Zootopia is about what Conservative White people fear

zootopia

Zootopia came out over the summer and blew everyone away with its metaphors for race relations in the United States. I just watched it last night with my children and I agree, it’s about race in the US. Specifically, it’s about what Conservative White people fear will happen if they were to become the minority in the country.

This is a children’s film and that’s important to note because one of the criticisms of this film is that the metaphors are messy. Even though I think most of the reading of this film’s meaning was off base, particularly that they assigned the predators as the people of color, and the prey as white people, and that is part of what leads to the less than perfect allegories, I also think that there are things that don’t work perfectly simply because this is a children’s movie and we have to arrive at a happy end.

So I acknowledge that it’s not perfect but it does read cleaner when you look at it as metaphor not for today but for a future time when White people are a minority and that they are portrayed as the predators in the film, not the prey. We also need to understand that there are multiple things going on with this storyline, some of which do not fit into the overreaching racial metaphor, some that speak to other issues in our culture, and some that are just children movie story building.

The story line is about a bunny, named Judy, who is the first rabbit to be allowed on the force. On her first day she finds out that 14 predator animals have gone missing. She ends up working the case and discovers that these animals have gone savage and are dangerous. Once this news gets out, the populace begins to distrust predator animals, even though only a small handful have done anything bad. Eventually, they uncover that the animals have been drugged due to a plot by prey animals to frame predator animals. Everything is resolved in the end, Shakira shows up and sings a song, roll credits.

The inclusion of Judy on the police force reads as affirmative action and is likely why so many people read prey as Black people. The lion mayor calls it the “mammal inclusion act” which is so blatant. However, this is the first instance of the race metaphor not working. If you look closely at the animals you will see that the force contains a lot of non-predator animals. They may not be prey, but elephants and rhinos aren’t known for their hunting skills either (although hippos are VICIOUS). What is actually going on here is that only big animals are allowed on the police force. Her species isn’t left out because she munches veggies, but because she’s small. This is sometimes read as sexism but it’s important to point out that Judy’s drill sergeant is ALSO a woman.

Her inclusion is actually read better as allegory for disability (far from perfect as she’s not actually disabled in any way) and the inclusion of differently-abled people into all walks of life as they can add their own unique abilities to the greater whole.

In any case, you can shed her relationship to the police force as a server for the race metaphor. What we can deal with, however, is her relationship with foxes.

Foxes eat rabbits. That’s what they do. If you watch this movie with the understanding that predators are White people then foxes, all foxes, are White people. Early on, Judy is attacked by a fox when she is a child. When she’s an adult she meets Nick, a fox, and they become best friends (there’s a lot of plot and not being BFF but that’s where things end up).

Judy experienced metaphorical racism at the hands of a fox as a child and although she tries not to let this color her view of ALL foxes, the fear is still there, that they will turn on her or that they are just waiting to reveal their true nature. It is a fear that is shared by her parents who warn her against them. This works really well as a metaphor for how Black and other people of color exist in White spaces. Many of us have experienced racism growing up and now look for signs to avoid it as adults.

What doesn’t work so well is Nick’s, the fox, counter story. In fact, this part illustrates the ways in which this being a children’s movie, gets in the way of the overreaching message. Nick’s counter story is basically “reverse racism” 101.

Nick tells a story about how he wanted to be a cub scout which in this reality is something that only prey animals do. When he shows up at the meeting, they laugh at him and put a muzzle on him. Because he’s a dangerous predator. So you know, he too knows what it’s like to be profiled and we should all just see people for who they are, everyone’s guilty and we can all do better. Only the whole thing pretty well glosses over the reality of what happened.

What happened to Nick was emotionally painful and likely would haunt him for his life (if he wasn’t a cartoon) but what happened to Judy was actually physically and emotionally scarring. The fox that attacked her as a child slashed up her face, he very easily could have killed her. What happened to Nick was sad but what happened to Judy was a step away from homicide.

When they found out what is causing the animals to go postal in the film, a certain type of blue flower (very Through a Scanner Darkly) it’s also revealed that although only predators have had the problem in the city, it can also happen to prey animals. This is, again, not a race/species thing, it’s just some bad luck. But it again ignores the fact that the one prey animal we’re told about who had eaten this plant only left a bite on their victim but the predators that have gone missing by and large can and will KILL the people they attack. Savage bunnies aren’t great and can certainly hurt other bunnies or small animals but savage tigers will kill bunnies, wildebeests, zebras, gazelles, and other tigers who get in the way.

