Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Disney's Racist and Orientalist Middle Ages

I am teaching an independent study this semester in which we are discussing medievalism. Today, my student and I worked through some chapters from the Disney Middle Ages.

One of the interesting findings is the way that Disney tries to clean up, sanitize, and Americanize the Middle Ages, often erasing the grimmer stories that support their fantasies. Good essays all around (especially the one by Susan Aronstein on pilgrimage and theme parks).

This last Saturday, my kids watched most of Aladdin for the first time. I haven't watched it in years. Here's the opening:

So that's pretty racist, right? And it gets worse. Only Aladdin - excuse me, Al - and the other nice characters get American accents, whereas everyone else has a "mysterious" "exotic" "eastern" accent.  The culture is associated with savagery, cruelty, decadence, sexy half-dressed but veiled women (hint - people in bikinis usually don't wear veils).

I am not the first person to notice this. In 1993, the Islamic Human Rights Commission came out with a critique.

I wonder if Aladdin, in time, will go the way of Song of the South. I sort of hope so, because it will mean these kinds of racist portrayals will have passed into the realm of unacceptable. Today, I am not optimistic.