As soon as a new Disney movie is released, parents and their children rush to theaters in droves to take part in some wholesome and kid-friendly fun. But these films are more than just simple entertainment to keep the kids occupied for a few hours. Adults get a kick out of the movies, too.
Many classic Disney movies contain adult-oriented jokes that completely fly over children’s heads. The entertainment company has been called out numerous times for slipping in sexually explicit jokes and artwork into its films and advertisements. It really makes us wonder how appropriate many of these movies are for our little ones.
As much as we all enjoy films like Fantasia and The Little Mermaid, we can’t help but notice these movies, and many others, are full of racially insensitive jokes and animations that further push racial stereotypes. As much as Disney may claim these incidents are blown out of proportion, the proof is quite obvious. The offences date back to Disney’s early days, and many new, blatantly racist scenes continue to be uncovered in Disney’s most popular films.
This isn’t an attack on Walt Disney and the company’s team of writers and animators, it’s simply a display of the occurrences that slipped through the cracks and crossed the line from being funny to being downright offensive. Keep reading to see 15 most shockingly racist moments in Disney movies.
15. Violent Savages in ‘Pocahontas’
The story of Pocahontas is Disney’s 1995 film inspired by the history of a Native American woman. Loosely based on historical facts, Disney received backlash following the film’s release due to its historical inaccuracies. Many believe the film tried to whitewash Native American history by completely glossing over the extreme violence the natives suffered by the hands of the white settlers. Rather than focusing on the diseases that were spread, the enslavement of the natives and the vicious murders that took place, Disney romanticized this era and created a fairytale for its viewers. Despite the film containing more fiction than non-fiction, the movie went on to gross $346 million at the box office.
Another thing many people don’t talk about is the racial stereotypes the film portrays. The movie depicts Native Americans as two types of people: The noble savage who’s a symbol of innate goodness, and the vicious savage who’s full of violent rage and anger. Both stereotypes are damaging and offensive to Native Americans.
14. ‘Santa’s Workshop’
On December 10, 1932, Disney released the feature film Santa’s Workshop just in time for the holiday season. The film features Santa and his elves preparing for the Christmas season by reading children’s letters and making presents. There’s no way Disney can slip in a racist joke in such a feel-good movie, right? Wrong!
In one scene, Santa is approving baby dolls. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed doll makes its way down the toy chute, and Santa teaches her how to say “mama” before stamping her with his seal of approval. Then, a dark doll comes flying out the chute and falls flat on its face. When it stands up, it yells the word “mammy,” gives itself a stamp on the butt, and walks off as Santa chuckles. The term “mammy” is an offensive word used to describe the black nursemaid or nanny in charge of white children during slavery.
13. Sunflower in ‘Fantasia’
In 1940, Disney released Fantasia, and it eventually became one of the most popular and well-loved animated films. The film consists of eight animated segments that were set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski and performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Although this film is considered an animated masterpiece, it’s not without its fair share of awful racists stereotypes.
The scene in the movie that raised eyebrows included a centaur girl named Sunflower. She’s petite, with over-sized lips, and she acts as the servant to the white female centaur, Otika. It’s surprising this actually made it through post-production, but Disney finally came to its senses — although it took them 23-years to do so.
12. African Natives in ‘Cannibal Capers’
Disney’s 1930 animated short film Cannibal Capers is all about African natives, and they’re displayed in a negative light. The movie starts off with a group of cannibals gathering together to partake in a tribal dance. The characters are all tall and lanky with big round stomachs and wide mouths. The depiction that Africans are cannibals who spend their time singing, dancing and beating on drums is offensive enough, but Disney didn’t have an issue with letting this short film run in its entirety. Almost 90 years later, the film can still be found online, and it contains the same racists and offensive animation from its release date. It would be quite difficult for Disney to alter the film since it’s only about six minutes in length and the entire movie is centered around the African characters. But this is definitely one Disney production that should be thrown to the back of the vault, never to be seen again.
11. ‘The Jungle Book’
The Jungle Book was a well-received and critically acclaimed film that hit theaters in 1967. Based off the book with the same title, Disney produced this animated musical comedy that follows Mowgli, a feral child who was raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. His friends try to convince him to leave the jungle before the vicious tiger Shere Khan arrives. While traveling through the jungle, Mowgli comes across some apes. He and the rest of his gang speak British English, but when the apes talk, they speak in jive. Jive is a form of slang that’s associated with black jazz musician. So is it a coincidence that the apes are speaking in this dialect? We think not. To top it off, the lead ape, Louie, is depicted as overweight, lazy and dumb. Shame, shame, shame, Disney.
