Thursday, March 26, 2015

Disney: Culturally Significant or Racist

Disney: Culturally Significant or Racist
By: Olivia Slaughter

Growing up, dress up was a rite of passage.  My cousin Jessica and I would look through my Aunt’s vast wardrobe and make incredible costumes out of the clothes we would find.  Princesses because a frequently played game between the two of us.  Long gowns, ridiculous amounts of makeup, and furs made us feel like true royalty.. All was well until I began to get older.  Around age eight or nine, I remember watching Disney movies and realizing that no one I saw in these films looked like me.  I remember trying hard to fit into small chairs and tables and daintily eat and drink my make pretend food. I remember being filled with anger when I could not sing, dance, or gracefully walk around like a princess dress up became more of a chore than fun when I realized I would never look like the princess I tried so hard to emulate for so long.   For a long time I have been wondering, why it would be so hard for Disney to produce characters that look like their viewers. I finally decided to try and figure it out; the information I found was unsettling.
Uncle Remus from "Song of the South"
To make sense of this it is best to start at the beginning. Walt Disney began working as an animator in 1923.  His first film Steamboat Willie went over phenomenally and his career began to pick up steam. ( early cartoons were riddled with racial caricatures and stereotypes.  His first film featuring people was “ Song of the South,” featured a tired old stereotype of a black man taking care of young children with a grin glued on his face and with many quotes about him being , “just happy to be alive.” (Disney, Song of the South) Uncle Remus spoke in poor African American Vernacular also referred too as AAVE. (  We also see him put Mickey Mouse in blackface and he even uses a “piccaninny” trope in the film Fantasia as a slave to a white centaur. (Disney, Fantasia)   He also worked on Nazi Propaganda films such as “ Death for Education”.  Here is the thing,  no matter what you want to say about Disney, this was pretty much the social norm at the time.  He was a white man , with money living in the 1920s.  This was pre civil rights movement.  He was most likely making films that sold to the people that could afford him. Was it ethically right?   Not by todays standards.  I think Disney operated on Cultural Ethical Relativism and it helped skyrocket his name and business.
King Louie from "The Jungle Book"
       Throughout the early works Disney included many stereotypes and racist characters throughout his stories.  “The Jungle Book” is the first Disney movie with a person of color as its lead character. While it was a step in the direction of integrating Disney, it had many flaws. One flaw was that all of the apes from the movie were played by black men with soulful voices. The song “I  Want to Be Like You “ is a racist tale of turning apes into men.  It is a very obvious metaphor for black people trying to emulate white people at that time.  The whole scene has a very minstrel feel too it.(                                                                     
Jim Crow from "Dumbo"
Another example would be the crows from Dumbo. Walt Disney even went to the lengths of naming the leader of the flock of drunkard crows , Jim Crow. Dumbo also has a song  called “ The Song of the Roustabouts.”  The song is sung by faceless, black workers who are diligently putting the circus together in the rain. One line of the song reads ,”  We work all day, we work all night, we never learned to read or write, we are happy hearted , roustabouts.” (  Disney’s Cultural Ethical Egoism allows for this to be okay, in his world. What about now? Why do we continuously have the same faces and bodies in Disney movies and shows?

"The Song of Roustabouts" from "Dumbo"

