Childhood ruined: Misrepresentations Fueled by Disney

LAUREN ELLENBECKER, Mint columnist

Similar to other forms of media, Disney films reflect societal norms and ideals – some more offensive than others. According to Alexis Tan, a WSU communication professor, these cartoons contain blatantly harmful stereotypes regarding age, gender and race.

With wicked stepmothers, grouchy dwarves and Dalmatian-hunting villains, one can conclude that Disney’s portrayal of older adults tends to be a little misleading. In addition to being depicted as sinister, older people in Disney productions can also be portrayed as helpless or ill-fated.

Gender is also heavily stereotyped in Disney films. Male characters are usually shown as strong and heroic – valuing strength before intellect, Tan said. These heroic figures tend to be lean and Caucasian, while characterizing overweight men as villainous and darker skinned.

Speaking of a character’s skin color, it is important to acknowledge the race stereotypes found throughout Disney films. People who are not of the mainstream culture tend to be portrayed stereotypically, Tan said.

For example, the Disney film “Aladdin” shows a misrepresentation of Arabs as being violent and savage, according to an article by VH1.

The main character, Aladdin, who is whiter than the villain Jafar, speaks with an American accent and lacks stereotypical features. Whereas his villainous counterpart is darker-skinned, has an accent and is shown with stereotypical Middle Eastern features.

The association of lighter skin and being less evil gives a negative implication to those who are not white, Tan said.

In “The Jungle Book” all of the characters speak with American or British accents, while the monkeys in the film speak in jive, according to VH1.This refers to jazz, an integral part of African-American culture. The animated apes are also portrayed as lazy, fat and dumb.

Children form their impressions of the world vicariously through movies and television, Tan said. For this reason, kids consider the portrayals of stereotypes they see in Disney films to be true to reality.

“With the absence of actual knowledge through personal contact, regarding groups who are not like them,” Tan said, “children are very impressionable [through movies] because they believe what they see.”

Children of certain races and cultures are affected differently than Caucasian children in the sense that they may develop a self-fulfilling prophecy from the negative portrayals of stereotypes, Tan said.

Although the harsh reality of Disney movies having hidden biases seems bleak, the issues at hand can be fixed. Issues regarding stereotypes in Disney movies can be resolved within the industry itself as well as through consumers, Tan said

In order to produce content with a better representation of others, there must be a combination of diverse creators behind the production of content, such as women and racial minorities, Tan said.

In addition to creators and producers finding a solution to reducing stereotypes in Disney films, educating children about media and digital literacy is just as important.

Parents and educators should take a more active role in educating their kids regarding the media because they need to understand that Disney movies are fantasy and do not reflect reality, Tan said.

Lauren Ellenbecker is a freshman studying communication from Anchorage, Alaska. She can be contacted at mint@dailyevergreen.com.