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Exotic = Sex, In Disney Films

2 Dec

While there have been an increasing number of Disney movies featuring characters of color and ethnicity, it is only recently that some of these women of color are portrayed as Princesses. In the rare instances where a women of ethnicity is depicted as a princess, such as Jasmine from Aladdin or Pocahontas from Pocahontas the characters are portrayed to be extremely sexualized compared to the white princesses such as Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

 

It is interesting to see that when Disney does depict a leading character that is not blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and fair skin she is provocatively dressed with emphasis on the exotic. Jasmine is depicted as a stereotypical Arabian princess with a belly-bearing attire and long flowing dark hair. Pocahontas is similarly portrayed with bronze skin, scantily dressed, and modelesque stature.  Both these characters are vastly different than the white princesses that were portrayed before them.

 Both these princesses are also depicted as more defiant and out-spoken than their Caucasian counterparts. Jasmine refuses to listen to her father and chooses to marry for love rather than for political purposes and Pocahontas goes against her father and her tribe and chooses to save John Smith. Princesses such as Belle and Cinderella are portrayed as wholesome and demure in the way they dress and act, they are always fully dressed and obedient. Belle is always with a book in hand and Cinderella does everything her stepmother tells her to do.

 So, why is it that these Princesses of color are depicted as over-sexualized? I believe that it is in order to give off that “exotic” effect. Ultimately, Jasmine and Pocahontas have Caucasian features. What sets them apart as being foreign are their darker complexion and their sexualized personas. Disney has built its empire on “Fantasy” and the sexualized exotic characters are an extension of that fantasy.

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A New Kind Of Royal Couple

16 Nov

Disney’s most recent animated princess movie, The Princess and the Frog, is achieving a lot of firsts, it is the first traditionally animated film Disney has made since 2004’s Home on the Range, it features the companies first African American princess, and features one of the first interracial couples for Disney animated films. 

Prince Naveen has a French accent and a tan complexion while Tiana is African-American. The race issue is not mentioned in the movie, which is a good thing because by drawing more attention to it makes it seem as though there is something wrong or different with an interracial relationship.

 In a Newsweek article, A Frog of a Different Color, it addresses the issue about how race is still somewhat of an issue to African-American women, who still prefer to have relationships within their race. 

“Since the 1960s, marriages between black men and white women have been steadily increasing–14 percent of all black men are now married outside the race. Yet only 4 percent of black women do the same. Why? Black women, for better or worse, have always seemed to maintain a loyalty to the ideal of the black family unit.”

While it is easy to say, “Let’s do what the fictional Disney princess does” the portrayal of an interracial couple will allow little girls to be open-minded when it comes to love. It sends the message that race is not an issue and not something to be inhibited by. Disney is sending a positive message to not think about color when they are looking for their Prince Charming.

 

Samuels, A. (2009). A Frog of a Different Color. Newsweek, 154(22), 56. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Is Disney “Anti-Arabs” or are they just Ignorant?

16 Nov

Recent studies have shown Arab advocacy groups fighting against the Disney Company.  This past August a Muslim employee in Disneyland’s Grand California Hotel was sent home from work with no pay because she refused to take off her hijab while working as a hostess in one of the hotel’s restaurants.  Her name was Imane Boudlal.  She filed a complaint against Disney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, whose job it is to enforce anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.  Now, is Disney serious? This seems a little rash and racist.  According to Disney sources Boudlal’s hijab did not fit the “Disney look”, so she could either take it off, work in the back where no one would see her or go home (1).

Boudal, along with the Council of American-Islamic Relations, Greater Los Angeles Area (CAIR-LA) sent a letter to Disney demanding they edit their “look” to account for religious accommodations, which of course, is in the Constitution! What the hell is wrong with Disney?! They have Arab characters in Aladdin wearing their Hijab’s in the movies but a hostess in their restaurant cant wear one for religious purposes? An advocacy group called UNITE HERE represents thousands of employed individuals in hospitality, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, laundry, and airport industries throughout North America. Its no wonder Arab Americans such as Boudlal join such groups!!

However, Arab advocacy groups such as The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) are protesting Disney for more than just its unfair treatment of its employees and their “look”.  ADC fights Disney because they feel that Disney portrays Arabs in a stereotypical way that reflects negatively on Arab Americans.  In a July 1966 issue of Disney Adventures, Disney’s children’s magazine, the issue had a story claiming how Arabs greeted one another, which many Arab’s were offended due to its false claim.  The issue stated that to “”greet somebody Arab-style” one must “grab a friend and blow in his face at the same time he blows into yours! Just don’t turn your head to avoid your buddy’s breath.  Arabs consider that a major insult!”” (56)  As we can clearly see Disney is presenting Arab’s in a negative light and making inaccurate claims!

