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The subject of
racism and how it is interpreted over the course of the twentieth century is
not by any means a new topic. The popular stereotypes of racial differences
among society are the root of social, political, economic and cultural
exclusion. The subject has been associated with some of the greatest tragedies
in human history: exploitation, slavery and genocide. Given increasing amount
of deaths of unarmed black men and woman at the hands of white policemen in the
past decade, racial inequality and injustice in America is still an issue. Notwithstanding
that, racism was largely banned in the United States in the twentieth century, being
granted privileges in education, immigration and voting rights, however racism
continues to be imitated in socioeconomic inequality.

 

Despite having a
common terrain, the terms ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ both have their own specific
connotations. The ideas and practices associated with slavery, colonial
domination and political and economic oppression, or one’s physical appearance,
are often referred to as an individuals ‘race’. On the other hand, ‘ethnicity’
is used to define one’s social and cultural differences, nationality and
religion. The history and ideologies of particular ethnicities such as, the
identification of the Jews with the devil and witchcraft in the thirteenth century
are reasons why this stereotypical view of cultures is an issue, whether it is a
hereditary view, or a personal prejudice.

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Stereotypes can be
seen through one’s gender, race, identity and sexuality, they can be describes
as “cognitive
representations of how members of a group are similar to one another and
different from members of other groups,” (Oxford Bibliographies.2017) thus, maintaining a social inequality in societies. Gender and
racial issues play a big part in some controversy over Walt Disney’s
animations; however this paper will focus on the racial segregation depicted
through the Walt Disney Corporation and how prejudgement of stereotypes is
illustrated here.

 

The Walt Disney
Corporation, founded in 1923, has produced 56 feature films from Snow White and
the Seven Dwarves (1937) to Moana (2016). Most Disney animated films have
undergone increasing scrutiny for the stereotypical racial bias portrayed by
this Western producer. However, it can be argued that general stereotypes and
cultural movements of the twentieth century may have influenced Walt Disney’s character
representations of offensive stereotypes, for example the Tulsa Race Riot of
1921. It should also be stated that the period from 1877 to the early twentieth
century also known as The Nadir of American
Race Relations was when racism in the country was at it’s
worst. This period is significant to the time of the innovation of the Walt
Disney Corporation.

 

Given that the
Disney Corporation largely encourages innocence in their ‘magical kingdom’ of films,
they are far from it. Animation offers freedom, being defined as “the technique of photographing
successive drawings or positions of puppets or models to create an illusion of
movement.” (Oxford
Dictionaries .2017) Therefore it allows the animators to break the limitations that regular films cannot escape,
for example bringing toys to life and making elephants fly. Because Disney
animation creates these impossible fantasies and makes them real, Disney
becomes idolised in the eyes of children and where racial issues arise, it
becomes problematic.

 

This dissertation
will analyse, in chronological order, whether Walt Disney’s representations of ethnic
minorities, are still a problem, or have improved since early 20th
Century controversy. The main research question guiding my dissertation will
be: Does the depiction of race and ethnicity improve over time in Disney’s
animations in response to societal changes? Throughout this dissertation it is
important to continue to refer to social and political happenings that might
have influences Disney’s ideas, including short case studies, scholarly views
and theories that contradict one another.

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