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Pet Sins April 2000

Disney's Lion King

Disney's 1994 animated release is a story of a young lion prince Simba, voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Matthew Broderick. The cub's uncle Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons) kills Simba's father (voiced by James Earl Jones) and usurps the throne. With the help of the hyenas, he seizes power.

Some people of color were displeased that two of the three evil hyenas were voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin, who are black and Latino. Some European Americans scornfully dismissed black paranoia by pointing out that Simba's father, the Lion King Mufasa, is voiced by James Earl Jones, a black actor.

A white computer engineer said, "Some people will find racism anywhere just because they want to." What he chose to ignore was pointed out by a black college professor: The characters of a hyenas have ethnically identifiable voices, while James Earl Jones' voice was not ethnically identifiable.

All the lions have normal hair coloring - yellow/brown, except for Jeremy Iron's character, which is the only lion with a black mane. Again, the bad guy is always the one with dark hair. Western (European/European-derived) fiction often have a dark haired villain/villainess/anti-hero against a fair headed hero/heroine. In Ivanhoe, the blond hero wins the fair haired Rowena and defeats the dark haired evil Templar. Disney's The Little Mermaid features a feisty red headed heroine against a black haired interloper (a form taken by the evil sea witch).

Jeremy Iron's Scar is a lazy emanciated black-maned lion with green eyes. How many lions really have green eyes? If this is not an anthropomorphic representation translating to a skinny black-haired, green-eyed white guy with an effeminate voice, I don't know what is. It is Scar who destroys the beauty of the pridelands by bringing in packs of hyenas who dirty and overpopulate the place. Remember 2 out of 3 of the main hyenas are identifiable black or Latino voices. This turn of plot events typifies white expectations of Latino and black gangs ruining their neighborhoods.

And it is the hyenas who turn on Scar and eat him when he loses his power. The message: bad white guys who bring people of color into the neighborhood will die at their hands because people of color are ultimately untrustworthy.

Another point worth noting is that Simba's love interest, Nala, is a lioness with blue eyes! Now how many real lions actually have blue eyes? This is again anthropomorphism as in the case of Scar, only this time Nala is a positive character. This seems to follow the trend of setting characters with blue eyes as hero/heroine. Other movie characters who have blue eyes when they shouldn't include Mulan's horse in Disney's Mulan and the servant girl Tuptim in Warner Brother's animated King and I.