What Disney is forgetting, that these advocacy groups have a problem with, is that young children see and read what they put out, so they may develop negative images of Arabs or find them to be very different from them, which can only propel further racist issues! I mean isn’t Disney supposed to be child friendly and support children, OF ALL RACES?!?  Arab children are offended by these statements made by the Disney Company.

Further ADC along with other Arab-Americans had serious complaints about the movie Aladdin when it was first released.  In the introduction to the song, there is a line that says “where they cut off your ears if they don’t like your face”.  It should not be a shock to anyone how racist and stereotyping and just wrong it is to put lyrics like that into a children movie! The last thing ADC wants is to allow Disney to reinforce such negative stereotypes about Arabs that will leave lasting impressions on new generations of impressionable children.  It took six months of protesting, but Disney finally decided to substitute alternative lyrics to the films video release.  In the Video below, you can see what they changed the lyrics too and why (original lyrics written in RED).

According to Albert Mokbiber, President of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, “We’re not looking for people to portray Arabs as angels. We’re just saying lets have a little balance and a little reality.”  This is reasonable, is it not?? The ADC is working still to petition Disney to remove to word “barbaric” from the offensive song that is the introduction to the movie Aladdin. In the video below, we can clearly see Disney does not portray Arabs in the most positive lights.  In fact, could we even say, “barbaric”??

According to Jack Shaheen, professor of mass communications at Southern Illinois University and author of “The TV Arab,” who was involved in the “Aladdin” negotiations, “When imagemakers portray any group, if they were to think of the group as they would their own, that person as they would someone of their own color or heritage, then we would see different, more balanced films”.  Maybe Disney should take a page out of Shaheen’s book!!!

Lumetta, G. (n.d.). Arab-American Activism: ADC Continues Protests Against Disney Stereotyping. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Retrieved November 9, 2010, from http://wrmea.com/backissues/1096/9610056a.html

Shelton, L. (2010, August 19). UNITE HERE: Disneyland Employee Sent Home for Wearing Hijab. PR Newswire, p. 2. Retrieved November 9, 2010, from the LexisNexis database

Strauss, B. (1993, July 29). Protesting the Movies. BPI Entertainment News Wire, p. 4. Retrieved November 7, 2010, from the LexisNexis Academic database.

Strauss, B. (1993, July 25). Interest Groups Rally Their Forces; Movie Stereotype Face Vocal Opposition. Chicago Sun Times, p. 3. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from the LexisNexis Academic database.

Wizards of Waverly Place- Everything Is Not What It Seems

15 Nov

Like many other projects that Disney has put forth to expand its racial barriers, Wizards of Waverly Place seems to be making strides as far as racial diversity goes. It follows the story of  three wizards in training who live in New York City with their family. Seems like most other sitcoms on the Disney Channel? The Difference with Wizards of Waverly Place is that the family the show revolves around is biracial, composed of a Hispanic mother and Italian-American father.

 In a scholarly article, Ideologies of Racial and Ethnic Identity in Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place, the author, Holmes expresses discontent with the approach the show has taken to ethnicity and embracing diverse backgrounds. She states:

   “It normalizes certain attitudes and beliefs about ways of being in the world and ways of evaluating racial or ethnic identity through the use of stereotyping. These aspects of  identity emerge in a few episodes of the series, but primarily are absent throughout the entire series.”

While the show briefly addresses the two different cultures, it is rarely a priority of the show. The children in the show demonstrate little knowledge of their heritage or express little connection or desire to learn more about it. There is a scene when Alex, the main character shows no interest and very little knowledge about her family’s background saying “I love being half Mexican and half-whatever he is”, referring to her father.

The show could be a platform for Disney to embrace biracial families and incorporate different cultures into regular programming. Disney has stopped short of progress in expanding its racial barriers. While no one is asking for the show to mock or stereotype Hispanic or Italian races, their heritage show be integrated into the show subtlety, either by the food they eat, the clothes they wear or other subtle references that set the cultures apart and embrace the differences. Instead, the show is just another Disney sitcom.

Holmes, S. (2009). Everything is Not What it Seems: Ideologies of Racial and Ethnic Identity in Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place. Conference Papers — National Communication Association, 1. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.