This is noteworthy because it speaks to the conversation about police brutality vs Black on Black crime. People with more power and influence can do greater damage with their violence than those without. A criminal Black person has a much smaller reach than a violent cop. A gangbanger can influence a neighborhood, a cop that sees all Black people as violent can influence policy that keeps people of color oppressed.

Before it’s revealed that the animals are going savage as a plot by, of all heavy handed metaphors, a sheep, it causes the populace of Zootopia to fear and distrust the predator animals in their society, of which, are only 10% of the population.

This is where the metaphor of the future of all scared White people really takes hold. Even though the population of predatory animals is very small, the prey animals shy away from them, for fear that will revert back to a more violent version of themselves because it’s in ALL of their nature (all White people are racist).

Then we find out that they are being poisoned by sheep to bring out this violent side. This is an allegory for the Black Lives Matter and really any discussion of race by people of color. The predator animals weren’t violent until they were poisoned by the prey animals.

The sheep enacted this plot after years of mistreatment by the larger predatory animals in the city. It’s not a perfect metaphor, again, because this movie is for children and in children’s movies, your villain must be a bad guy. There isn’t time in an hour and a half to peel back the layers of motivation and see how the person with the gun got to where they are. But it’s easy to put together.

The sheep, being small and not able to access the upward mobility that the larger herbivores had access to due to their large size, organized and worked to overthrow the system that kept them at the lower levels. This is what Conservative White people think BLM is doing (it’s not, we just want cops to stop shooting people which doesn’t seem like it would need a whole movement but this is America and cops NOT killing people seems to be controversial) and this entire film is an allegory for what would happen if White people and Black people switched population sizes. At the root of that is if POC don’t say or do anything to draw attention to racism then we’ll see those distasteful parts of the Whiteness begin to disappear.

Ultimately, none of the overreaching issues are resolved in more than face value. The flower is identified, the sheep that started it all is locked up, we can all learn to get along, Shakira, Shakira. Still, it’s a good place to start.

Zootopia was not a perfect movie. It was a very fun children’s movie however it does rely on a good deal of racism 101, we’re all equal and can learn to love our differences which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for young children. It does serve as a very subtle, albeit less than perfect, metaphor for the concerns of Conservative White America but it leaves a lot unexplored and sacrifices a stronger point to make a better children’s movie.

Your Faves are Problematic: The Billboard Incident

Mystique

Here’s a message to the fandom communities: Your imagery can be integral to the story and still problematic. This message is brought to you today by Fox’s Mystique V. Apocalypse billboard. Yes, it is the hero being attacked by the villain but it also a woman being attacked by a man and unless you’re familiar with the story and plot, you wouldn’t really know the first part.

By accepting that it was problematic you are not denouncing the story, the comic, the creators. You are not claiming that film promotes violence against women. You can still enjoy this media while at the same time admitting that this particular billboard was not the best choice for advertisement.

Not everyone follows the films or reads the comics. Not every person is going to know who the people on the advert are or the full story of what is happening. But every person who sees that can tell that it is a woman being attacked by a man.

When we display violent media it helps to normalize those things in society. This billboard is not promoting violence against women but it is sharing imagery that may help to normalize it. Is it DIRECTLY causing harm, no, not in so much but it is not helping to stop harm.

We can do better and it starts with members of the fandom accepting that their faves are problematic and calling for them to do better. You can STILL have all the content you love but that doesn’t mean that you can’t call them out when they’ve done something that wasn’t cool.

Brown Girls Need Heroes Too

Jasin Boland, Warner Bros. Pictures

Jasin Boland, Warner Bros. Pictures

Mad Max: Fury Road came out last year and changed the face of action movies forever. The female protagonist made shock waves, not only for the fact that she was a badass with a vagina but also an amputee who was out in the waste showing everyone everywhere that girls can go just as hard as boys. The movie was great and although I enjoyed Furiosa’s character, my level of excitement wasn’t quite as high.

The reason is simple. I don’t get amped for magical white girls. Sorry. Not sorry.

Representation is huge. It’s not enough to just see another female bodied person on the screen and call it fair. There needs to be nonwhite women for all the little girls of color to look up to as well. Which is why, as excited as I was for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was disappointed to see that Lupita’s character was completely CGI.

Rey was GREAT. Very strong, capable female character that ran circles around the boys. Awesome. General Leia was GREAT. Strong, in charge. Awesome. But where was the hero that looked like my daughters? Where was the hero that looked like me?

