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Only a Fairytale? The Perpetuation of Race, Class, and Gender Stratification in Disney Animated Feature Films.

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Presentation on theme: "Only a Fairytale? The Perpetuation of Race, Class, and Gender Stratification in Disney Animated Feature Films."— Presentation transcript:

1 Only a Fairytale? The Perpetuation of Race, Class, and Gender Stratification in Disney Animated Feature Films

2 Disney’s Ubiquity Corporate magnitude
Take-over of fantasy images for children Domination of children’s media Disney channel Full-length feature films on DVD and VCR Domination of children’s décor choices Domination of clothing and costume choices for children

3 It Makes a Difference The research is very clear on certain points:
Pro-social television viewing leads to pro-social behavior, including sharing and inclusiveness of children from different backgrounds in play groups. Violent television viewing leads to desensitization of children to violence and the idea that using violence as a conflict-resolution strategy is acceptable.

4 But Disney is Good! Unquestionably, the values portrayed in Disney films are good. Follow your dreams Honor your parents Tell the truth Be loyal to your friends The themes of innocence and magic pervade.

5 Disney is good, but…. Disney films were created at specific historical moments in the United States. Those who created the films were upper class white men whose reality provided the context for the stories. At these moments, various forms of racism, sexism, and classism were unexamined, and often still are.

6 Early Films and Racism In most of the early films, there is little to no racial diversity. All of the characters are white (or are animals). Snow White Cinderella Sleeping Beauty Pinocchio

7 Early Films and Racism Nevertheless, race is subtly represented.
The characters who are evil Have darker skin tones Have darker hair Have accents This is also true of the characters who represent the serving class.

8 Early Films and Racism When racial diversity is present, people of color are represented according to stereotypes held by the dominant culture. African-American circus workers in Dumbo Crows in Dumbo Native Americans in Peter Pan WWII context gives the ringmaster in Dumbo a German accent. (This is the guy who whips and imprisons Dumbo’s mother.)

9 Early Films and Sexism In all of these films, gender stereotypes, particularly those concerning women, are affirmed. Snow White Cinderella Pinocchio Dumbo Peter Pan

10 Early Films and Sexism These stereotypes about women include:
Passivity Lack of intelligence Concern for their looks as a high priority The quest for marriage Focus on cleaning Pettiness and competitiveness among one another

11 Early Films and Sexism The good women in these films are: Young Pretty
Easily led Motherless

12 Early Films and Sexism The bad women in these films are: Older
Unattractive Seeking power for themselves Not the mother

13 Early Films and Classism
Nearly all of the films represent the upper class as the heroine or hero’s family of origin. The exceptions are the puppet Pinocchio and the elephant Dumbo. The struggle in the princess films is about the girl’s ability to assume her rightful place.

14 Early Films and Classism
Representations of people who are NOT upper class Focus on the goodness of those who Accept their place in the social system Work hard The seven dwarves Geppetto Focus on the evil nature of those who Lust after riches that are not their lot in life to have Try to become rich quickly Cinderella’s stepmother Stromboli in Pinocchio The cat and his compatriot in Pinocchio The ringmaster in Dumbo

15 What about Today? It could be argued that all of these films:
Represent fairy tales which date from feudal times Were produced before the Civil Rights Movement and the other social upheavals of the 1960’s. The problems of social stratification were not part of public consciousness, the way they are today. Let’s examine a few of the later films to check this out!

16 Later Films and Racism List of films considered: Beauty and the Beast
No racial diversity; darker color does not seem to indicate evil or subservience. Little Mermaid No racial diversity; darker color is associated with the evil character of Ursula. Aladdin Should be no racial diversity; all characters are Arab. However, light-skinned Aladdin and Jasmine sound American, the light-skinned Sultan sounds British, and the evil Jafar is dark-skinned with an Arab accent.

