Disney may be a great source of entertainment for young children, but when you watch those classic Disney films you saw when you were a kid, you realize just how racist and sexist it really is.
Here's a list of movies that have obvious sexist and racist portrayals.
Peter Pan (1953)Giphy
In the beginning of the movie, Wendy is seen cleaning up and doing chores around the house while the boys play. This could just be because Wendy seems to be the oldest child, but it goes along with the sexist idea that women should do the housework. Wendy's mother, Mary is seen taking care of the children while the father is hardly involved in the caring of the children, another traditional sexist idea.
Shortly after the parents leave, we meet a scantily clad Tinkerbell. This is clearly a sexualization of Tinkerbell. She has a short dress on that is hardly covering her rear end, and they also give her cleavage, as you can see in the animation above as she is bending over. In the movie, Tinkerbell finds a mirror and begins to admire herself. At first, it seems harmless. Why not take time to admire yourself, right? Wrong! She notices the size of her hips and makes a gesture with her hands as if to say "they're too big." Shame on Disney for even thinking of adding this into the movie! Why would we tell little girls that their hips are too big if they are beyond a certain size and that they should be shocked by the size of their body? To add more to the sexualization of her body, Tinkerbell is seen struggling to get herself out of a keyhole. For some reason, Disney thought this was a great opportunity to show off her whitey tightys and have the camera focusing on her rear end as she struggles to fit her hips through the key hole. I mean no wonder why boys sexualize women!
At one point in the movie, Wendy was talking to Peter Pan and he has the audacity to make the comment that "girls talk too much." How rude! This isn't the only Disney movie that makes that claim. You can also hear this message in The Little Mermaid, but we will get to that later. According to Disney, men like women that don't talk a lot. Ladies, if your man doesn't want to listen to you go on about your amazing day or your amazing ideas, it's time to find someone who appreciates you!
Later on in the movie, Peter Pan looks at a map with Wendy and points out Indian Island. At this point, the racial slurs begin. One of Wendy's younger brothers says, "I think I'll be an Injun brave." In case you didn't know, "Injun" is an insulting term for Native Americans. The Lost Boys referred to the Native Americans as "savage" as well. At several points in the movie, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys also referred to them as "redskins," another demeaning term for Native Americans.
If calling the Native Americans demeaning terms was not enough, Disney displayed the Native Americans as having bright red skin - like fire truck red. Not okay. The only two Native Americans who did not have red skin was the "Indian Princess" and another skinny Indian who was pretty much there for the sex appeal. Even then, they were displayed as having tanner skin than Peter Pan, Wendy, and the Lost Boys. The Native Americans each had a feather in their hair as well - a stereotype for Native Americans. They are also shown passing around a pipe - I'm guessing it is supposed to be peyote, a hallucinogen that was historically used in worship as part of a religion but was quickly made illegal. They pass the pipe around in the circle. Wendy crinkles her nose at it and her oldest brother takes a puff and quickly turns green.
At this point, they begin whooping (another racial stereotype) and singing a song titled "What Made the Red Man Red." Here's the first verse of the song:
Why does he ask you, "How?"
Why does he ask you, "How?"
Once the Injun didn't know
All the things that he know now
But the Injun, he sure learn a lot
And it's all from asking, "How?"
Hana Mana Ganda
Hana Mana Ganda
We translate for you
Hana means what mana means
And ganda means that, too
I mean how much more racist can you get? Good going Disney for instilling racial stereotypes in the minds of children.
Here's a link to a YouTube video of the entire song and scene in case you wanted to check it out yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGKnCUnAsus
The Aristocats (1970)
While there was limited sexism and racism in this movie, the places where it exists could be seen as pretty insulting.
The first thing I noticed was in the opening song "The Aristocats." Here is a part of the lyrics:
Which pets are prone
To hardly any flaws?
To which pets do the others
Tip their hats?
This one might be open to interpretation, but in this part of the song it feels like they are trying to say "rich people are better and they're almost perfect and we should show them respect." It feels as if they are saying poor people are less than perfect and have many flaws. I mean, I grew up as a lower-middle-class kid, but I still took offense to this.
