After posting about the sexist ads for Disney’s “Zootopia” 3 minutes ago, I decided to do a little more research on the movie.
The following headline came up on my Google feed from The Verge: “The latest Zootopia trailer takes on workplace sexism against bunnies.”
I don’t know if it’s the idea of “workplace bunnies” that made me nervous, or simply my lack of confidence in the idea of Disney taking on sexism, but my heart sunk as I proceeded to read the Verge post:
At this point, the Walt Disney Animation Studios deserves praise for producing work that can arguably sit comfortably next to some of Pixar’s own efforts. Zootopia, at first blush, takes that all-too-familiar anthropomorphic animals idea and builds a whole world around it. But, at least with this new trailer, it looks like the studio is trying to tackle gender and race in a cute but really effective way.
Once Upon a Time‘s Ginnifer Goodwin stars as Officer Judy Hopps, a rabbit who joins the Zootopia police force. She quickly has to contend with stereotypes that women in the real world have long had to deal with — like being called emotional or unprepared for what’s out there — when the truth is she’s incredibly capable. And her skills will probably come in handy when she and Nick Wilde the fox (Jason Bateman) are forced to solve a crime together. Zootopia hits theaters on March 4th.
So can anyone tell me what the problem is here?
In a nutshell, “Zootopia” is a movie about talking bunnies. Lots of talking animals actually. There’s a fox, a buffalo, a lion, badger, elephant, moose, shrew, I could go on. Knowing Disney, all these animals probably sing and dance and hang out together even though in the real world, they’d eat each other. So why, why WHY if we can all stretch our imaginations to believe in loquacious animals, must we suddenly revert to reality when it comes to sexism? Instead of showing a lone female battle a majority of males, why not show a majority of females being heroic? Do you see what I’m going for here? In a fantasy world where anything is possible, why not create gender equality? Why not let kids experience females and males treated equally? If you can’t even imagine it (which apparently, we can’t) you cannot create it. Oh, is that the point, Disney?
You might say, there’s an important place for the narrative of a female struggling against sexism a la “Mulan” or “Brave.” While I agree this story has value, it can also become an excuse to continue to replicate sexism in the fantasy world, to always show a minority of females and majority of males because “that’s just the way it is in the real world.” After I saw “The Lion King” I asked: why did the lionesses have to wait around for Simba to come around and save them? Why did they have to get bossed around by weak, old Scar? Well, I’m such an idiot! Males lead a pride, of course. That’s just how it is in the real world. OK, so I’m just supposed to overlook that Simba is BFFs with a warthog and a Meerkat but when it comes to sexism, we’re all sticklers for reality?
In “Ratatouille” there is one female chef in the movie, Colette, who works in a kitchen with four male chefs. As far as I could tell, all the rats are male. Certainly, every rat who spoke is male. Colette delivers a speech about sexism, but wouldn’t it be so much more powerful to show kids a female running a kitchen of great female chefs, helped along by a female rat who can cook?
This strong, lone female is a pattern in contemporary children’s movies. While appearing on the surface to fight sexism, her role actually ensures that sexism will continue for another generation by keeping sexist stereotypes alive. While she appears to be battling sexism, she’s illustrating it. Her character repeats so often in children’s media, I’ve given her a name: Minority Feisty. She differs from the Smurfette Principle in that she is often a “strong female character” and sometimes there are a few strong females in the narrative but they always exist in the minority. Not much for a patriarchy to be threatened by, but we can still call her a feminist. Isn’t that convenient?