17 Later Films and Racism Lion King Pocahontas
No racial diversity. All the characters are animals. However, race coding is still present in accents and coloring. The good lions have golden manes. Scar, the bad lion, has a black mane. The wicked hyenas have either black, Latino, or unidentifiable accents. Pocahontas Racial diversity is present. The characters are Native American and white European. The sympathies lie with the Native American characters, and the evil characters are white.

18 Later Films and Sexism Beauty and the Beast
Belle is a different female heroine. She likes to read and wants more than just this “simple life.” However, the story of her relationship to the violent Beast promotes acceptance of violent behavior for the hope of a positive outcome. The only other women in the story (who are portrayed in a sexualized manner) cannot understand why Belle is so choosey. The end result: Belle marries the prince.

19 Later Films and Sexism Little Mermaid
Ursula represents the same old wicked witch: middle-aged, ugly, power-hungry, and evil. Ariel is sexualized in dress and with the idea (even though it is from Ursula) that women don’t need a voice to win a man’s love. The end result: Ariel marries the prince.

20 Later Films and Sexism Aladdin
Jasmine, like Belle, is an example of a woman of the 90’s. She will only marry for love, and she spurns Aladdin’s attempts to take care of her. There are no other women in the story except for the market wives who portray homemakers. Jasmine is portrayed as sexually desirable. The end result: Jasmine marries the prince.

21 Later Films and Sexim Lion King
Simba’s mother is a victim of domestic violence after her brother-in-law kills her husband. Nala is a fiesty little female lion cub who grows to be a brave lioness. None of the female animal characters are sexualized. End result: Nala marries the prince.

22 Later Films and Sexism Pocahontas
Pocahontas is a self-determining woman. She resists her father’s choice of marriage for her. She loves John Smith, but refuses to leave her people for him. She is portrayed in a very sexualized manner. End result: Pocahontas does NOT marry the prince.

23 Later Films and Classism
The economic situation of Beauty and the Beast is that the Beast is a prince who has behaved badly and is being disciplined by the only person with the power to do so: a witch. Belle is from the working class and her reward for her goodness is to marry the prince (once he has reformed, of course.)

24 Later Films and Classism
In Little Mermaid, Ariel’s father is emperor under the sea. The only contender for his power is the evil Ursula. Ariel marries within her class, although not within her species!

25 Later Films and Classism
Aladdin’s context is an empire ruled by a sultan in which there is a wide range of lifestyles. Aladdin begins in desperate poverty. He ends in luxurious wealth and power. He shows no sign of ameliorating the poverty of the class from which he came, even though he now has the means to do so.

26 Later Films and Classism
The Lion King’s economic setting is tribal. The leader of the tribe, Mufasa, is overthrown and murdered by his brother Scar. Scar gets his friends, the evil and violent hyenas from the elephant graveyard to enforce his rule. When these thugs are allowed to rule, the land and the people starve. Only when the rightful king returns does the land prosper again.

27 Later Films and Classism
Pocahontas She is from a position of power within the tribe, as the daughter of the chief. However, the Europeans are there with eventual intentions of exploitation of the people. They bring superior weaponry, and, as we know, eventually rob and murder Native Americans to gain their resources. There are intimations of this in the story, but these issues of economics and class relations are unexplored. In this film, however, the folks with more access to resources are actually the bad guys.

28 Conclusions For all of these areas: race, gender, and class, there are some changes between the older films and the newer films. However, the trends continue. Race is stereotyped more subtly, gender is modified to include “spunky” women who still marry the prince, and the response to class issues is still to maintain the status quo.

29 Conclusions The outcome of this analysis is simply state that racism, sexism, and classism are so much a part of our culture that even our best children’s media reflects them. Additionally, when the producers of this children’s media have managed to create a global empire that has captured the market for this on every continent, we must stand in awe at the power of this major socialization agent.

30 Conclusions Finally, we have to admit that this phenomenon is not limited to Disney; they merely exemplify it in this analysis. Parents are the ultimate mediators between their children and media. Rather than exclude children from media, however, the most powerful thing parents can do is to participate with the children in watching these shows, and to talk about what doesn’t agree with your values.

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