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Ancient Egyptian Wisdom ... Daily Practice

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Disney's Racist History, Part 2

Here we go! Nfr-Ka Ma'at read my original post and challenged me to further substantiate my description of Disney's history of negative images. She believed that the video of the Black crows from Dumbo wasn't going to convince you that we shouldn't easily forget this difficult history. She said, "Djed, some people haven't seen and analyzed this like we have. You have to help them see it." After thinking about it for a while, I agreed. She also thought that the picture of Sunflower (see previous post) was pretty egregious and told me I should try to post the original video.

Finding the truly uncut version of the pastoral scene from Fantasia was very difficult. Disney has taken this version out of circulation since 1969. The version that they've sold as "uncut" uses a tighter camera shot in order to remove Sunflower from view. Interestingly, they left the zebras, who are also clearly of African descent, in the newer version (more on this later). I don't think you'll easily find the original elsewhere. It nearly runs 10 minutes.
You could easily watch the original version and simply look at the stereotypically racist image of Sunflower, and say, "Man, I'm offended"; but I'd like you to analyze this a little bit further. Here are a few key points:

1) Notice that when Sunflower first appears (1:00), she is "spit-shining" one of the female centaur's hooves. Disney went to great length to depict Sunflower in a stereotypical role as to clarify her role as a servant. This sets our expectations for every other moment she appears. She becomes completely juxtaposed to the "white" female centaurs. They are royalty or demi-gods—take note of their crowning by the cherubim. To further this disparity, Sunflower seems to be half-woman and half-donkey.

2) When Sunflower is thwarted in her attempt to beautify one of the female centaur's tails, she seems angered and frustrated. This response is a typical response for the stereotypical character called the "Mammy" or "Auntie" (similar to Aunt Jemima). She cares for her white master or mistress more than herself. She fights them to do what is "good" for them--often at the expense of her own children.

3) Notice that the zebras, who are also of African descent, are serving Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy (7:34). In opposition to Sunflower, they are lighter-skinned and actually attractive. What is the message here? You might say that zebras are native to Africa, right? I'd agree with you, but consider that the unique black and white striping of the zebra has routinely been a metaphor for being of mixed race (think of George Jefferson's epithet for the mixed race child of his neighbors). I think their role may be a more subtle insult.

First, notice that the white centaurs dance with Dionysus, but rebuff his amorous attempts. The zebras don't keep him at arms length, they enter the scene with him. They are actually Dionysus' harem (also the term for a grouping of zebras). They are his sexual property. This is actually a reference to the stereotypical character, the jezebel. The jezebel was used as a painful justification for the raping of Black women. Promiscuous and beguiling, She actually "tricks" the white man into sexual congregation with her. Often the jezebel is depicted as a "tragic mulatto". This is why they are zebras! With the amount of thought and planning that went into these negative characters, it is clear that they were not coincidental depictions.

Second, we must understand the classic tension between the role of the mammy (Sunflower) and of the jezebel (the zebras). The "pure" African is clumsy, lacking social graces, and unattractive. Only through dilution with the European can anything redeemable be found. Perhaps by leaving the zebras in the latest edit, Disney has insulted us even more.

Clearly Disney would like us to forget this history. If they really want to make amends, I say the Frog and the Princess is not even getting close. We deserve an apology, and some very tangible recompense. Maybe Disney should find way to support African American cartoonists. I'd wager they are underutilized. Thoughts? Leave a comment! Shem em Hetep!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

that sunflower is a rim-rocker! there is so much anger in that mockery. having her ache to serve those sagittarius-thingies was like saying "pleeeese be my master, it is my only purpose!"

those zebras were like "pleeeese feel free to rape us whenever you want as a pass-time while you seek the true prize (those sagittarius-thingies)"

at the same time, i don't think this creates a debt that Disney owes the so-called black community. what would they even give? free rides on the teacups? they are just playing on peoples fantasies to make a solid buck (pun). and they'll do it again with this frog-prince movie...

black people and white will embrace it as part of this post-racial fantasy that i'm guessing won't even touch on the powerful ethnic caste system entwined in new orleanean history!

perhaps bankrolling a black pixar type outfit could act as proper recompense. but the owness still falls with black folks to then make high-quality wholesome family films with that money and responsibly reinvest revenues to build up the company.

but let's set Disney aside, we could use this history to rally together some of the sports/entertainment industry folks' combustible cash (money people earn just to burn!) and set up a pixar-like company. i love cartoons so i'm game! i could easily come up with a list of black voice over actors who should be targeted: eddie murphy, whoopie goldberg, kieth david, vivica a. fox, ice cube, wanda sykes, sammuel l. jackson and cree summer are just a small few!