An overarching theme I noticed throughout the movie was that Thomas O'Malley the Alley Cat felt the need to protect Duchess. Not all women need protecting. We can handle ourselves thank you very much.
The thing I really want to focus on here is the very obvious racism towards people of Asian ethnicity. Now would be a good time to watch the video above if you haven't done so already. In case you missed what the Siamese cat said here are the lyrics:
Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg Fu Yong! Hya ha ha ha ha ha!
Fortune cookie always wrong! Hya ha ha
I mean was the whole bad Asian accent really necessary on top of saying words that relate to Asians. Not cool Disney. Not to mention the fact that they have him playing the piano not with his paws, but with CHOPSTICKS! I mean seriously?! This is so disrespectful to Asian culture. Even the way he looks is disrespectful - buck-toothed and slanted eyes. They also portray him as kind of dumb at first. Speaking of which, this stereotype also appears in another movie - Lady and the Tramp (1955). In this movie, they keep the buck teeth and the slanted eyes, but they sing a different song. I don't know about you, but these cats terrified me as a kid. Coincidence? Probably not. If you want to check it out yourself, here's a link to a YouTube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG5mOd8Ubsk
The Little Mermaid (1989)Giphy
When I went back and watched the Little Mermaid, the first thing I noticed was the difference between the men and women as far as body shape. Women were created to be impossibly skinny, large breasts, wide hips, and seashell bras. At many points in the movie, you can see many of the female mermaids' cleavage. On the other hand, men were built with broad shoulders and muscular details, but the men were completely shirtless. One could argue that men were also sexualized in this movie due to the fact that they were made muscular and shirtless. I mean if they were able to make bras out of seashells, they should have been able to make shirts as well.
The second thing I noticed in the movie was that all of the powerful positions were held by men: King Triton, Prince Eric, Sebastian being the King's hand, and even Grimsby being Eric's butler. Probably not a coincidence. Why can't women be in power in these earlier Disney movies?
Now, I hate to bring this up because it's such a catchy tune, but the song Under the Sea was a little controversial. People argued that with Sebastian having a Jamaican accent and having him sing about living a care-free life where nobody has to work was a little offensive. A racial stereotype is that Jamaicans are laid back and also lazy. Another thing many people noticed were the two black fish that people thought to be racist caricatures of African Americans. These fish have large lips and deep voices, both racial stereotypes. I honestly agree with these theories. I mean, it makes sense when you look at the scene from that point of view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GC_mV1IpjWA
One of the worst songs in the movie was Poor Unfortunate Souls: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi58pN8W3hY
In this song, Ursula sings about how people came to her to change in order to find true love. However, there is nothing really wrong with these people. It even shows how one man was "fat" and Ursula changed him into a strong, skinny man. Also in the song, she says "Men don't like a lot of blabber." This seems to be a running theme in Disney movies, especially since it appeared in Peter Pan, and also appears in Aladdin, which I will be talking about later. During this musical scene, Ursula shimmies and flaunts her body (as seen above). At one point, the camera even zooms in on her shimmying breasts. How much more obvious can this get? The animators even felt the need to add a bouncing animation to her breasts. Is that really necessary? Absolutely not. At one point, Ursula refers to Ariel as a "tramp." Definitely not appropriate for a children's movie.
When Ursula transformed Ariel's fin into two legs, Ariel quickly swam to the surface and as she was walking out of the water, it was made very clear that she no longer had clothing on. It didn't really leave much to the imagination. The camera angle was focused on her legs and stopped probably right where her rear end would begin. Why do they feel the need to sexualize a young teenager?!
Finally, the whole message of the movie is a little messed up: you should do everything in your power to change yourself just to be with a man. What?! If you are reading this, regardless of your gender, please do not feel the need to change yourself for anyone!
This movie has racism as well as the obvious sexualization of women. First of all, the women are built with very tiny waists, small hips, and large breasts while the men are built to have broad shoulders and strong muscles. Then, right from the start of the movie, it opens with a song introducing the setting, Agrabah. This place is supposed to represent where Arabs live. It is basically an elaborate stereotype. This was a huge issue, especially paired with the lyrics of the opening song, Arabian Nights. The original lyrics went like this:
Oh I come from a land
From a faraway place
Where the caravan camels roam.
