Movie Commentary: Zootopia. Cute movie whose social message misses the mark
There was a time when I could watch movies and TV and take it at face value. I didn’t see all the subtext or the assumptions. I didn’t see the hidden messages. I didn’t see the stereotypes or the tropes. I just saw a fun movie that made me laugh. Or cry. Or something.
Now, when I watch a movie, I look for the bigger picture. I ask, “what is this movie trying to say?” I understand that movies don’t just get written – there is always a message, whether the author meant one or not. Zootopia had a message, but it’s probably not the one that the writers, director, or producers intended.
There will be spoilers in this review, so if that’s a concern for you, stop reading now.
Zootopia is a movie where anthropomorphic animals have evolved and live together in harmony. Predators live and work side by side with the animals they used to eat. I saw this movie with my spouse and we tried to do a 1:1 comparison of the movie scenario with real life and found that we couldn’t. While the movie was cute and had a cute story, when you pulled the elements apart and tried to compare them to real life, it just couldn’t hold up.
Let’s start with the anthropomorphic animals:
1. Predators and prey – These animals are completely different species. While they tried to make it seem as though the differences are superficial, like skin color, nobody really addressed that the predators ate the prey animals for sustenance. There are no vegetarian predators, so what are they eating?
2. Predators eating bunnies, sheep, and gazelles are not practicing cannibalism, as humans would be if they ate humans of different races. And while cannibalism among humans is a real thing, it is actually not normal nor required for the species to survive. Unlike predators who subsist on a meat diet.
3. There is absolutely no mention of interspecies marriages. Know why? Because different species cannot produce offspring. They skirted this completely. They never even talked about romance in the movie, although Judy Hopps, the main character, had bunny parents and hundreds of siblings. So procreation happened although I don’t know how.
So, let’s recap. The main differentiation between the animals was whether they were Predators or Prey. After that, there were characteristics that we assigned to different species, but weren’t supposed to be discussed. For example, foxes are sly and sneaky and bunnies are cute and timid. These are prejudices, but nobody is supposed to acknowledge them because of political correctness. Yeah…
Side note: While I was entertained by this movie, I really hated what it “tried” to do. It was a trite and silly attempt to discuss a very difficult topic. It was fucking insulting in EVERY way.
Let’s talk about the system:
The system is the power structure for the society. In Zootopia, Predators hold the power, seemingly because they are larger and stronger than Prey. Actually, not only Predators held power. All the larger, stronger animals did, which explains the bison, rhinos, and elephants were on the police force.
Regarding the demographics, Prey make up 90% of the population and Predators are 10% of the population. According to Bellweather, the most powerful sheep, Predators run the city and hold the highest positions. 10% of the population control the city. Maybe. We really only got to see the police and the Mayor.
So now you have the backdrop for the movie. Now let’s talk about whether the movie talks about systemic racism.
Short answer: It doesn’t.
The movie failed on every level to recreate systemic racism. In fact, if anything, they muddled the issue beyond all belief.
Let’s revisit the demographics they bothered to discuss.
Prey made up 90% of the population and Predators comprised 10% of the population.
Predators held the most powerful offices and were feared because of their predisposition towards aggressive and dominant behavior. They controlled by fear. Yet, the prey animals did not live in fear, nor were they at risk of being eaten at any moment. That was not a concern at all. They just couldn’t intimidate the predators.
Predators are a minority who controlled the government and law enforcement. We had no insight on the financial system and who owned and ran corporations, although there was a gerbil who used polar bears as his henchmen, so there’s that.
Prey were the majority, but did not seem to hold any political office from what we could see.
So, 10% of the population held power, yet 90% of the population ran the city. The “powerful” minority held powerful position, and the “weak” majority felt underrepresented in certain fields and powerless. There was no terrorism. There were no social service programs that prey was excluded from. There was no clear supremacy demonstrated – only the vague threat that predators could revert to their “savage” selves and start killing prey animals – and this observation was only made after 14 animals did become savage for unknown reasons and started attacking people.
This is not systemic racism.
This is a bunch of different animals with prejudices born of a history of being FOOD for predators.
It is at this point I have to ask the writers “What the actual fuck?”
It is at this point that I have to ask the reviewers who claim this is about systemic racism “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?”
No lie, this shit makes me question people’s intelligence because it is 100% apparent they have no idea what systemic racism is. Not ONE clue.
Systemic racism is prejudice plus power based on a person’s skin color i.e. race. And race isn’t real. Race isn’t different species sharing a planet, living and working together to make things awesome. RACE is a superficial difference in physical appearance primarily based on geography. It isn’t genetic. It is a tool was used to justify enslaving and removing rights from people. In its infancy, transformed people into property. It stripped them of all human rights and justified the murder, enslavement, and torture of other humans. Racism segmented society and gave free license to cruelty and abuse while absolving the enactors of guilt because they weren’t doing it to people. Those enslaved were seen as animals; animals with no right to live except under the sufferance of their “owner.”
Slavery allowed humans to divest other humans of their humanity. This was not the natural order of things. This was not survival. This was exploitation. Slavery was greed and power through brutality.
But, you know, that’s unpleasant to think about so instead let’s make a fictional world where we pervert the survival instinct of predators and make them work side by side with their food and make Predators eating to survive the oppressive regime. You know, instead of those “innocent” European colonists who traveled to multiple continents and intentionally inflicted rape, torture, and murder upon the indigenous populations to the point that they erased entire cultures. Cuz, you know, that’s the same thing. Except it’s not. Because colonialism is a crime against humanity and white people’s european ancestors, the “conquerors” we celebrate in our history books were actually deplorable human beings. But instead of actually addressing that truth, let’s make talking animals who become friends with their food and learn to work together.
Utter and complete bullshit.
But let’s even take it a step further to think about how this could be compared to current racial situations, intentionally ignoring the centuries of laws and pseudoscience that went into creating the false racial hierarchy under which we currently reside.
Are the Prey supposed to represent Black people? Well, actually they can’t because they comprise too large a percentage of the population. But if they were meant to represent Black people, let’s discuss how Judy Hopps opted to uphold an oppressive system that habitually and routinely perceived her and others like her as less. Judy fought to maintain the current hierarchy and anyone trying to subvert it was criminal. Judy is the system. She is oppression at work.
Or are the Predators meant to represent Black people? Actually, they can’t be Black people because they hold too much power despite being a minority. It just doesn’t fit.
Zootopia was not designed to actually demonstrate racism. Trying to say it does only demonstrates how little that person comprehends what racism is and how it works. What Zootopia did have was a lot of stereotypes and prejudices. There weren’t laws written specifically prohibiting Prey or Predators from participating in society. There weren’t any visible housing zoning laws designed to keep certain animals in specific places. There weren’t any government subsidies provided to one species while excluding another.
The only thing similar to the racism Black people live with was the potential violence from Predators, but even that was a non-issue as Predators hadn’t attacked Prey in a really long time because somehow in Zootopia eating became optional.
So, let’s be real here. Zootopia was in no way about systemic racism. At best, it was a primer on prejudice and stereotyping but in reality, it was an animated movie about anthropomorphized animals maintaining the status quo. It is a film supporting the maintenance of racism, rather than a critique.
Read a little about racism: RACE: The Power of an Illusion
Revision 3/14/2016 at 2:44pm
The original post included a bullet about the lack of genitalia in the movie. As I did not follow up on that point (sloppy editing on my part) I have opted to remove it from the article.