Institute of Art Design + Technology
Dún Laoghaire

Regina Muldoon 

BA [Hons] 3D Design Modelmaking + Digital Art

For my final year art project I was inspired by looking into many Irish myths, folklore and history. I hoped to bring life into my project by visiting local forests and woodland to grasp inspiration from. Many work being done by Macnas helped me shape my creation into the striking and haunting creature that I have put on show.

Druid deer mask

I designed a character suitable for Irish culture festivals such as Macnas. I created a latex mask, accompanying antlers, ears and costume. I’m highly interested in character design as I enjoy the process and creativity involved. I feel very skilled in sculpting and wanted to bring sculpture into my final year project. I hope this process best showed my skill set. I want to bring elements of digital design into my project to show diversity in my skills. I want to create to props as I feel it is an area I’m highly interested in. I hope to create a unique character that portray the era and lifestyle of the character.

Thesis Title How has Disney portrayed racially diverse characters in animated films. Through the examination of their racially diverse animated films

Disney is one of the entertainment industry's most influential businesses and has the potential to mesmerise audiences with its timeless stories. The business has risen to a valuation of over ‘$110 billion since its establishment in 1923’ . In recent years, countless children have been introduced to Disney films at a rather early age and these films typically communicate the ethos of Disney to children. Disney has a global consumer base that includes new films, characters and merchandise as well as classical film remakes that are regularly released. Consumers flood cash into the business to experience a piece of magic from Disney that is advertised as ‘innocent, wholesome family fun’ . The Disney company have conveyed racial messages in their animated films that is not what individuals believed that they were exposing their children to. Most parents do not realise that Disney films have ruined the thinking of so many children to some extent. The reasoning for this is that Disney films have taught children the idea of discrimination under unconscious conditions. Disney movies have had different impacts and give children important philosophies, but it is not generally known that Disney films can teach children harmful racial concepts at an early age. There are many parents who are becoming uncertain as to whether Disney films teach children valuable or racial concepts. Disney is a major influencer and we need to consider the effect they have had on the generations of audiences who view these animated films that uses stereotypes and discriminatory portrayals.

The media has become a dominant presence in directing and controlling social beliefs and practices over the past several decades. Young children by nature can be particularly susceptible to the media's controlling effects, opening an avenue where entire generations can be brainwashed by media created especially for kids. Media such as Disney’s films ‘are powerful vehicles for certain notions about our culture’ , such as racism and racial stereotyping. Discriminatory scenes are most frequently classified in Disney movies as simply being symbols of the time the movies were made. Furthermore, Disney prejudice is frequently overlooked as simple humour or as a simple guide for children to understand different cultures. These representations of discrimination are inappropriate in the films because they do not consider the fact that the core audience members of Disney films are not mature enough to see the movies as relics of a certain time and era. ‘Walt Disney was an ardent member of the Motion Picture Coalition for the Defence of American Ideals, a red-scare anti-Semitic production organization that sought to censor artists in the 1940s, bombarded with allegations of anti-Semitism and bigotry’ . This is perhaps one of the explanations why the history of Disney is packed with dubious cinematic content. The stigma of Disney as being racially insensitive was never more obvious than in the period prior to the launch of its film, Princess and the Frog. Many elements about this film triggered a wave of backlash from the media as well as from individuals within the entertainment industry itself.

The primary aim of the first chapter is to explore Disney’s past representation of ethnic diversity among its animated films in the Golden age and Renaissance era. This chapter intends to show Disney's history of how they have displayed disgusting stereotypes to represent different cultures within their company. Beginning with Disney’s most controversial film The Song of the South released in 1941 and moving forward through various films, where ethnic minorities were presented in highly offensive stereotypes. By separating the film releases into various eras, Disney's stories can be examined. Disney's golden age was the classic period beginning in 1937, with the release of films such as Song of the South, Peter Pan, Dumbo, The Aristocrats and Lady and the Tramp. The popularity of this period brought Disney into the film and animation business thus becoming more significant. The following Renaissance Era (1980s-1990s) ‘represented a revitalisation of Disney with the release of 12 films with leading female roles’ . This era includes films such as Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, An American Tale and All Dogs go to Heaven. The films with female protagonists demonstrate how Disney took strides to keep current with the tides of feminism, unfortunately it is noted until after the death of Walt Disney, the ‘portrayal of gender roles does not appear to have changed significantly’ .

The following chapter will investigate the next era know as the post Renaissance and Revival era. Interestingly this era includes films such as The Princess and the Frog, Moana, Frozen and many more. This era introduced us to the first African American Disney princess although it’s noted ‘seven of the eleven official Disney Princesses are white’ . This era is extremely important to compare how ethnically diverse characters have been treated differently is various films. Disney’s Revival era will also be investigated along with the film Moana to help further display their evolution in portraying minorities among their animated films.

The final chapter explores recent activities within the Disney company and how they have addressed their controversial past in relation to racist stereotypes present throughout the Disney company. The final also investigates an Oscar winning short film called Hair Love.