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Racism in Disney's Aladdin

Essay by review  •  February 6, 2011  •  Essay  •  881 Words (4 Pages)  •  1,065 Views

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Racism: discrimination which exemplifies stereotypical differences between the ethnic groups to which people belong. While Disney animated films are the ideal family movies, it is undisclosed to many that such racism is being portrayed. Disney’s movie Aladdin (1992), “was a high-profile release, the winner of two Academy Awards, and one of the most successful Disney films ever produced” (Giroux, 104); however, what is often disregarded is the obvious depiction of careless racism towards Arabs seen in the illustrations of the characters, the statuses into which they are placed and the lyrics of the opening song near beginning of the film. Furthermore, with the movie disguising itself as innocent and wholesome, children are exposed to these stereotypes at a young age.

Henry Giroux and Jack Zipes give some important information in their essays to further append on this notion.

The opening song “Arabian Nights” at the beginning of Aladdin is one of the most contentious messages found in the film and begins the movies “depiction of Arab culture with a decidedly racist tone” (Giroux, 104). An Arab merchant sings the lyrics: "Oh I come from a land/From a faraway place/Where the caravan camels roam./Where they cut off your ears/If they don’t like your face./It’s barbaric, but hey, its home" (Giroux, 104). The message that is given right at the beginning of the film is that the Middle East is a desolate wasteland where the justice system runs on a simple limb-removal policy. These words caused an uproar in Arab countries and the lyrics were later changed to: “Where it’s flat and immense/ And the heat is intense” which replaced the original verse, “Where they cut of your ear/ If they don’t like your face” (Giroux, 105). Not only were these lyrics violent but they were truly an example of the worst kind of racism.

Aladdin depicts the Arabic world and its people as exotic, humorous, and violent. The American cartoon portrays all Arab men as either street thugs, beggars, pickpockets, emasculated palace guards, sultans, or sorcerers and they are shown as needlessly cruel, with characters making several references to beheading. One Arab merchant even tries to cut off Jasmine’s hand when she doesn’t have money to pay for an apple she gave to a hungry boy. Not once in the movie does it show a wealthy man living outside the palace among civilization. This is not only unrealistic but it is also very insulting towards the Arabic culture.

When it comes to the illustrations of his popular characters in Aladdin, Disney proves to be quite racist. Most of the small-part, background characters and especially “the bad guys”, such as Jafar and the palace guards, all have incredibly distinct Arabic appearances. Every one of them stereotypically consists of “beards, large noses, sinister eyes, and heavy accents, and they’re wielding swords constantly” (Giroux, 104). In contrast, Aladdin the hero, looks and talks like an All-American man. His skin is pale and he wants to be addressed as Al, which is an American name rather than Arabic. He does not have a beard, big nose, turban, or accent. The key point in this illustration is that Disney is establishing that Aladdin looks right for the part of a hero, while Jafar looks right for a villain.” Jack Zipes, author of the essay “Breaking the Disney Spell”, clarifies that “though the characters are fleshed out to

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