Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Disney as Cultural Imperialists?

Here is a screen shot from Disney’s animation Aladdin:

This is an image of two men, one skinny and one large, both of darker skin color. The larger man is grabbing the skinnier man’s vest. The one on the left dons a purple vest and is clean-shaven. He is also the shorter of the two. The one on the right has facial hair, bulging eyes, a bulbous nose, a turban and bares his gums.

The skin color of both men connotes that they are both of Arabic descent. One can also connote that the man on the right is rather angry. His facial features suggest that he is bullying the man that he is grabbing. His facial expression makes him appear to be quite barbaric. Disney stereotypes Arabs as grotesque and untrustworthy people, people who are less civilized. This portrayal is drastically different from the man on the left, who is Aladdin, the protagonist of the film. Although he too is Arabic, he does not have the monstrous features that the man on the right has. Rather, his facial features are similar to those found in other Disney animations where the characters are of Caucasian descent or are Americans. This way, Disney forces the viewers to identify Aladdin as the white, American hero, destined to triumph against the evil and barbaric Arabs. Disney also asserts that Western culture is superior because non-Western cultures, such as that of the Arabic, are barbaric and therefore uncivilized.

As a side-note, it is ironic that Disney is finally featuring an African American princess in its new-featured animation, The Princess and the Frog. It does seem strange that it took Disney so long to finally create an African American princess, seeing how African Americans is one of their significant target consumers. However, if you think about the history of America, that of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, it is really not odd at all for Disney to take this long to create an African American princess.

1 comment:

  1. It's also interesting to consider that we really don't know if Aladdin or any of the other characters are Arab or Indian or Persian or North African..? Disney just sort of grouped the entire Middle East and South Asia together which goes back to the idea of "Orientalism" -the idea of Us (Occidents or the West) vs. the Others (the mysterious Orients).