Disney: Setting Social Standards or Product of the Times?

The Disney brand we know and love today can boast entertaining amusement parks and movies with happy endings. The household name is known for making dreams come true. The forgotten past of Disney in the 20th century, however, is that riddled with racist stereotypes and government compensation. Walt Disney, the man behind it all, had a captivated audience, making him a very powerful man. His well-known princess movies are interspersed with other long-forgotten movies that had important roles in citizen perception of race, gender, and war-efforts during the times of their release. So what was Disney’s game? Was he peddling government ideals to his viewers, or, perhaps, were his movies products of the times. Even further, was Disney making a social statement against stereotypes? The answers lie hidden in some of his lowest-grossing films.

1941’s Dumbo is one of Disney’s most well known for its racial stereotypes. The lazy, loud, and proud crows in the movie attempted to highlight negative stereotypes of African Americans at the time, the lead crow even being named “Jim Crow”. In our CYOU, we will further explore if Disney’s choices in the movie were malicious or benevolent.

Dumbo Crows

Dumbo (1941)

Victory Through Air Power in 1943 was Disney’s hand in building U.S. morale and training our boys for victory (through air power). This is an obvious example of Disney pushing his views onto his audience, but was the film more influential than average propaganda of the time.


Victory Through Air Power (1943)

Other movies we will cover include 1950’s Cinderella, which was more or less another training film. This time, however, women were being taught their place. While Snow White mimicked a woman of the 30’s, Cinderella demonstrated the subservient role of a woman of the 50’s. Over time, various World War Two metaphors have also been found scattered throughout the film.

These films and others, like Peter Pan, Song of the South, and Saludos Amigos will allow us to explore Disney’s role in dictating gender and race roles in a fragile social climate, along with promoting the war efforts.