This is an area that is still really lacking especially in the world of science fiction and fantasy. As we’re getting more and more female heroes (thank you YA lit!) we’re still greatly lacking in representations of color when it comes to women.

Yes, Katniss is out there shooting down the oppressive government. Rey is wielding a lightsaber like it’s nobody’s business. Black Widow is saving Captian America’s butt constantly. Furiosa is using Mad Max to steady her gun and all those things are great but where are all the brown girls doing things?

In the worlds of fantasy and science fiction, we don’t exist as much more than sidekicks. Backup for the main character is not representation. Covering us with CGI and paint is not representation. So yes, it is exciting to see a woman on the big screen doing the things usually reserved for the male hero but that doesn’t mean that overall battle for representation is over. While you’re cheering for her, don’t forget there are little geeky brown girls watching and they need heroes too.

Activist Advertising: Monetizing Outrage in the Internet Age

 

Black girl talking

Hasbro announced that they would be releasing Rey figures for their Star Wars line after much hullabaloo was raised when the main character was missing from a variety of toy lines. Rightfully fans pointed out that it was insane that the main character from the biggest film of all time was missing from the merchandise. The company apologized for their “oversight” much to fans delight. But I imagine that the company is even more delighted. They will profit from the outrage that was generated. The internet culture of outrage has been successfully monetized.

This isn’t to say that the company shouldn’t have been questioned as to the lack of representation in their toys and merchandise. That is a HUGE problem in the world of geek which despite having been proved to have a dearth of female consumers still panders to the cis White male audience and the trappings of Western society’s gender beliefs. This is something that needs to be called out and pushed back against.

Still, that doesn’t mean that those same companies haven’t found a way to profit off of that pushback. There’s a saying that all press is good press and that’s not true in every situation but in a situation where the damaging effects can be mitigated? Free publicity.

For those issues that cannot be corrected, think Pan, the movie that bombed months before it was released due in large part to the issues it had with it’s terrible casting choices, obviously, the press it received killed the film. There was no way to recover. But for other situations where a shirt could be removed or a few toys added, how much are all of those thought pieces worth?

This fiasco with the Star Wars franchise is just one example in a long list of times that activist have spoken out against companies and although they at times had offensive clothing removed, websites re-branded, etc, they also have driven a ton of traffic to those businesses.

The reverse works too. When people petitioned to (rightfully) have the confederate flag removed from government buildings, There was a huge spike in sales of confederate merchandise. Although no one group (unless you count Amazon) really profited from that, it’s clear that the new found buying power of the symbol came in part due to the storm of internet outrage that surrounded the event.

When we vocally complain about something, it creates a lot of buzz around the product. It causes people to write think pieces, news outlets to pick up the story, conversation. It puts the issue on people’s minds. This is good, there’s nothing wrong with that.

It also creates free advertisements as people double check, follow links and the like. Which large companies want.

This shouldn’t stop people from calling out issues when they find them. What should happen is critically looking at the companies and to determine whether or not they are truly in the wrong or if they are using activism as a way to generate free advertisement.

This may be an unavoidable side effect of operating on an internet platform where all of our thoughts, feelings, and viewpoints are in the public eye freely shared far and wide. However, being aware of a system doesn’t mean you have to be completely complacent in it. Certainly, question practices that continue to exclude women and people of color from pop culture but also question whether or not you’re unwittingly part of a profit building venture.

The Leftovers: Kevin, Matt, and All the Animals

The-Leftovers

Note: This was meant to be a standalone blog post but my thoughts became a bit more than that. I will be posting new posts exploring some of the other themes found in this show as the week progresses. These posts deal with episodes 1-6 of the The Leftovers. I have not read the book (yet).

Laurie Garvey (Amy Brenneman) is stumbling through a frozen midnight dark forest. Two dogs run across her path and a bald man, holding a rifle is close behind them. He pauses to shoot the dogs and turning realizes that silent as snowflakes, Laurie is just the first in a sea of white clad cult members emerging from the tears. They stop, the man and the cult, to observe each other for a moment before the momentum picks up again. There is, briefly, this sort of silent exchange between them. I’m not part of your story, they seem to say without saying. But of course they’re part of each other’s story. That is the world of The Leftovers.

HBO’s new show is six episodes in, choked full of meaning and little direction. The show is not a braid, at least not yet, deftly combining disparate plot lines to create a cohesive whole at the end. This is more like a charm bracelet. Each piece hangs from the same strand of silver, on its own still its own shape and meaningful in its own way. Each story line is fairly insignificant on its own but together, they create a broken dialogue about what happens next.