Racial Undertones In Disney Movies

31 Oct

Disney movies are perceived as wholesome entertainment that is a part of every person’s childhood. The racist undertones in many of the Disney movies such as Aladdin, Dumbo, and Pocahontas go unnoticed by children but are extremely offensive to the ethnic groups they address. Older Disney movies are more blatant with racists images. In Peter Pan, the Indians are addressed in a racist manner, calling them “red-face”. In Dumbo, there are faceless black men setting up the circus. The movie was made in 1941 so that may account for the boldness of what is being shown and sung but in more recent Disney movies racism is evident as well.

            In today’s Disney market, they are trying to be more diverse. The release of The Princess and the Frog has Disney’s first African-American Princess. While the Prince in the movie is not African-American, it is a small stride for a more diverse Disney. The brand is trying to mend the racist undertones of past Disney movies such as Aladdin and Fantasia. The song “Arabian Nights” from the movie Aladdin offended many people with the lyrics to the song. The offensive lyrics were dubbed over in the newly released DVDs. A scene from Fantasia was deleted from the newly released version where a half African-American girl, half horse is portrayed as a servant to a white girl. While there has been progression in the Disney franchise, Disney is anything but wholesome.

Disney’s Influence on Young Kids

28 Oct

Initial research of the Disney influence on young girls made it clear that there is no shortage of information or opinions on the topic.  It is certainly a hot topic among parents and educators, despite its seemingly endless popularity.  Parents are aware of the messages being sent to their daughters; messages of powerlessness, the idea that your “Prince Charming” will save you, and body image standards.  The movies portray minorities in stereotypical roles, teaching children from a very young age what to expect of people who look a certain way or have a certain color skin.  Sure, parents are talking about these issues, but why not the viewers, the kids? They’re the ones watching and absorbing the information, but unfortunately, many aren’t consciously aware of the stereotypical and gendered messages being fed to them.

Devan, a mother who blogs on Accustomed Chaos, notes the lack of positive mother figures in Disney movies.  After watching “Chicken Little” one night with her husband and kids, Devan and her husband started thinking about how many movies lacked a mother – they came up with twelve just sitting there brainstorming on their own (1)!  It makes the involved fathers look good, but what does that lack of a mother teach young girls and boys? Perhaps that they can’t depend on their mother – she’ll either die, leave or end up evil?  Maybe the mother is left out of the story to force the main character into independence and maturity, but what’s the rush? It seems like a harsh theme to reoccur so often throughout Disney films.

A video on YouTube called, “Disney: Harmless Entertainment or Stereotype Perpetuators?” very clearly illustrates the racist characters in seven different Disney movies (2).  There’s Aladdin, the supposedly Saudi Arabian boy with white skin and a very non-Middle Eastern accent.  Sebastian, the Jamaican lobster who implies that under the sea is for lazy people who don’t like to work.  And the black crows in “Dumbo” who are experts on things that are “fly” and are led by the head of the group, “Jim Crow.”  Although subtle to young children, and even parents, when the stereotypes are pointed out, one wonders how they could have ever been overlooked.  The video goes on to show other characters created by a racist mindset in “The Jungle Book,” “Chip N’ Dale,” “Fantasia” and “Peter Pan.”

Pro-Disney parents and individuals claim that when you’re young you’re not picking up on these things, so it doesn’t matter that Disney portrays stereotypical and racist ideas in their films.  However, when young kids acknowledge that they’ve never seen an African-American character in a Disney movie, especially not in a positive light (until the most recent, “Princess and the Frog,” of course), there’s a problem.

Kids are proving to be more intuitive than some adults might believe, and Disney is directing them in the wrong direction.  Girls are taught to bat their eyelashes to get what they want; that big blue eyes, a tiny waist and voluptuous hips are standard and that no matter what, they will always live happily ever after.  On the contrary, young boys are taught to be macho, super-strong heroes waiting to rescue girls.  Disney instilling such extreme gender roles in children can assure us that no progress will be made in the future towards equal living for men and women.

Check out this video for a further explanation on racial stereotypes in Disney films.

 

(1) Devan. (2010, March 18). Disney Movies and Lack of Positive Female Influence. Message posted to http://www.accustomedchaos.com/2010/03/disney- movies-and-lack-of-positive.html

(2) Chapstick82591. (2009, December 7). Disney: Harmless entertainment or stereotype perpetuators? Video posted to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuUTdaJ_Obw&NR=1