Monday, March 07, 2016

Open Letter: Zootopia

Open letter to the writers, artists, directors and producers of Zootopia,

We went to see your movie Zootopia with two young girls this Saturday. Before we began, I asked the girls if they would play, 'movie scavenger hunt' with me. They both love games and eagerly agreed. I asked them to try and spot a character who uses a wheelchair or who has some other form of disability. I promised the first to spot one a dollar. Zootopia is a cartoon. That means it's drawn. That means that what's there is there intentionally, not accidentally. I sat back in my chair and the movie began.

Your movie had several themes but one was about difference and one was about inclusion. Inclusion! Now the inclusion here was about the first rabbit on a police force of primarily big animals, many of whom are predators. Not only wasn't there a character with any kind of disability, why would a movie about inclusion need that, there wasn't even the slightest concession to disability. No ramps. No curb cuts. No disabled access symbols.

Does that mean disability was erased?


Not at all.

Though we didn't see a disabled character of any kind. We did see a wheelchair. And where was that wheelchair? It was in a dark and scary place where people were locked away in cages. I shit you not. This means that you who wrote and drew this film about 'inclusion' not only knew about wheelchairs but decided to use them as decorations to heighten the scariness of a place.


Real nice.

When the movie was over we all went for lunch. I asked if they saw a character with a disability. Both kids said that they didn't, but that they saw a wheelchair. They were both surprised that there wasn't at least one person with a disability in the show - they know me, there are kids with disabilities in their school, why wouldn't there be disabled people in Zootopia - the town that prides itself on inclusion? They then both noted that they'd seen the wheelchairs in the scary place and that didn't make sense to them either - they love rolling about in my chair they love rides in the power chair, wheelchairs are fun, not scary.

The message of Zootopia is that people shouldn't give into prejudice and everyone should be respected and admired no matter the difference.

I call you the creators of Zootopia, frauds, and your message, fraudulent.

You claim to want inclusion but you pair disability and wheelchairs with scary music and dark places. Nice. Here's something you need to think about. Your audience for this film, children are a more diverse group than you clearly can imagine. Ruby and Sadie go to school with kids who have disabilities. They are school mates, classmates and friends. To show children, who live in an inclusive world, a world that not only doesn't include disability but eradicates it, is irresponsible.

I sat there as a disabled adult, in a wheelchair, dismayed at the presentation of a wheelchair as a scary thing. Can you imagine the effect that would have on children with disabilities.

So not only did you 'fail' on the inclusion message, you send a very different message. Disability, bad. Disability, scary. Disability needs to disappear.

Thank heaven's we could chat about this with the kids we took to the movie. Thank heaven's they understood what was missing. They are 6 and 9 ... what does that say about you?


Frank_V said...

Thanks for your review, think we'll be skipping THAT movie! It is so sad, too many able-bodied people have the most serious limitation of all. It's called headstuckuptheirass-itis.

clairesmum said...

Words fail me. Your words say it all.
It seems that physical disability is becoming 'erased' in the media world where we spend more and more time. The line between 'real world" and 'invented imaginary world' that began to blur with 'reality TV shows" is getting thinner and thinner. Homogeneity and mediocrity and absence of critical thinking are increasing. (See US presidential race for evidence).

I suppose this movie did not have any fat characters in it, or old ones.

Ron Arnold said...

"Disability, bad. Disability, scary. Disability needs to disappear."

Insidious - isn't it? But then - such a thought has been promulgated as a Utopian ideal in the past hasn't it? My kids want to see this movie - I think we'll pass and I will explain why. They're cool - they'll get it.

Harriet Heydemann said...

Please send this post in an open letter to the people who created and starred in this movie. Here's the link with all the names:
And while you're at it, send it to Bob Iger, Disney CEO.
Thanks for writing this.

CapriUni said...

Well, that's disappointing. Based on two reviews of this movie (both from able-bodied reviewers), I was really looking forward to seeing this -- in large part because it was praised for its nuanced and intelligent exploration of prejudice.

...I may well see it, eventually, anyway, if only to be able to deconstruct and critique it, and better explain why this is so wrong (after it's available for rent for a couple of bucks -- certainly not going to pay over $5 to see myself erased!).

*Sigh* I guess it would be prejudice if the people holding it were aware of it.

Andrea S. said...

i had been thinking of seeing it because at least it had a FEMALE rabbit lead, and there are WAY too few movies with female protagonists at all. But now I feel conflicted about the idea.

Anonymous said...

Years ago when I worked at Disney World, I attended an investor meeting at the Contemporary Hotel. During the question and answer session, a woman stood and said to then CEO Michael Eisner, while she was grateful that Disney was donating the space for an upcoming disability conference...there was no disabled access to the monorail platform that ran to the Magic Kingdom. Anyone in a wheelchair would have to hoof it the 1/4 mile to the main entrance.

You have never seen a CEO squirm as much as he did.

Maryclare said...

No excuse what with the internet awash in photos of ponies with prosthetic legs and tiny baby paraplegic bunnies with their own tiny little wheelchairs. MC

Anonymous said...

That's disappointing. This is unrelated to the movie, but related to Disney itself. We made our first trip to Disneyworld this past summer. My 4 year old is special needs and they were very accommodating. His disability is cognitive though and not physical. I noticed that they were not very accommodating to the individuals with only physical impairments. They had many rides with long waits and not very easy access, IMO. Have you been with your disability and, if so, what are your thoughts? Although I felt very good about the services we received, I wasn't pleased with the treatment with some of the other guests. I never saw them being rude, it just didn't seem like they made things much easier for those with physical disabilities. What's their deal?

Amanda Forest said...

I'm curious what people think about the sloths. I haven't seen the movie, just the trailer, but based on the trailer scene with the sloths, my client's mom was pretty upset about the movie. She is somebody who generally doesn't seem to notice ableist comments or language but she really didn't like seeing the protagonists being so impatient and annoyed with the sloths taking a long time to move and respond.

Unknown said...

Interesting view. I only just caught the movie earlier today, and as a wheelchair user, I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I live in a country that isn't the most wheelchair accessible (we're improving though), and I especially liked the scene where the animals of varied sizes disembarked the bus via specially fitted exits. Another scene that came to mind was the brief clip of giraffes purchasing their beverages from an especially tall collection point. I thought it was heartening to see a well-imagined Utopia (Zootopia), where (almost) everyone was accommodated to their diverse needs. And I certainly never knew the yearning for such an advanced society within me, until today. While I see your point regarding the lack of disability representation and the retrospectively distasteful portrayal of wheelchairs, I did find the early parts of the movie to be something modern society should strive for (a society that accepts and embraces differences, albeit one that has deep-seated social prejudices bubbling beneath the surface -an unfortunate reality, but another point indeed). Overall, I still recommend the movie to anybody, as it introduced an enlightening paradigm to me.