How Disney’s ‘Zootopia’ takes on racial profiling

02.18.16 2 years ago

In Zootopia, the latest animated feature from Disney, the eponymous city boasts this motto: “In Zootopia, anyone can be anything.”

Bunny Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) believes in that mantra whole-heartedly, and she journeys from her quaint suburb to the mammal metropolis to become Zootopia”s first bunny cop. Excited to help the denizens of Zootopia and “make the world a better place,” her spirits are dampened when she”s relegated to meter maid duty. The tough police work Judy dreamed of doing is repeatedly assigned not to her but to the big animals on the squad: hardened buffalos, elephants, hippos, and rhinos.

Only big animals can do tough police work. Sloths are slow. Foxes are sly and not to be trusted. These are the boxes that animals of Zootopia are stuck in. So much for “anyone can be anything.”

It”s a family movie that tackles the issue of stereotypes. Co-director Rich Moore said he hopes the movie tells kids, “you ultimately define yourself, not the world.”

Venturing into territory where animation rarely dares, Zootopia goes straight into the issue of racial profiling.

SPOILER WARNING: Don”t read on if you”d rather avoid spoilers about details of Zootopia“s plot.

Here”s where racial profiling of minorities rears its head in the movie:

When 14 missing mammals in Zootopia are found, it turns out they”ve gone savage. (You can see a bit of that part of the movie in the trailer at the bottom of this post.) It”s been established that this world”s animals were once savage, but they evolved: They now wear clothes, walk and stand upright on two legs, use technology, and communicate with developed language.

All of the animals going savage are traditionally predatory animals.

Why is this happening? At a Zootopia Police Department press conference, Judy – eager to appear knowledgable with some answers – says, “It may have something to do with biology. Thousands of years ago predators survived through their aggressive hunting instincts. For whatever reason, they”re reverting back to their savage ways.”

This leads to panic across Zootopia and targeting of traditionally predatory mammals – who comprise just 10% of Zootopia”s population. 

Some start suggesting that all predators be quarantined. Animals like cheetahs lose their jobs. The city”s divided. Where all mammals once lived in harmony, it”s back to predator vs. prey. Pop star Gazelle (voiced by Shakira) feels the need to take a stand and say publicly, “It”s irresponsible to believe all predators are violent.”

What”s really causing predators – and predators only – to go savage? The devious truth is eventually revealed in Zootopia, but I”ll stop the spoilers here.

Zootopia opens in theaters on Friday, March 4.

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