Princess Jasmine from "Aladdin"
  In 1992, long after Walt Disney died,   Disney tried to do the right thing and introduce a brown princess, Jasmine. She was a princess of an Arabian country with the imaginary name of Agrabah.   The film starts off as problematic from the beginning with the opening song saying that,” They will cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, barbaric, but hey, its home.” This gives the illusion that people from Arabian countries are violent. Another problematic moment would be sexualizing Jasmine as a young woman. She wears very little clothes and is not even period correct or correct in what would most likely have been a Muslim country.  The plot is that she flees from her overprotective father and is saved in a busy market by a peasant boy named Aladdin. Aladdin is a peasant whose skin gets lighter and lighter throughout the film as he becomes wealthier. Jafar the villain has a stereotypical Arabian face and exaggerated features and a thick accent. Everyone else in the film has a British or American accent. The film has the typical princess/prince plot and really was not revolutionary at all in hindsight.  With “Aladdin” coming in at number 4 on “Disney’s Highest Grossing Princess Films”, the only three movies ahead of it are white princess staring movies. (
      Disney was held to a standard and it worked. White Disney princesses, as damsels of distress, with impeccably thin figures, and voices of angels became their normal.  Men with large chests, dreamy eyes, great hair, and noble steads always saved the day from villainous women.   Women were seen has prizes and held to incredible standards. If they wanted a man they either had to sacrifice it all, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, Pocahontas, just to name a few.  It was not until Brave was introduced in 2012 that we see a girl who is her own hero.  ( The women in Disney films tend to be dangerously altruistic. They risk, the things they love and even limbs, voices and opportunities in order to make everyone else happy.
Lilo & Stitch
     One of the best things about Disney is their ability to teach lessons through song and story.  “Lilo and Stich” ( was a terrific movies about a Hawaiian family who comes in contact with a space alien. They love each other intensely and eventually risk it all to remain a family. There is a long history of Disney making us feel good and almost magical after hearing, watching, or reading one of the many stories we have grown up with.  From Disney we also learn that anyone can have a happy ending and can overcome many obstacles.  It also teaches that love knows no bounds.
         Disney is a big name. The Disney Company owns seven media networks, 277 radio stations, eleven theme parks, eight television stations, seven print companies, eight studios, three different consumer product sources, and Disney Interactive.  ( My original reaction to that was shock and awe, but the more I thought about it the less I was surprised. We are a consumer market who eats up pretty much anything that is thrown at us.  We see the same news stories on multiple outlets, shows with similar titles and premises, and families from different shows that look so similar you could just swap them out.  If something is shown to us once, and we enjoy it is easier to pick it back up again and I think that is what happens in this instance.  I believe what makes Disney “okay” now, is the Cultural Ethical Relativism.  Their standards are changing as time progresses. We are getting varied stories, and varied people and creatures and voices.
  • Works Cited
  • Aladdin. Dir. John Musker and Ron Clements. Prod. John Musker and Ron Clements. By John Musker, Ron Clements, Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, and Linda Larkin. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc., 1992.
  • A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.
  • Brave. Disney, 2012. Film.
  • "Disney Interactive | The Walt Disney Company." Disney Interactive | The Walt Disney Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.
  • IMDb., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.
  • Jungle Book. National Film and Video Center, 1942. Film.
  • Lilo & Stitch. Buena Vista, 2004. Film.
  • N.p., n.d. Web.
  • Pocahontas. Dir. Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg. By Carl Binder, Susannah Grant, Philip LaZebnik, Irene Bedard, Judy Kuhn, Mel Gibson, and David Ogden Stiers. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc., 1995. Laser disc.
  • Song of the South. Prod. Walt Disney. 1946. Film.
  • "The Top 10 Disney Princesses at the Box Office." The Fiscal Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.
  • Veraketta, GEorgia. "The Representations of Gender, Sexuality and Race in Disney's The Lion King." N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.
  • "Who Owns the Media?" Free Press. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2014.
  • Pullum, Geoffrey K. African American Vernacular English Is Not Standard English with Mistakes (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
5 Important Lessons we've learned from watching Disney Films

Saturday, March 21, 2015

My 5 Most Overrated Films of All-Time

The 5 Most Overrated Films of All-Time

By: Brian Cotnoir

     It’s common knowledge that there are a ton of overrated films released every year.  Every year film studios invest a lot of time and money, not only in just making the film, but also a lot goes into advertising & promoting the film, and trying to convince people that they want to see it when it gets released in theatres, and every year those same studios trick us into spending our money to see an over-hyped and overrated movie.  Now let me be clear about what I mean by “overrated”.  I’m not talking about a film that was hated by critics and audiences that still made a ton of money at the Box Office, because let’s be realistic: nobody thinks that “Twilight” or Michael Bay’s “Transformers” films are cinematic masterpieces; they just got lucky and made a ton of money.  No, I am talking about the films that are regarded as “Landmark films” and “works of art” and are still beloved and praised by critics and audiences despite having almost no redeeming qualities.  These are my Top 5 Most Overrated Films of All-Time.

