Saturday, July 18, 2015

Let's Be Disney Protagonists

    "Drive them from our shore!
    They're not like you and me,
    which means they must be evil!
    Let us sound the drums of war!
    They're savages! Savages!
    Barely even human!"
    -"Savages," Pocahontas

    This summer I've been re-watching my favorite Disney (mostly princess) movies. While every story is rich to me (magic, abuse survivors in Snow White and Cinderella, classism in Sleepy Beauty, cute animals!), many movies seems to have a theme of "otherness."
    See, most Disney heroes and heroines don't fit in:
    Aladdin is a street urchin who affirms his worth despite his poverty,
    Jasmine, Mulan, Merida, and Meg don't want to be playthings for men,
    Cinderella and Snow White are abused,
    Aurora, Phillip, and Hercules scorn riches and fame for the people they love,
    Ariel ignores her father's racism for Eric,
    Tiana is a working woman,
    Belle doesn't care to fit in, and, moreover, has compassion on the self-destructive,
    Esmeralda and Pocahontas belong to persecuted peoples,
    Tarzan is actually a different species from his family,
    Simba is haunted by his traumatic past, and
    Anna, Elsa, Quasimodo, and Rapunzel have been kept hidden from the world since childhood.
    Yet it's these Others who destroy their worlds' views of class, race, abuse, and goodness.
    Disney movies tell us that what is in our hearts matters more than our differences.
    Yes, even the older Disney stories. The wealthy stepsisters in Cinderella, and the beautiful queen in Snow White, lose because they have no kindness or compassion. In a sense, these princesses are saved by their own kindness and good-hearts - not their looks.
    And yet, how often do we forget this? Really, it's like us adults who grew up on a diet of Disney have forgotten this important lesson.
    Look at the oppression of black males in American society. Look at Franklin Graham's call to stop Muslim immigration, or Charisma News' obsession with the "threat" posed by Muslims and LGBTQ+ people. In fact, look up the statistics on LGBTQ+ homelessness and suicide rates. Try to pretend our society hasn't become like the bigoted Englishmen who belt out "Savages."
    Also, try to pretend the lyrics to "Kill the Beast" aren't very applicable to modern America.

    "We don't like what we don't
    Understand, and in fact it scares us,
    And this monster is mysterious at least.
    Bring your guns, bring your knives,
    Save your children and your wives!
    Save your village and our lives!
    Let's kill the beast!"
    - "Kill the Beast," Beauty and the Beast
    Because not only does this song emphasize our tendency to ostracize anything outside the norm, it also shows us what that norm is: trigger-happy manhood. The "we" doesn't include females (or anyone gender-nonconforming), yet, ironically, the heroine Belle is the only one who actually does understand. This idea is also explored in Mulan's  epic "I'll Make a Man Out of You," in which the best "man" turns out to be the woman warrior Mulan.  
    Moreover, last week I re-watched The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was struck by how much Claude Frollo's persecution of the Romani in the name of purity reminded me of the way my evangelical tradition often treats LGBTQ+ people.
    In one particularly powerful moment, Frollo commands Esmeralda to be silent after she shows kindness to the bullied Quasimodo.
    "Justice!" she shouts back.
    Perhaps, we should all take a cue from Esmeralda. Perhaps, my fellow Christians should show kindness to the LGBTQ+ individuals instead of seeing them merely as sinners. Perhaps - especially to my fellow white American Christians - we should all support the Esmeraldas, the voices of the marginalized (religious, racial, sexual, gender, etc.) crying out for justice.
    "You speak of justice, yet you are cruel to those most in need of your help!" Esmeralda tells Frollo.  
    Perhaps we should not be the puritanical Frollo - or Pocahontas' racist Radcliffe or Beauty and the Beast's chauvinistic Gaston - silencing all who are different than the majority.
    Perhaps we should all endeavor to be like Disney protagonists once again. We should endeavor to see the inside of people different from us, to encourage the good, to subvert the system for love.
    This is what Disney taught me, and what I still faithfully cling to. This is the way of Jesus, who dined with tax collectors and prostitutes.
    This might be idealistic, but it is good.

    "God help the outcasts
    Hungry from birth.
    Show them the mercy
    They don't find on earth...
    God help the outcasts
    We look to You still.
    God help the outcasts,
    Or nobody will...

    God help the outcasts,
    Poor and down trod.
    I thought we all were
    Children of God."
    -Esmeralda, The Hunchback of Notre Dame


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