Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Disney's Vision of Africa Without Africans

It has become common to evacuate black people from the site of their own creative endeavors, as in the persistent habit of the Disney Corporation of representing Africa without black peoples in its films, theme parks and animatronics, moving away I guess from its earlier colonialist Tarzan-imagery in which a marooned Lord Greystoke lords it over a band of talking apes and jabbering black "natives". I've been citing this issue as a problem in my classes on Black Aesthetics and the Politics of Representation as an example of how persistent racism cloaks itself in non-ideological terms while espousing explicit ideologies of racial and cultural purity. After a lucrative career plundering European folklore from the works of Hans Christian Andersen and Grimm's Fairy Tales (and in the process copyrighting European cultural knowledge as its private property) Disney turned its attention to the folklore of other cultures. Films like Pocahontas, Mulan, Atlantis and others presented Disney's particularly rosy version of global folk culture. The protagonists of all these movies are human beings representing idealized ethnic types from each culture (Pocahontas, the Native American princess romanced by Captain Smith, Fa Mulan the peasant girl hero who saves the state of China, etc, etc). However, in the Lion King, Disney's interpretation of an African story, all the protagonists were animals. In the vast sweep of the story, Disney's imagineers did not see fit to include a single African human being.

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