10. Japanese Soldiers in ‘Commando Duck’
In the 1944 film Commando Duck, Donald Duck lands on a remote Pacific island to wreak havoc on a Japanese airfield. The whole idea behind the movie — and subsequent wartime cartoons featuring this Disney character — was to dehumanize and make the enemies look like fools. In the years following the Pearl Harbor attack, perhaps Disney believed Americans would get a good chuckle out of the film’s Asian stereotypes. The Japanese snipers in the film wear glasses, have slanted eyes, buck teeth and speak in broken English. They even bow to greet each other. This anti-Japanese sentiment definitely wouldn’t fly today, but Disney has gotten away with broadcasting this film in its entirety. The production company admits the film contains some insensitive material, but since the film focuses on Donald and his efforts instead of the racial aspects of the Japanese, the move has been allowed to be shown to modern audiences without any edits.
9. Sebastian the Crab in ‘The Little Mermaid’
Ever since its debut in 1989, The Little Mermaid has been no stranger to controversy. On the original VHS cover art, fans were shocked to see a phallic-like symbol hidden within the golden towers of the castle. Disney claimed it was just a coincidence, but that wasn’t the last of the film’s troubles. In the movie’s hit song, “Under the Sea,” the character Sebastian the Crab is singing about how life is so much fun when you live care free and have as little responsibilities as possible. There wouldn’t be an issue with this, except for the fact that Sebastian has a heavy Jamaican accent, and this scene led many to believe Disney was stereotyping Jamaicans by calling them lazy. To top it off, the characters Fluke and the blackfish appear with large, oversized lips, droopy eyes and black American voices.
8. Arab Stereotypes in ‘Aladdin’
Stereotypes depicting Arabs as savage barbarians have existed in Western films and television shows for years. Disney added fuel to the fire in the release of its film Aladdin in 1992. It was nice that Disney was exploring various cultures by releasing the Arab-style folk story, but this film wasn’t without its fair share of inappropriate stereotypes.
In the film’s leading track, “Arabian Nights,” the lyrics say, “Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place where the caravan camels roam. Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home!” Savage, much?
As soon as the film was released, Arab-Americans were outraged by the racist lyrics. Disney heard their complaints loud and clear, and following the release of the animated film, they decided to change the lyrics. They removed the “cut off your ear if they don’t like your face” to “where it’s flat and immense, and the heat is intense. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home!” Arabs were still unsatisfied with the new lyrics since the word “barbaric” was never removed, but Disney had already wiped their hands clean and were done making their changes.
7. Native Americans in ‘Peter Pan’
Long before Native Americans were depicted as noble savages in Pocahontas, Disney was perpetuating Native stereotypes in the movie Peter Pan. It’s hard to believe that a fantasy-adventure children’s movie could slip in some racists elements, but Disney surprised us all with this one.
In the song, “What Makes the Red Man Red?” the chorus is song by Native American characters who sing lyrics such as, “Why does he ask you, “How?” Once the Injun didn’t know all the things that he know now. But the Injun, he sure learn a lot, and it’s all from asking, “How?” Wow, really?
The song refers to Natives as “Injuns,” and lumps together all American Indians as an offensive monolithic caricature. The song also implies the Natives received their complexion after an “Injun prince” kissed a “squaw” – causing everyone to “blush” ever since. These derogatory lyrics turned what was meant to be a fun and lighthearted song into a highly offensive tune that has been making us cringe since its release. Not cool, Disney. Not cool.
6. ‘Song of the South’
Leave it to Disney to completely butcher the portrayal of black Americans in the 1946 live-action/animated film entitled Song of the South. The film is based on the Uncle Remus stories collected by Joel Chandler Harris. It’s listed as one of the earliest Disney films to feature live actors, so it had the potential to be groundbreaking. Instead, the film has been blasted for its depiction of slaves and its inaccurate representation of slavery.
Even when the movie was released back in 1946, viewers found this film highly offensive. It depicts a group of slaves happily living on a Southern plantation post-Civil War in Atlanta. Walt Disney himself was flabbergasted by viewers reactions, as he watched many of them walk out of the preview screening when the film debuted in an Atlanta theater. The film mocked slavery entirely, and Disney didn’t dare release this film to the masses. If you dig hard enough, you may find a few of the racially offensive clips online.