Which is the big question on the tip of everyone’s tongue in the universe of The Leftovers; what happens next? Because this is not a story about the Rapture, the Rapture, for lack of a better name for the sudden unexplained disappearance of 2% of the world’s population, this is a story about what people do next with no guidance, no explanations.

On October 14th, a random selection of people disappeared. On October 15th everyone left had to get on with their lives. Which is the hardest part. The show portrays the characters and their search for meaning in a world that still remains much the same but has seemingly gone mad.

One of the most evident symbols of the slightly shifted world are the animals. Both Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) both are lead or have encounters with animal life.

Kevin, the town Sheriff, upholder of the law and perhaps possessor of a slowly slipping grip on reality has multiple interactions with both deer and dogs in his passage through what is left of his life. He sees a deer four times, once when it destroys his kitchen, again during the time period he is attempting to return the body of the first dead dog, once in a dream where he hits it with his car, then later, dead and being feasted on by a wild pack. The deer can symbolize regeneration, life cycles, regrowth. But in the four times that we see the deer, it is still except for the time where it destroys his kitchen.

In essence, his own regeneration is stuck. He can’t, for whatever reasons move forward, he is in the worst position possible, in this case as it turns out, food for a pack of wild dogs.

The wild dogs that were once ‘our’ dogs. Loyal, faithful companions turned into something other. Something so close to what we’re used to but like all things truly horrible, very, very different. As the mysterious dog shooter from the opening said, “They’re not our dogs anymore.”

In a way though, they are. A thing once tamed will never be truly wild again. There will always be a part of it that knows domestication. That knows us. The dogs are that sort of representation of madness. Of course they’re acting out their baser instincts, lost they’re trying to form new connections, new rules because they old ones just don’t work anymore. Kevin is faced with a choice, do we destroy the new order to cling to the old or vice versa. No one else, besides the Stranger with a Rifle seems to notice that these dogs are running rampant. No one else seems to care.

Which is an interesting parallel to the teenage population of the town. Jill Garvey (Margaret Qualley) is our personal Virgil into the depths of the Teenage Wasteland. Without the departed she would likely seem like an angst filled hormonal teenager but in light of the world wide tragedy, there is something about her personal grief that seems inadequate. The world she shows us is of teens let loose. There are no boundaries, no lines.

The parties and activities of the teenagers wouldn’t seem out of place in a teen movie where we expect the young people to exist in a strange world with no adult supervision but in The Leftovers, much like the dogs, no one seems to be watching these kids. They stalk the streets in groups of two or more, wreaking havoc on whatever catches their fancy.

In that way, Kevin and his dogs is really Kevin and his children. He has lost track of them. They are not children, not anymore. They are these beings that have grown restless and aimless somewhere beyond his reach. He is aware that something needs to be done but he is powerless to do all but the most destructive things because the situation, his life, is firmly outside of his control.

This is in direct juxtaposition to Matt, a preacher who runs his own truth and believes that things are very much out of his control. He is guided by his faith and convictions. He sees birds. Pigeons of all things. He sees them on a traffic light and on a roulette table in the casino. They, without a doubt, help guide him. They lead him down the path to procure the money that he would need to pay off his church.

However, that does not work out for him. Although he does get the funds that he needs to pay off the debt, he is caught by a rock meant for a Guilty Remnant, the white clad cult. He is knocked unconscious for three days, missing his chance to pay what is owed on his church. He did everything right, followed all of the signs unquestioningly and still lost what he wanted most.

Ultimately this becomes one of the larger points in this show. The idea that things don’t always happen the way you want them. Even when do you all of the right things, the universe doesn’t reward you. You do what makes you can but there are things outside of yourself and those things are other people on their own track. Part of their own stories.

In every scene that these two characters meet, they act as a sort of foil for each other. They are both men of their beliefs dealing with the fall out of the world holding on to the things they have faith in. For Matt, they are his beliefs, for Kevin, it’s his job. They both seek to provide order to the world that is not terribly interested in listening to them any longer.

They’re both looking for the answer as to what’s next. What are they supposed to do? But their reliance on the forces outside of themselves leave both men stuck, taking part in quests that do not, ultimately matter. Their actions and reactions always coming a bit too late as the case with Matt’s church and Kevin’s baby Jesus. As if the universe is saying, “It’s too late for you to choose the paths, you have to follow the one that’s set. You can’t go into the woods and then expect to find your way back.”