Where they cut off your ear
If they don't like your face
It's barbaric, but hey, it's home.
Quickly after the movie's release, Arab-Americans quickly made a complaint and moved to change the lyrics to be less offensive. In 1993, Disney agreed to change the lyrics, but not very much. The lyrics were changed to:
Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place
Where the caravan camels roam
Where it's flat and immense
And the heat is intense
It's barbaric, but hey, it's home
I mean, they are still calling the place "barbaric." An although Disney removed the part about cutting off someone's ear, there is a scene in the move that you might recall where Princess Jasmine is in the streets of Agrabah and she takes an apple to give to a hungry child. When the owner of the fruit stand notices, he grabs Jasmine by the wrist and threatens to cut off her hand for stealing.
Check out this article from the New York Times about how Disney changed their lyrics and why: https://www.nytimes.com/1993/07/14/opinion/it-s-ra...
Now for the sexualization of women. Boy oh boy does this movie have a lot. Near the beginning of the movie when Aladdin is singing "One Jump Ahead," Aladdin jumps into a window which so happens to land him in a brothel. And this is in a children's movie?! Are you kidding me?! The women are hardly covered from the waist up as well, including Princess Jasmine. Also, the veil that covers the mouths of the women in the brothel is supposed to be a religious symbol and it is definitely not supposed to be sheer. However, Disney made the veils sheer to add to the sex-appeal. Please do not pervert a religious symbol simply for views and imagery. Later in the movie when Jafar begins to vie for Jasmine's heart, Jasmine was speechless when she heard that Jafar wanted to marry her - and not in a good way. However, Jafar had to make the comment, "You're speechless I see. A fine quality in a wife." This goes back to that whole "men don't like women who talk a lot" thing. Ladies, do not let this stop you from talking as much as you want. In a way, I feel like this shaped me as a child. I never really talked to boys a lot, but when I talked to girls, words would flow out of my mouth seamlessly. Finally, near the end, Jasmine had to find a way to distract Jafar so Aladdin could save her. She drops the cloth hanging around her shoulders and reveals more of her body as if to seduce him in order to be free (see above). You can even see cleavage on the woman. Is this really necessary Disney? Please don't teach women to seduce men in order to achieve things.
Shrek 2 (2004)Giphy
Now, I know this isn't Disney but I wanted to make the point that Disney is not the only children's movie company that sexualizes women. As you can see in the above billboard, Fairy Godmother is highly sexualized in the movie. She is shown in a seductive pose with her breasts outlined by the shape of her dress. Disney apparently couldn't stand to lose the sex appeal. Throughout the entire move, the women are seen with cleavage. Again, is this necessary?
Later in the movie when Fairy Godmother is singing to Princess Fiona about all the wishes she can grant, she sings about how women shouldn't have a blemish on their face and that women need to dress in a pretty dress and shoes to be noticed by a man. Come on. Women don't need to be perfect. Everyone has their flaws.
At one point in the movie, Fairy Godmother recounts the story of Prince Charming travelling to the tower to get Fiona only to discover a wolf in a nightgown and a nightcap laying in Fiona's bed. Fairy Godmother refers to the wolf as a "gender confused wolf" with a look of disgust on her face. There is nothing wrong with a male wanting to wear a nightgown or a dress. It is perfectly acceptable and we honestly need more characters that dress differently than what the "social norm" is. It wasn't fair of Fairy Godmother to assume that the wolf was "gender confused" because as I said, it is perfectly acceptable for a male to dress that way.
So Now What?Giphy
I apologize if I have ruined your favorite movie. However, if we want change, these are conversations that need to happen. Disney has, however, come a long way. They are working towards more cultural inclusivity especially with the release of Princess and the Frog and Moana. They are also working towards less sexualization of women, as is apparent in Frozen. However, I think they still have a long way to go. I would really love to see a Disney movie that includes characters that are differently abled. I would also love to see a move with characters that are LGBTQ+. It is important to be inclusive of all differences and these kinds of characters are not yet widely represented in media. However, the more we talk about it, the more we can find a solution to the problem.
Thank you so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed!