Disney Princesses and Villains

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.

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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.

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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.

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2 thoughts on “Disney Princesses and Villains

  1. Unfortunately, you right when it comes to the way movies portray the villains. Movies have created an ideal image of what the villain should always look like, usually they appear uglier than the other characters or have some sort of deformity. For example, look at the wicked witch in the “Wizard of Oz,” she has crooked teeth and green skin, not exactly attractive physical features. However, her opponent, Glinda, has blonde hair and white skin. Maleficent, the evil character, from “Sleeping Beauty” also has green skin and Doctor Facilier from “The Princess and the Frog” has crooked teeth and overall, less attractive features. The evil characters are always associated with darker colours, specifically black and the good or neutral characters tend to be associated with the colour white. This is an interesting aspect of racial stereotyping for black is associated with evil while white is associated with good. This can easily translate into stereotype that those of black skin are more likely to commit crimes and be apart of gangs, in other words the “villains” of society today. If young children are consistently seeing these portrayals of villains then they are going to grow up and take these messages into the real world, furthering the racial discrimination that already is in strong existence today.

    • Wordtothewomen5, I think you make an excellent point by associating skin tones of villains to “real world” stereotypes. I believe that the notion of white-privilege is demonstrated in children’s films as it is in Western culture. Evidentially there is a reoccurring theme with many villains taking on a darker skin completion, and with this there is also a strong correlation with such characters being villainized and not having the same success as the “heroes” in the stories. One must wonder if this villainization has a great deal to do with the physical appearances of these characters and not simply the actions and “crimes” they commit. Take the “Lion King” for example, and the villain Scar. Before Scar plots the murder of his brother Mufasa, he truly has not done anything “wrong”. In fact, his family and the animal kingdom has deemed him inferior by banning him to the right to the throne and sending him to live a solitary life in a cave. I question why then, was scar discriminated against from the very beginning, before any evil crimes had been committed? Well, clearly Disney made Mufasa look like the stronger, “good” heroic lion, who is so King-like and respectable, with bright/light colouring and bulging muscles. Scar on the other hand, takes a lesser cosmetically appealing look and is much more frail and darker coloured. This is ironic, as in real life, a lion who has a darker colouring to his mane is deemed healthier and stronger, and is usually the more dominant lion. Why then do movies such as this categorize villains so similarly? What is this teaching young children and our society? That the less conventionally beautiful you are the less you will succeed? That white-privilage exists and always will? It saddens me that these movies do reflect what is present in our society today. Very rarely do I see advertisements, commercials, heroes and heroines from TV shows, who are not conventionally beautiful and who not confirm to Western’s view of what is “hot” “gorgeous” “stunning”, etc. Breaking down these stereotypes in young childrens’ movies may be a start to eliminating white-privilege in the workplace, education system, and society as a whole, and perhaps maybe these films can change the way America and the rest of West views the notion of “beauty”.

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