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.
Seth Stevenson, writing for Slate, describes this situation as a representation of Africa without Africans. He points out this worrisome detail in his analysis of Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park, where its supposed representation of an African village, Harambe, is completely devoid of Africans: no actual black people, no black animatronic figures or even black tourists to speak of (someone do a quick search: is there any single black person represented in Disney's animatronics in all its theme parks worldwide or represented positively in any of its movies and vast media empire? I'd really like to know. Send Aachronym a picture or citation if you find one example).
What we have here is a major global corporation that promotes a racially biased view of the world and through this, achieves a form of ethnic cleansing in its media. In recent times, the corporation has moved to repair the grim image of racism inherited from its founder Walt Disney but I'm concerned that its solution to this problem (cut out black people completely) is equally disturbing. Disney pays its imagineers lots of money to come up with its visuals and it invests more to create its theme parks and films. Anything it ends up with has to be seen as intentional. Of course, the corporation is made up of human beings who reflect prevailing social mores: as such, it may not be better or worse than the prevailing social negation of black peoples at any given time. However, since the corporation has a firm grasp of the imagination of children (control and commodification of childhood if you will) on a global scale, we must ask in earnest, what exactly is Disney teaching children about the state of human affairs? What kind of world is Disney promoting through its clearly white supremacist ideologies? Persistent negative stereotypes of Africans and other non-Western peoples in Disney media is a cause for global concern. In an age of great global tumult, such biased view of the world promotes intolerance and justifies ethnic stereotypes. The Disney brand is a major global player. It is important that it moves to rectify this persistent problem in its view of the world.
Time Magazine presents a heroic overview of Walt Disney here. Click here for Disney's worst moments in the representation of racial identities. Also, Disney plans to curtail accusations of racism by making a movie with a Black Princess protagonist, slated for release in 2009.