Meet Disney’s Newest Villian: Modern Racism

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Welcome to Zootopia! A world that is filled with equal opportunity for every animal. Once predators and prey didn’t get along, but now anyone can be anything. A tiger doesn’t have to be violent. He can hunt… for tax deductions! A bunny isn’t weak- she can defend the law as a cop! In Zootopia, stereotypes are a thing of the past because this is an evolved society. Everyone lives together, because it’s a place for all walks of animals. 

Did it sound like I just pitched you the American DreamTM? Possibly the whole concept of “the melting pot” that they hammered into us in elementary school? Well, that is exactly what they were doing when they wrote the plot of Disney’s newest film. At least, in the first five minutes. Then, it spends the rest of the movie diving into the complex reality of what discrimination looks like in America today.

We meet our intrepid bunny heroine who is determined to move to Zootopia, where she can become the first cop of her species. She ignores naysayers all along the way who say she is too weak to join the Zootopia Police Department. But in a training montage, a la Rocky, she eventually overcomes the haters and becomes the first bunny police officer as part of an All Mammal Outreach Initiate.

We see her face real discrimination in the workplace and with other animals along her journey. She is a clear parallel to the modern white woman. The thing is, while the obstacles she faces are real, eventually she learns that there is discrimination she doesn’t deal with. Another systemic problem exists in prejudices agains predators. This moves into racism. The issues that these characters face, specifically species profiling, are ones she has to come to grips with, and eventually realizes that she is not completely free of these herself. While she thought she was progressive, and often talked about overcoming old biases, there are plenty that still have been engrained in her that she is not excused from.

This movie didn’t pull punches. It was a direct shot at the notion that racism and sexism are over. A thing of the past! After all we have a black president… errr, lion mayor. The metaphors weren’t even slightly veiled. They were framed in the language we use to discuss discrimination today. When the main character walks into work, someone calls her cute, and she politely corrects them that while it’s ok for other bunnies to call each other cute, it’s not ok for other animals to do it. A fox walks into a store and deals with the owner saying that they have the right to refuse service to any animal. There’s plenty more that you’ll catch yourself when you go see the movie.

I didn’t go into this movie expecting, well, anything. Other than the brief clip I saw in front of some other films over the past year, I had no idea what I was in for. I thought it would be another B rated animated feature that made me smile and sort of laugh. I certainly didn’t expect to see it address any clearly divisive social issues such as sexism, the limits of white feminism, the circle of crime, and systemic racism, let alone multiple topics that very possibly may not be well received. Basically, if you are happily planning on voting for Donald Trump this year, this movie will royally piss you off.

The great thing is, this is Disney, and in this mess of a country we seem to be living in right now, it gives a positive outlook that humanity, or animals in this case, can work to try and achieve a better future together. But I am nonetheless surprised that they chose to take a stand on things that some of their viewing audience may not like. If there were people who thought Frozen was secretly gay propaganda, I’m sure there will be many more claiming this is blatant agenda pushing. And it is. And I’m going to push it right along with them.