MLK Day and Davidson: Time to Reflect

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John Gadsby Chapman depicts Pocahontas, wearing white, being baptized Rebecca by Anglican minister Alexander Whiteaker in Jamestown, Virginia; this event is believed to have taken place in 1613 or 1614. (Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday I attended “MLK Seminar Series: Racial Framing in Disney Films and Social Media.”  Joshua Arthur ’12, Tommy Chaisuesomboon ’17, Elizabeth Lackey ’17, Craig Stevens ’17, Joi Stevens ’17 and Zach Zapatero ’17 examined how racial framing is perpetuated in Disney children’s films, as well as in social media.

Kids do see color, so it’s important to talk to them early, they said. I recalled Uncle Remus and his story about the tarbaby, from a long-ago kids’ movie matinee at Thruway Shopping Center in Winston-Salem. What a fun story for six-year-olds of any background—and at the same time what potentially harmful stereotypes if left unexplored for their fullest inventory of meaning. I’m grateful for a strong sense of exploration of context and fairness that I gained from family, from schoolteachers, and, notably, from my own—ongoing!—Davidson education.

Pocahontas, Walt Disney Pictures, 1995

Tough questions are the stock in trade for fully exploring life, so kudos to these students for bringing some tough ones forward in a room packed with interested students, faculty, staff and community members.

How much of Disney’s treatment of skin color and race is conscious? How much is unconscious? Where is the line?  How have such lines shifted and changed, and not changed, over the years? Where do colorism and sexism meet in film? In other, emerging media? Important questions all, ones that will never be definitively answered.

But worth a second thought. And a third, and fourth….

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