12 July 2019

Dan Hassler-Forest on the fascist ideology of 'The Lion King'

The Lion King Official Trailer

On 10 July Dr Dan Hassler-Forest (Media and Performance Studies) wrote in The Washington Post about the remake of Disneys blockbuster The Lion King. Due to the reactions on his article, Hassler-Forest was invited to the Dutch radio station NPO Radio 1 to talk about the movie. 

"The first thing to understand about The Lion King is that it isn’t in any way about lions, or any other animal species. As in every fable, a variety of cute and cuddly figures stand in for human societal organizations. Mapping our internalized social hierarchies onto the pristine and 'neutral' world of the animal kingdom renders these power dynamics natural, common-sense and desirable. But by using predator-prey relationships to allegorize human power, the film almost inevitably incorporates the white supremacist’s worldview, one in which some groups of people are inherently superior to others", Hassler-Forest says.

Dr. Dan Hassler-Forest. Foto: Ed van Rijswijk
Dr. Dan Hassler-Forest. Foto: Ed van Rijswijk

The hyenas

"Bad as it is that the powerful are presented as inherently superior to all other species, things get substantially worse once the hyenas are introduced. With the lions standing in for the ruling class and the 'good' herbivores embodying society’s decent, law-abiding citizens, the hyenas transparently represent the black, brown and disabled bodies that are forcefully excluded from this fascist society."

Noticeably marked by their ethnically coded 'street' accents, the hyenas blatantly symbolize racist and anti-Semitic stereotypes of 'verminous' groups that form an inherent threat to society.
Dr. Dan Hassler-Forest. Foto: Ed van Rijswijk

From a sexist fairy tale to a feminist parable

"Now that Disney has become by far the most powerful entertainment company in the world, we have seen several attempts to update and correct its ideological payload: Maleficent and its forthcoming sequel changed a deeply sexist fairy tale into a feminist parable about sexual abuse, Aladdin made at least some attempt to mitigate the original film’s Islamophobia, Beauty and the Beast included one (very minor) openly gay character, the new Ariel will be a mermaid of color, and Mulan has been overhauled to become less offensive to Chinese audiences."

Authoritarian and anti-democratic values

"But it’s also not enough", Hassler-Forest concludes. "In our increasingly nostalgic culture, we need to recognize that the inherent misogyny of The Little Mermaid can’t be salvaged by casting a black actress in a role that’s notorious for sexualizing and objectifying teenage girls’ bodies. These films consistently champion authoritarian and anti-democratic values by reproducing a worldview in which power, strength and privilege are genetically determined, and where the weak and vulnerable only exist to serve, support and flatter their masters."