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Pet Sins April 2001

Interracial couples in American animation

To this date, almost all American animated films (excluding cartoon series) featuring interracial couples coincidentally only pair white men with women of color:

  • Pocahontas - Native American woman, European man
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Roma woman, European man
  • The Road to El Dorado - Native Central American woman, European man
  • Batman Beyond (cartoon series) - East Asian woman, European man
  • Titan A.E. - East Asian woman, European man
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire - European man, tan-skinned woman of imaginary race

The few cartoons that have a man of color involved in IR are:

  • The Princess and the Frog - African American woman, brown-skinned man from imaginary country
  • The King and I - not-quite romance between a Thai king and an English governess.
  • Mortal Kombat - Sonia Blade (white woman) and Jax (black man). Jax also had a secondary East Asian love interest, Jade.
  • The Life and Times of Juniper Lee- the Chinese American heroine has a crush on an African American boy.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire - the parents of Doctor Joshua Strongbear Sweet (African American man, Native American woman)
  • Calamity Jane - the parents of Quannah Parker (Native American man, European woman)
In this listing, Only Naveen from Disney's Princess and the Frog could qualify as a full-fledged romantic leading man. (And he spends a good part of the series as a frog) Some of the other couples listed are implied pairings that are mentioned in passing and not central to the plot.

There have been many insightful and astute reviews already written about the implications and dynamics in Disney's The Princess and the Frog, so we'll leave readers to seek those out online. In this article, We will analyze Disney's two other animated IR pairings in greater detail:

Review: Pocahontas (1995)

Disney's Pocahontas is a romance between a European male and Native American woman. Pocahontas' father wants her to marry Kocoum, a brave and handsome Native American warrior. Although all the other women are impressed with Kocoum, Pocahontas finds him unattractive because

1) he has no sense of humor

One scene shows a group of animated children surrounding Kocoum, who had just returned victorious in battle. He just ignores them, standing in the stereotypical Indian brave pose - arms folded, shoulders back, head high, unsmiling. Pocahontas and her friend are watching this. When her friend says, "Isn't he handsome?", Pocahontas sarcastically remarks, "Yes, when he smiles."

2) he has no imagination

In the song Just Around the River Bend Pocahontas sings:

"Can I ignore the sound of distant drumming for a handsome sturdy husband who builds handsome sturdy walls, and never dreams that something might be coming... Should I marry Kocoum, all my dreaming at an end? Or should I wait for you, dreamgiver, just around the river bend?"

In these few lines, one gets the idea that Kocoum, the best that Native American society has to offer, constricts the lives of his womenfolk (the reference to building walls) and is unimaginative ("never dreams"),

What comes just around the riverbend is Englishman John Smith, a blonde with whom Pocahontas falls in love instantly. When Kocoum sees Pocahontas and John Smith locked in a passionate embrace, he flies into a jealous rage. A howling Kocoum attempts to stab John Smith to death. He even pushes Pocahontas aside when she tries to stop him.

This scene subtly positions Kocoum as an out-of-control possessive maniac who cares not for Pocahontas but only for owning her. It follows the earlier hint in Pocahontas' song (described in #2 above) that Kocoum has the potential to be a control freak.

In other words, the Native American man is not only boring to our Native American heroine, but also mistreats her. John Smith, on the other hand, is the sensitive white man. Humorous, imaginative, and a good listener, he is everything that Pocahontas has been dreaming of.

American media has a way of diminishing men of color. The non-European man is either portrayed as physically weaker and less masculine than the white man, or, in the case of Kocoum, even if the man of color is a hunk, he has a less interesting personality than the white man, and also oppresses women of color. In any case, women of color are portrayed as having clear reasons to prefer the white male characters.

Sidenote:

Disney's version of this episode in Native American history, is, of course, historically inaccurate. Though Disney does not claim its animated feature is factual, many children will not know the historical version. In our semi-literate, visual-stimulation-centered culture, media representation plays a similar role to that of oral history in other societies. In other words, media representation is not to be taken lightly when it comes to shaping social awareness. Disney should have put a disclaimer about artistic license similar to that in Dreamworks' Prince of Egypt.


Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Although Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame does not use the more politically correct term of "Roma" in place of "gypsy", it attempts to advocate for immigrants of color in a European-dominated world. The movie opens with Gypsy entertainer Cleopas retelling the story of a botched immigration attempt which ended in tragedy. A group of Gypsies trying to sneak into Paris is stopped by Judge Frollo and his soldiers. A Gypsy woman, seeing her husband dragged away in chains, attempts to flee with her infant in her arms. In the ensuing pursuit, she is kicked to death by Frollo. Frollo is then pressured by the Archbishop to raise the orphaned infant to atone for this sin. The infant, Quasimodo, becomes the bellringer of Notre Dame.

Even in this early scene, the male Gypsy characters are consistently rendered more unattractive than the female ones. Quaismodo's mother is beautifully-drawn -- slender, olive-faced and yellow-eyed -- while his father looks like a drab with a hanging unkempt moustache and an oversized nose. Later scenes with Gypsie crowds feature men who are either skinny or pot-bellied. The minor female Gypsy characters, on the other hand, range from plain to pretty. This is consistent with the heterosexual European male world view of populations of color. ("The men are all ugly. Some of the women are interesting.")

Quasimodo, a Gypsy by birth, falls in love with the beautiful Gypsy dancer Esmeralda. Esmeralda however, is in love with the handsome blonde French captain Pheobus. OK, so Quasi is deformed and not exactly eye candy. But anyway the white guy gets the girl over the man of color.

To Disney's credit, the animators have the decency to drawn the Gypsies as brown-skinned people of color. Esmeralda blows away all other Disney animated heroines when it comes to butt-kicking, and to this date, she has not been surpassed. Hunchback of Notre Dame is a beautiful film with a depth and pathos lacking in most Disney movies. Despite its moments of triumph, it still subtly puts men of color on a level below white men.