February 7, 2010

The Curse of Stereotyping

Posted in Art & Culture, Lifestyle tagged , , , , , , , , , at 9:37 pm by potofcallaloo


Photo by Karen Shaw

I was quite curious about how Disney’s The Princess and the Frog would turn out.

The cartoon, which features Disney’s first African-American princess, is now showing in London cinemas.

The film has stirred quite a lot of controversy in some quarters, raising several social issues and inarguably perpetuating racial stereotypes that have long dogged people of African descent.

Disney stops short of producing its classic ethereal beauty as it taints its plot with negativities that will only conceive wrongful and injurious images of coloured people in the minds of little children who don’t always know better.

The young black protagonist, Maggy is the daughter of maid who works on a plantation in the South. Maggy follows in her mother’s footsteps but has big dreams which are thwarted by a vicious voodoo practitioner.

The Caucasian prince is turned into a frog, who Maggy must kiss in order to become a princess.

Stereotyping

Is something wrong with this picture?

You decide.

But I personally find it distasteful that these stereotypes are perpetuated with such ease on the part of Disney.

On the cornucopia of voodoo to be blamed for young Maggy’s problems, I found that Disney isn’t the only one thinking parochially.

Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal featured an opinion piece from Lawrence Harrison headlined, “Haiti and the Voodoo Curse – The cultural roots of the country’s endless misery.”

Harrison points out a barrage of possible factors that may have landed Haiti in the unfortunate position it is in today.

Culprit

He cites class issues and the rich-poor gap, the indemnity extracted by the French in 1825, poor leadership, policies and ostracism from Western powers.

Ultimately, he finds all the above explanations inadequate and singles out voodoo as the source of all Haiti’s woes.

“Haiti’s predicament is caused by a set of values, beliefs and attitudes, rooted in African culture and the slavery experience that resist progress”, he says.

Harrison out rightly blames Haiti’s misfortunes on a culture of voodoo that renders Haitians opposed to progress.

And it’s all fleshed out nicely in a full article in the Wall Street Journal.

What do you think?

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6 Comments »

  1. Charlie said,

    When movies such as the above-mentioned makes it to theater, I immediately ask a bunch of questions… How could such a racially destructive story make it beyond scripting, let alone, preproduction? Is society progressing (open-minded to races) or regressing (narrow-minded to races)? Why am I bothering to ask myself these questions when the powers that be remain subjective?

    With regards to Lawrence Harrison, Pat Robertson and the likes, as Trinidadians often say, “God doh sleep.” In trying to ‘problem-solve’ Haiti’s issues you have resolved to judge an entire culture/society/country(ies). Okay let me see if I get it straight: HAITI’s PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION – RECURRING NATURAL DISASTERS; HAITI’s SOLUTION-TELL THE WORLD WHAT THEY ARE EXPERIENCING IS AS A RESULT OF VOODOO… SO GET RID OF THE VOODOO???
    Haiti needs prayer and literal worldwide assistance at this time of distress not judgement… shame on you guys.

    According to the Holy Bible, Mathew 7 addresses the issue of ‘Judging Others’
    Matthew 7:1-5
    1″Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3″Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

    I believe that ever so often individuals should conduct a self-assessment or an introspection to observe one’s development in a number of areas, namely, open-mindedness. Yes one’s perspective certainly adds to one’s uniqueness but should it make someone else’s existence seem unimportant to another or result in a worldwide divide?

    I hope that one day we can all live and love each other just as Christ loves us.

  2. ceashby said,

    Well, you’ve certainly made me want to see the film. It will be interesting to critique it. : )

  3. Gaysh said,

    I haven’t seen the film as yet– u know my aversion to anything Disney– but i’d like to. That being said, i think my watching the previews is sufficient support of my forthcoming opinion….

    1) Why can’t a black princess fall in love with a black man? Is it too much to ask? I’ve read some of the explanations about why that route wasn’t taken, which ranged from “its a post-racial society, inter- racial dating is in” to “we didn’t think about it.” Neither of these explanations are particularly pertinent esp. given the setting of the movie– Antebellum South which was anything post-racial.

    2) Voodoo and its implications

    You’d think that in the vast scope of Black American history the writers of Disney wouldn’t choose to incorporate as minuscule a subject as Voodoo, but i guess not. I would call this topic neither blatant nor subtle stereotyping, but perhaps the uncanny ability of Disney to fixate on a periphery of larger culture practices and make a movie out it.

    To be fair tho, it is a cartoon. to expect it to present a level of reality about the social issues and commentary of today or yesteryear might be asking too much. regardless of that fact, however, I’d like to think that as the first Disney movie that stars an african-american princess it would feel a level of responsibility to do exactly that.

    • I take your points, and on the last one, some have argued as well that it’s only a cartoon and perhaps expectations are too high. Some critics even pointed out that it’s not the first time Disney has been criticised for not getting things straight and failing to be culturally correct and sensitive etc etc. They point out for instance, that in Aladdin, Princess Jasmine has an anglicized name and features and in Mulan, the protagonist had a pet dragon which might offend the Chinese. I, not cognizant of Chinese culture back then, couldn’t have taken issue with it because I didn’t know better. But that’s another critical point – even if it’s just meant to be a fun, lighthearted cartoon, children from other cultures who don’ t know better might look at Disney’s latest flick and think it’s the norm for African-Americans girls to work as maids on plantations when they’re not trying to dodge scary voodoo priests.

  4. Entropy Ratfink said,

    Whilst the Wall Street Journal article mentions that Haiti has received billions in aid from the US over the last 50 years, what they fail to mention is that nearly all of that money has gone into installing and propping up military dictators such as Papa Doc and his son who killed tens of thousands of Haitians all in the name of preventing the spread of communism (nevermind that the presidents they ousted had been democratically elected).

    All of Haiti’s problems are the result of Western imperialism and to claim otherwise is neocon revisionism.

  5. […] The Curse of Stereotyping February 2010 5 comments Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)#1 Page and Top 3 Posts In 2009RebootAdam’s Blog on Helath Care Issue […]


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