My kids have been begging me to see Zootopia, Disney’s newest animated hit, since it came out a few weeks ago. So I took advantage of a rare Saturday with no morning activities and snagged tickets on Fandango. I had read terrific reviews that raved about the film from thedudeofthehouse.com and iamthemaven.com, and of course got all the background info from Fandango Family. It looked great and it was. But I wasn’t prepared for the life lessons on race.
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Right from the start of the movie, I was pleasantly surprised to find so many racial metaphors and teachable moments. I think a lot of people may have missed the nod to race relations in Zootopia or just didn’t think it was as relevant or as important as I did. Zootopia didn’t hit you over the head with race. In fact, it could be easy to overlook any racial implications at all and focus on the idea of an underdog from the country succeeding against all odds. But because I’m an African American woman raising African American kids, I didn’t miss it. I soaked it all in and loved every minute.
“In a city inhabited by anthropomorphic animals who have abandoned traditional predator/prey roles in favor of civilized coexistence, uptight rabbit police officer Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is forced to work with charismatic fox con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to crack a major case involving the mysterious disappearance of some carnivorous citizens. But when a few of the missing critters reappear, having reverted to pre-enlightenment savagery, it exposes existing anti-carnivore prejudice among the city’s herbivores that threatens to damage the fabric of their diverse metropolis. Shakira, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia L. Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Alan Tudyk, Don Lake, and John DiMaggio also lend their voices.” ~ Violet LeVoit, Rovi, via Fandando.com
Can you see the racial implications by reading the synopsis? Let me break it down for you even further.
11 Things Zootopia Teaches About Racism
- Don’t be condescending. There is a point early on in the movie where Officer Judy Hopps praises the fox, Nick Wilde, for being articulate. While that is technically a compliment, the underlying message is that she assumed he wouldn’t be articulate. That is super condescending. Don’t do that.
- Don’t stoop to the low expectations others have for you. Nick Wilde decides to become a hustler because he says everyone expected him to be sly and sneaky so he decided to quit trying to prove them wrong. The message of Zootopia though makes it clear he can rise above the stereotypes. And he does.
- There is no biological propensity for violence. Just as there is not a violent tendency in a species, there is not something biologically innate in one race, ethnicity, religion or nationality that would lead members to be violent. It’s simply not genetically true!
- No species is all bad. Officer Hopps found out that there are bad predators as well as bad prey. She learned that she needs to treat each person as an individual and decide for herself what kind of character they possess.
- Don’t make general assumptions based on one bad experience. When Officer Hopps was a mere bunny, she had a run-in with a bully fox. She let that experience, and her parent’s prejudices against foxes, color her opinions of the entire species as an adult. Zootopia teaches us that we often operate based off of latent stereotypes we don’t even notice we are using.
- Even unassuming prey can be dangerous. In a surprising (for the kids) turn of events, the real villain in Zootopia turns out to be [Spoiler alert!] the unassuming Assistant Mayor Bellwether who is plotting to get revenge on the predators and rise to a position of power. Though she seems like a friend to Officer Hopps, another one of the ‘little guys’, she is quite literally a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
- Judge people by their individual character. Officer Hopps learns that the content of someone’s character is so much more important than the beliefs she developed about that “kind” of person.
- You don’t have to be what others think that you are. One of the clearest messages in Zootopia, is that you can be anything you want. Even if you want to be the first bunny police officer, you can do it. You can tell your parents their stereotypes and fears are misplaced. And just because you are a fox, you don’t have to be sly like everyone assumes.
- It’s important to know people from other species. The only way that Officer Hopps learned her stereotype about foxes was wrong was to form a friendship with a fox. If she didn’t get to know Nick Wilde, she would have based her ideas on the fears she had grown up with.
- Question everything. Kids today need to know that they should be open to questioning ideas that don’t seem to be true or kind. We should all question the tendencies we have to make judgments based on prejudice.
- Fear cannot win. This was the most important message in Zootopia. Fear keeps us apart. It is a divider. It perpetuates an us vs. them attitude. Fear should not be the linchpin your politician, minister, teacher, parent, or anyone else uses to coerce you into following them. Remember the German proverb: Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.
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