I couldn’t agree more with Wordtothewomen1’s statement, “there is a large inequality of racial representation with Disney princesses”. In fact, I could argue that this is an understatement of the racial representation of Disney princesses. Despite Disney’s small strides towards diversifying the representation of gender and racial differences with its characters (e.g. Disney’s 2009 film, The Princess and the Frog), what occurs “behind the scenes” is far from diverse. Not only are the vast majority of princesses and other Disney characters white in colour, but the voice actors of the few racially diverse princesses are in fact Caucasian themselves. Take for example princess Jasmine, a young woman of Arabic decent. One with think, like her character, the voice behind the princess would be of a similar background, however, unsurprisingly a white-American is the actress. Similar with Pocahontas, a Caucasian women (whom is not in the slightest Native American), is the one belting the songs for the animated character.
One does not have to look very deeply into what goes on behind the scenes in Disney movies to discover a lack of racial diversity and the presence of racism. Below are several photos of Disney villains. While looking at these photos, I urge you to find similarities.
It disturbs me to realize that many of the Disney villains are made to look as though they are a different race from the “white” norm portrayed in films. In Aladdin for example, Aladdin and the villain, Jaffar, are both Arabic men. Yet Aladdin has been given a very light skin-tone and speaks and sings with an American accent. Jafar on the other-hand is portrayed in a more ethnic manner with a thick Middle-Eastern accent and a darker complexion. An even more distinguishable example would be the colour difference between Scar and Mufasa in the Lion King. Although both are kin of the same parents, they appear to be two different “races” of lions, with of course, the darker of the two being the evil lion. This racial insensitivity is also displayed more subtly in films such as Cinderella. Looking at the skin tone of Cinderella’s evil stepsisters, they differ from that of her own, a porcelain-white skin and blonde hair appearance. Her one stepsister, the biggest villain of them all, has a much darker complexion. Moreover, both stepsisters are made to be unattractive compared to their beautiful stepsister. What kind of message does this give young children, particularly children of colour? That women of colour are not as attractive or appealing as those who are white? It is very discomforting that I did not make these realizations until now, which makes me fear how many young children subconsciously develop the notion that lighter skin is more attractive than darker. Providing villains with the appearance of racial minorities is very unsettling to me. Coming from a family of diverse racial backgrounds, it saddens me that my caring, compassionate, and loving family members whom are of Middle-Eastern and African-American decent are indirectly portrayed as villains in such films.
Evidently, it is not only Disney that can be faulted for its racial insensitivities. More specifically, Disney is not the only franchise to racially stereotype villains as being ethnically diverse. Many movies (e.g. Twilight) and novels (e.g. 50 Shades of Grey) can be faulted for the same underrepresentation of racial minorities. In fact, the sole character of a racial minority in the two examples provided above both happen to be the “villain”. Laurent, an African-American vampire, is set out on a mission to kill Bella Swan in Twilight. In 50 Shades of Grey, Jose Rodriguez, a Latin American, is the romantic competition and only threat to Anastasia’s love interest, Christian Grey.
I would like to add that on a very different note, these same Disney movies, novels and blockbuster hits can all be faulted for giving fantasies of power to females. As stated by Susan Douglas in her novel, Enlightened Sexism, (2010), “we are getting images of imagined power that mask, and even erase, how much still remains to be done for girls and women”. It is through media outlets such as those described above as well as tv shows, for example, the Apprentice and movies such as Legally Blonde, where women are competing or acting alongside men, or even have a superior role to men, where both women and men develop the notion that all are finally equal in society. However, looking deeper into these female roles, it is apparent that they are simply given fantasies of power, and contribute to the concept of enlightened sexism. In Legally Blonde for example, the main character Elle Woods, is hyper-feminine. On the surface, she is the top of her class and ultimately wins a major court case. One must think, however, how did she get to the top? Well, through her sexuality and femininity she trickled her way to the top. Enlightened sexism is taking the gains of the women’s movement in the past as a given and consequently turning women into sex objects, whom succeed because of their appearance. Enlightened sexism is merely one of many consequences that have arisen from fantasies of power in popular culture, and I am certain that if this downward spiral continues, the efforts of feminism and women’s rights from the past will slowly disappear.