Disney and Racial Stereotypes: Where are the Jews?

So many people grow up on Disney films. Their messages aren’t something we think about on a regular basis, if ever. But when you do think about messaging in Disney’s media, you tend to notice that beyond the surface, Disney is promoting oddly racist and sexist messages to their young viewers.

The manner in which Disney represents racial stereotypes and the frequency with which they portray these characters paints a startling picture of how the media giant views non-white communities. And these views get passed on to the children who view these films and, through social learning, become internalized as norms. 

One of the film giant’s favorite techniques to absolve itself of any guilt is by framing its films as true stories. Movies such as Pocahontas relate marginally to real-world stories, just enough that the average person wouldn’t question the content. But what Disney excels at is changing details about the historical timeline and adjusting facts to fit the desired narrative that even though the sense of historicism remains, any inkling of fact is wiped away. 

One of their similar excuses comes from the source of many of the stories depicted in the films, being European folklore. For instance, Sleeping Beauty is a story that traces back to renaissance era Italy. When Disney chooses to make films like this, based off of old fairy tales, many feel that the company can be absolved of guilt because the story is staying true to the original source material, rather than updating for the times.

One thing, that I have personally noticed about both Disney and intellectual discussions about Disney and inclusion, is that Jewish people are decidedly absent. There are next to no Jewish characters, or identifiably Jewish characters, in any Disney movies. And in discussions about inclusion, Jews are mentioned as infrequently for their exclusion as they are excluded. This notion extends beyond the realm of Disney and discussions surrounding it as well, but the absence of Jewish characters and discussion about Jewish identity provides a disservice to the community and to the rest of the audience. Because of the exclusion from the media, many gentiles grow up with little to no knowledge of true Jewish identity.

Without this education of Jewish life, the problems of that community become nonissues and sometimes even falsehoods in the eyes of others. This symbolic annihilation leads to the independent formation of ideas or the gathering of ideas that may or may not have any semblance of reality. And these ideas can sometimes radicalize into ideas that entice people to commit acts of terror against Jewish people.

Who knows? Maybe I should be happy that Jews haven’t been depicted much in Disney films. Walt Disney was a notorious anti-semite. No representation might just be better than the negative stereotypes that plagues early Disney short cartoons in the 1930s.