Sunday, November 8, 2009

Movie Stereotypes?

Recently I listened to a wonderful lesson in racism. As a parent of children from China, I have tried to be really sensitive about racial stereotypes, but I have totally missed the boat on this one.

Our subject was the subtle stereotypes in Disney movies, but our speaker told us that this goes beyond just Disney. The videotapes and DVDs that our cabinets are chocked full of. I really have to say how naïve I have been about what my children have watched. After this hour long session, I will definitely be more sensitive about what they watch and how we discuss the racial stereotypes in the movies they are watching.

The list could go on and on, but a few examples that were presented were - the orangutans in Jungle Book who just want to be real people or the crows in Dumbo who talk with slurs or the hyenas in the Lion King who all negatively portray African Americans, the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp who are conniving, sneaky, with lisps and buck teeth, Tito in Oliver and Company who portrays a fast talking and stupid Chihuahua, the "savages"/Native Americans in Pocahontas or Peter Pan, and the Arabs in Aladdin (whose opening song actually was rewritten after it was first release) but who still portray Arabs as barbaric.

This was all eye-opening to me and made me much more sensitive to the “safe” movies my kids watch. During the clip that we watched, they interviewed children who had watched these movies and their comments were surprising. What cultural messages are my kids getting from these movies?

Have you been concerned about the subtle racial stereotypes in the movies your kids watch? Have you noticed these in children’s movies and how have you talked to your kids about them? As a culture, what can we do to support and demand positive racial stereotypes?

Karen LWB


  1. Karen, I appreciate your post and think movie sterotypes are real for everyone in life because it all falls with indivual interpretation. What might bother one person doesn't effect another and is why we seem to have so much variety to what we can and do watch. At this point and till you shared your post I has never really thought about the racial aspect of disney characters, I will pay more attention now. Sad reality is tv, video games and movies nowdays bombard our children from a early age no matter how much we shield them, and even when we monitor them like we should peers come into play and kids get such a mixed messege. Sure wish we lived in a kinder world but unfortunately it seems to be moving in the other direction at times.

  2. I'd be curious to hear the responses from the kids after the movies. Do you have any info? Links?

  3. Thank you so much for your comments. The video we watched was titled "Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney and Corporate Power" by Media Education Foundation. You can find it in college libraries and maybe large public libraries. Here is a link to it After showing some of the clips, they interviewed children who had watched the movies, their comments were definitely enlightening.

  4. They have a clip that you can watch on the website that has a segment of the movie. I just watched it and there are a few of the interviews. Would love your comments.

  5. Interesting piece.. I understand the point made about the type of characters Disney has stuck to creating and hadn't really noticed it until they discussed it.
    As far as the remarks from the children - I find that their comments were just too short. What was the question asked of them? One could bait them into saying what they did and use just that clip. To the people stating that there aren't enough/many Asian/Black/other race characters, I don't think Disney has ever stated that they set out to make movies (clearly they're only about making money) that showcase all ethnicities. If they made those characters would Disney come under fire for not portraying them correctly?
    I think some of the newer characters have a more positive portrayal: Wall-E, Toy Story, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, etc. - Okay, wait those are all Pixar movies!
    How much do our children pick up on? If we keep them from watching the movies that poorly portray women/minorities, etc. how do we handle real-life situations when we're out and about? That stuff is just as much in their sights, if not more. While I agree that we need to be conscience of it, we'll have to work on discussions too. Like a couple posts back, what we think bothers/affects our kids may not, while what we think doesn't, does so in profound ways.
    Keep the good posts coming!