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Racism Case

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Cartoons provide children with models of socialization within society. The entertainment displayed through cartoons show children juvenile and fantasized versions of adult situations to aid in their socialization into society. Cartoons provide children with a lens into the adult world through the eyes of a child. Walt Disney Pictures ("Disney") has become a billion dollar corporation through providing entertainment to children around the world. The lenses provide children with situations of independence, betrayal, friendship, and love. Often, cartoons also provide children with more complex situations of sexism, classism, racism, and prejudice. Disney's "The Lion King" is a movie that provides children with circumstances of classism and enforces racial stereotypes. This essay will examine "The Lion King" through a racial lens.

In 1996, Disney released "The Lion King", an animated film set in an African prairie with animals acting as characters. The movie begins with the celebration of the birth of Simba, a male lion cub. All of the animals in the prairie, regardless of their status as predator or prey, attend the presentation and celebration of the lion cub. The animals honor the cub in unison through differing animalistic actions. The next scene shows Simba with his father, Mufasa, looking over the prairie from a cliff. Mufasa tells his son that he is the heir to everything that the sun touches with the exception of the shadowed area. He instructs his son to never venture to that place because it is dangerous. Mufasa's brother, Scar, overhears the conversation and later tells Simba that the shadowy place is actually an elephant graveyard using language to pique the cub's interest. Simba decides to travel to the graveyard with his friend Nala. When Simba and Nala travel to the elephant graveyard, they encounter the hyenas in their environment.

Racial implications of the hyenas are expressed through their vernacular. The vernacular of the hyenas sharply contrasts from that of the other characters in the film. With the exception of Scar, who speaks with a British accent, the hyenas are the only characters in the film who do not speak standard English. According to Rosina Lippi-Green's English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States, institutions in the US function to "subordinate ethnic groups through language". She defines institutions as "any organization which has social and structural importance in the life of a community or society" (Lippi-Green 1997:77). Disney acts as an institution in the lives of children because the corporation's main function is to provide entertainment to children. Lippi-Green wrote that standardized English is based upon the language patterns of upper-class Caucasians and any change from the "standard" speaking pattern shows that the person speaking does not belong to the mainstream group (64-5).

In "The Lion King", the two hyenas are assigned racial descriptions through the way that they speak. Actor Cheech Martin, a man of Hispanic descent, plays the voice of the hyena Banzai. Martin speaks in a heavy Hispanic accent and displays stereotypical Hispanic characteristics. He is a quick tempered, violent, and dim-witted. According to an article published in the North American Journal of Psychology titled "The Criminal Stereotype", focus groups comprised of a diverse group of races agreed that Hispanic men who fit the model of a criminal were poor, violent, and strangers (Herrera and McLin). The actions of the character of Banzai fit the description of a Hispanic criminal perfectly. Banzai lived in a desolate and barren area of the pride land. It can be reasonable inferred that he is poor because of his constant reference to his hunger. He displays violence throughout the movie by first leading the group that murdered Mufasa, attacking his fellow hyenas, and later murdering Scar. He is a stranger because he, along with the other hyenas, is banished from the mainstream society based on the fact that he is a hyena. The other characters in the movie do not interact with him outside of apprehensive situations. These facts, coupled with the fact that Benzai speaks with a heavy Hispanic accent, can be properly concluded that Disney intended to paint Hispanics in a negative light.

The second hyena, Shezni, is voiced by actress Whoopi Goldberg, a woman of African American descent. Her character speaks in African American vernacular. Shezni's mane is noticeably different than the other hyenas, as she has three apparent African locs that cascade over her brow. She is fiercely loyal to the British accented Scar to her detriment. African Americans have historically been shown in media to be loyal to Europeans, most time to their detriment. Shezni's character is an evolved form of a "mammy character".

According to "Cassandra and the "Sistahs": the Peculiar Treatment of African American Women in the Myth of Women as Liars Journal of Gender", the mammy character is an asexual woman who shows submissiveness towards her owner or employer. She also shows satisfaction with her status in



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