5.) The Matrix

I saw this film for the first time when I was 11 or 12-years-old at a friend house.  I remember thinking the groundbreaking effects were really good, and I also remember not having a clue as what the story was about.  I watched the film again as an adult and I’m still confused as to what “The Matrix” is about.  This has been a film I’ve never been able to get excited about or into.  I don’t care for it at all, or any of its sequels (though I will admit that I do think “The Animatrix” is a nice Anthology/Sci-Fi/Action film).  As for the live action “Matrix” movies...well, I can appreciate them for their groundbreaking CGI work, but that’s about it.  For me the story is too nonsensical: seriously, why the hell do they need the Matrix?  What is the point of the Matrix?  If a film leaves you with more questions than answers, then you have a serious problem.

4.)  Alice in Wonderland (1951)

I know a lot of people who love this film, but hey even a great studio like Disney has its misses.  Now true, there are worst films that have been put out by Disney, but their 1951 animated adaptation of Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is still overrated.  The film for one thing has a short run-time for an animated film (only 75 minutes). The songs from the film are also mediocre and, that’s bad, when a Disney film has songs that nobody remembers.  Then you look at the title character of the film, Alice. Alice is one of the weaker Disney Heroine’s in my opinion.  At the beginning of the film she tells her sister how she wishes the world to be weird and different, and then she follows the White Rabbit down the hole into Wonderland—a world where everything whacky and bizarre happens—and what does she do?  Complain about how weird and bizarre everything is, and tries to make sense of a world where there is none!  You know what; screw you Alice!  You got EXACTLY what you wished for, and then you have the audacity to complain about it!  I’m sorry you are not a great character!  Oh, and the 2010 remake of “Alice in Wonderland” that Tim Burton did for Disney didn’t do this film any favors.  Maybe someday a film studio will make a decent film adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but until then we’ll just have to put up with this mediocrity.

3.) E.T.

A Timeless Classic enjoyed by Audiences of All Ages?  I don’t think so.  Sure Stephen Spielberg may be the Greatest Film Director of All-Time, but that doesn’t mean everything he does is fantastic.  Even his worst film is still good at best, but when you really look at his works, and compare “E.T” to his works like “Jaws”, “Jurassic Park”, and “Schindler’s List”, yeah “E.T.” just doesn’t look that good.  I thought this film was okay, when I was a kid, but as an adult I see it as a boring kid’s story.  I find the character E.T. to be more annoying than fun, interesting, or charming.  What you think just because Elliot and E.T. had a magical bond, where they could feel each other’s joy, pain, and other emotions makes it a heartfelt classic?  You do realize that E.T. and Elliot’s bond is pretty much the same thing as “The Care Bears”, right?  Yeah, that little spark of wonder and awe this film once gave you, just burnt out now didn’t it?

2.) Vertigo

A few years back, I read an article saying that the American Film Institute was considering updating it’s 100 Greatest Films List, and that Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” was rumored to replace Orson Welles “Citizen Kane” in the number one spot.  Upon hearing this news I, along with a group of friends, sought out a copy of “Vertigo” to watch because none of us had ever seen it before.  After watching it, we all stared at one another with looks of confusion.  How the hell could this film possibly be considered the Greatest Film Ever Made?  I’m not saying, “Vertigo” was a bad film, but I think it’s a far cry from being the “Best Film Ever Made”.  I am a huge fan of Hitchcock, but he’s made better films than “Vertigo”.

1.) Free Willy

Every kid in the 1990’s has seen this film at least once, and everybody still remembers that iconic scene from the film of the whale jumping over the main character Jesse (I mean it’s on the G.D. Movie Poster for crying out loud), and of course everybody remembers the song “Will You Be There” that was performed by the Late & Great Michael Jackson...and that’s about it.  Other than that nobody remembers anything about the movie “Free Willy”.  It’s fairly amusing to look back at this film: it was made during a simpler time—in Pre-9/11 America—when the World’s Biggest Problems were totally mundane (I.E. Save the Whales).  Even when I was a kid, I didn’t like “Free Willy”.  There is nothing redeeming about “Free Willy”.  If your kids want to see whales perform, then you should take them to see the whales at Sea World or an Aquarium!  How they managed to make films based on this story is beyond me, because it is a dumb idea for a film, and it’s just a dumb film!