think. Walt also spoofed people with mental disabilities (Dopey), rural country people, Communists, and was often sexist in his portrayal of women (Tinker Bell and many others).

However, he also encouraged tolerance in some of his later films. I think Walt was just a guy who was raised in an old-fashioned family, brought up on European folklore and certain Victorian ideas about Eugenics, and that he was just a man trying (not always successfully) to leave behind his own humble background. I would definitely say that he was ignorant, insensitive, and unfair at times, but he's left behind a legacy of amazing animation and quality family films even if they were at times controversial.
In most cases, the offenses were probably unintentional.
You may also want to see this list on another site...
December 15, 2009
Oh, the Siamese cats were awful, what with the slanted eyes, buck teeth, and accents. It's bad enough to use a particular ethnic group as a basis for a portrayal of an animal, but it's even worse to do it in order to mock and stereotype them.
December 27, 2009
I would say that that's true, except that Disney was likely unaware of how he was being racist. Lucas on the other hand should have been since he didn't grow up in an all-white town or college.
December 14, 2009
I rewatched Aladdin recently and was struck by how Generic Medieval Europe it was, with the slight exception of the fashions and names. Perhaps the funniest bit was the characters spent most of the film talking about how a commoner couldn't marry a princess, even though the Sultan is, you know, a king, and "rule of law" wasn't exactly applicable in the time of the Arabian Nights. But if it fits the way Disney movies are supposed to go, who cares about anachronisms!
December 14, 2009
Thanks for creating this thought-provoking list and for weighing this out for us in your intro, Sean!  At UC Berkeley, students can create elective classes to teach each other, and one year, there was a Disney class.  I didn't take it, but I can only assume that they brought up examples like these, as well as gender norm and sexism issues (oh, Disney!).  It takes quite a bit to shock me, but a few of these video clips make me go, "Doh!  What was Disney thinking?!"
About the list creator
Sean A. Rhodes ()
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I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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