Disney Renaissance, or the resurgence of Disney due to works such as The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, etc. took place during 1990’s-2000’s. During this time Disney was more prolific than ever and seemed to be moving away from the racist works that were previously produced during the first great reign of Disney —seemed is the key word here. Even though these movies represent fond childhood memories, and sing-alongs, they also represent the colorism that exist in society. By critically examining five different Disney movies, we can see that Disney, whether intentionally or unintentionally, promotes colorism by using dark colors like black and dark gray to represent evil and white to represent goodness.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Ariel is the cute, White mermaid protagonist with hopes of love and land, and Ursula is the sea witch that tries, but ultimately fails, to ruin Ariel and her family’s life.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Look at the difference in clothing. When Beast is good and happy his clothes are vibrant and nice. When Beast is angry and full of sadness, he wears a dark cloak.
When Beast is in his human form he has light brown hair and light eyes, and he seems kind and happy. However, Gaston and his sidekick both have dark hair.
When Aladdin is a prince he is dressed in all bright, clean colors, whereas Jafar is always dressed in black and dark red. When Aladdin is dressed as a “street rat” he is still dressed in white and purple, but his white pants do not look as pure and clean in his prince outfit. They have a patch on them and look dingy.
The Lion King (1994)
As far as sibling rivalries goes, this one is the worst. Throughout both movies and television series, Mufasa is always seen as the infallible, wise martyr and Scar is the evil, jealous younger brother. In nature, as lions get older their fur gets darker.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Quasimodo’s allies Emeralda, Phoebus, and the Archdeacon at the cathedral all wear white at some point in the movie, usually when they are defending or supporting Quasimodo or the people of Paris. Frollo, the creepiest Disney villain, wears Black and dark purple. Even their horses signal the differences between good and evil: Phoebus’ horse is white and shows a fun, yet protective personality, and Frollo’s horse is black and menacing throughout the movie (…it may or may not have given me nightmares as a child…)
Children’s point of views are largely shaped by the type of media they consume, especially now as we live in a digital age and children have easier access to movies, books, articles, etc. If we expose children to the idea that dark/black is inherently evil, and light/white is inherently good or pure, it makes them more susceptible to judge people based on how dark or light they are. This is how colorism develops. It starts with the idea that one color is inherently better than the other, and it divides people within and between groups. Black feminist theory suggests that we can eradicate colorism and racism if we embrace the things that make each other different, like our skin color, and use it to makes us stronger as a community instead of trying to separate ourselves.