5. The Hyenas in ‘The Lion King’
Well, The Lion King has made the list once again, and this time, it’s Scar’s hyenas who were used to depict racial stereotypes. This movie is full of some great moments and even better music, but it’s the hyenas in the film that left viewers outraged. Played by actors Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings and Whoopi Goldberg, the hyenas all speak slang, and they’re shown as being evil, stupid, gluttonous and lazy. They’re portrayed as being less educated than the lions. They live in the elephant graveyard – a dark and gloomy place next to the sunny and beautiful Pride Lands. The hyenas are discriminated against by the lions, and they are banished to the other side of the jungle across the border, which many would consider the “ghetto.” Many people felt this was a direct jab at the makeup of most inner cities in the U.S., where towns are gentrified, and minorities are discriminated against, forced to give up their homes and move to more undesirable areas in the outskirts.
4. Siamese Cats in ‘Lady and the Tramp’
The well-known and classic scene in any Disney movie comes from Lady and the Tramp. The two dogs fall in love and share a dish of spaghetti and meatballs, and the scene where the two pups smooch while sharing a noodle is engrained in our minds forever. But this movie also stood out for another reason that’s not so loving and touching.
Two Siamese cats, named Si and Am, cause chaos throughout the film, and when they sing their anthem, “We Are Siamese (If You Please),” they definitely raised eyebrows. The song is full of stereotypes, and it made matters even worse when the cats appeared on screen after the banging of a gong. Animators also drew the breed of Asian cats to perfectly fit racial stereotypes. They have slanted eyes, and they sing in broken English with a noticeable accent.
3. The Alley Cats in ‘The AristoCats’
The unknown AristoCats film may not be one of the most popular Disney movies, and maybe this is why the production company thought it would be okay to slip in a few racially insensitive elements without anyone taking notice. The 1970 film is based on a story written by Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe, and it depicts a family of aristocratic cats, and how a cat from the other side of the tracks helps them regain their stolen fortune. In the film, Duchess is a white, wealthy cat who raises her kittens in the lap of luxury. Despite her glorious lifestyle, she’s miserable on the inside. Then, there’s Thomas O’Malley, an alley cat who wanders through the streets all day. Although his life is less than ideal, he’s always happy, and he’s surrounded by the friends he loves.
When Duchess and her kittens are introduced to Thomas and his crew, she meets a group of racially stereotyped cats. Peppe is the womanizing Italian cat who wears a red scarf around his neck and an earring in his ear. Shun Gon is the Chinese cat who has slanted eyes, buck teeth and plays with piano with chopsticks. And then, there’s Billy Boss, the Russian cat who has a striking resemblance to Joseph Stalin.
2. Jim Crow in ‘Dumbo’
The next time your kids ask to watch Dumbo, you may want to fast forward through the scene that’s full of rampant racism. The film about the elephant, with ears so big he can fly, would have remained a wholesome flick if it weren’t for the scene where Dumbo and his friend Timothy meet a bunch of crows. The leader of the crows, ironically enough, is named Jim Crow after the state and local laws that reinforced segregation. How this was able to fly is beyond us, but wait, it gets better.
Jim Crow was voiced by the white actor Cliff Edwards, and the rest of the crows were voiced by black composer Hall Johnson and his all-black choir. Although some may call this a coincidence, we find that hard to believe. Considering many of Disney’s films are rife with racism, it’s not too far-fetched that Jim Crow and his black crows were a racist element of the film that was included intentionally.
1. The Prince in ‘The Princess and the Frog’
So The Princess and the Frog was the first time Disney introduced a black princess to their character lineup. Although many people welcomed the much-needed diversity to the film industry, this movie ruffled many feathers, and many believed it wasn’t a true depiction of black characters.
Tiana’s love interest, Prince Naveen, is the character who many moviegoers were outraged by. Tiana is voiced by a black actress, but the Prince is pretty much a toss up when it comes to identifying his racial makeup. Although Disney had the opportunity to hire a black voice actor, they went with Bruno Campos, a Brazilian-born American actor. The results were the Prince’s voice being unrecognizable, and viewers were left confused as to why Tiana was black, but the Prince was racially ambiguous. Many believed Disney did this on purpose as to not give a black man a position of power, so they left the Prince’s race as a huge question mark.