How Zootopia Attempts To Tackle Internalized Racism, Politics, & GMO’s

 Yesterday we took a family trip to Regal Cinemas 10 in Atlantic Station to see Disney’s new cartoon release, Zootopia. I want to start off by saying that even though this is a children’s movie, it tackles some very adult topics- which I found out early on as I watched the theater becoming more filled with adults than children (they must have gotten the memo before me). Movie ReviewWarning: Spoiler Alert! Zootopia opens up with what looks like a school stage play with Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a cute and tenacious bunny rabbit alongside a younger tiger character who are excitedly telling a story of how things “used to be” between predators and prey in their society. The story evolves into the children breaking out of costumes claiming that things have changed and they can be whatever they want to be. An excited Judy bursts out in a police uniform while the camera rolls to her very uncomfortable and scared bunny parents looking quite bewildered that their supposed to be soft, timid, and afraid bunny daughter wants to do with her life.  After the school play, her parents who honestly mean no harm, tell her that there has never been a bunny cop so she should just “settle” like them and become carrot farmers to maintain happiness. Judy has her intentions set on being the first bunny police officer and sets the stage by tackling a bully right away. The bully is Gideon Grey (Phil Johnston), a mean and nasty Fox who uses his biology of being a Fox to steal tickets from meek prey. A scuffle ensues, Judy’s parents tell her she knows that foxes are jerks in which Judy responds, “I know some bunnies who are jerks too.”Zootopia fast forwards to an adulthood Judy graduating a grueling police camp and indeed becoming the first bunny cop. She is assigned to Zootopia which is like a modern day United States of America. Beautiful, diverse, and carries the “You Can Be What You Want To Be” slogan. Poor Judy is immediately brought back down to reality when she is indeed stereotyped as being just a “dumb” bunny and is assigned to be a meter maid by her stern male, cape buffalo Police Chief, Bogo (Idris Elba) and ignored by the rest of the mostly carnivorous male police force. Judy forms an unlikely friendship with a sly and hustling fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) who at first unwillingly assists her in trying to find Mr. Otterton, one of the 14 missing carnivorous animals that have went missing in Zootopia. With everyone against her, her only allies in this movie seem to be Nick and the assistant Mayor to the city, a meek female sheep named Bellwether (Jenny Slate) who insists, “we prey must stick together.” Bellwether claims that she is really just a glorified secretary who only got the job because the mayor needed the “sheep” vote. More innuendos are made as Nick touches Bellwether’s hair stating that he has never been so close to a sheep to feel their hair and an embarrassed Judy proclaims, “You can’t just touch their hair!”   The movie progresses with Judy and Nick uncovering clues to discover that the animals missing have all gone savage and the city’s mayor seems to be the one covering it up. Judy gives an uncomfortable press interview claiming that the biology of the predators is just finally coming to light. This causes a major rift between her and her now friend, “sly” fox Nick Wilde, who tells Judy that she’s really been scared of him all along just because he is a fox. From there, the entire city is turned into uproar with protests of predator versus prey, the media promoting fear, and the discrimination of predators who are forced from their jobs because of their species, feeding heavily into the internalized racism theme of the movie. In turn, a disheartened Judy decides to quit her job, telling Chief Bogo that she had all intentions of making the world a better place but instead she has broken it and Chief Bogo tells her, “The world is already broken. That’s why we need good cops.” Not convinced, Judy does in fact quit her job and return home to become a carrot farmer. While there, she runs into Gideon Grey again, now an adult and one of the top pastry chefs in town. Her parents tell her that they have been convinced to work with the fox due to their daughter’s persistence that all animals are “created equal”. A remorseful Gideon apologizes to Judy for their childhood scuffle, telling her that he was just a young and anger filled misguided fox who has “learned” to deal with his anger and emotion. As they are all chatting, Judy’s father begans scolding children who are playing near his “Night Howlers”, a deep purple flower that he has planted near his crop to keep bugs from destroying the vegetables. Judy’s ears pop up and her nose twitches as she recalls one of the turned savage predators telling her that he was afraid of the night howlers, which previously Judy and Nick thought were the wolves but in fact, were in reference to these flowers. She also recalls busting a weasel who was caught stealing the bulbs of the night howlers from a florist shop. She hurriedly returns to the city to tell Nick of her recent findings and begs for his help and assistance once again and offers a sincere apology for her ignorance before. Nick reluctantly agrees and the two discover that a sheep, Doug (Rich Moore) is genetically modifying the flowers and targeting carnivorous animals to turn them savage as a fear method to imprison or kill all of the predators in Zootopia so that the prey which make up 90% of the city can take over. Nick and Judy bust Doug and steal the evidence to turn in to the police but are intercepted by Bellwether who we find out is behind the entire scheme. She insists that she is doing it for the greater good of all prey against the mean and bullying carnivorous animals in Zootopia. The movie ends with Nick becoming a police officer and all of Zootopia returning to peace and harmony.Zootopia managed to sum up some major issues we are facing and spin it into a cute and cuddly Disney movie. The focus on internalized racism was the overall theme in this film with many references citing that most of the prey were taught to hate or fear the predators, for some, such as Judy without even their own knowledge. Judy was the self proclaimed peace keeper in the movie but it was revealed several times that even she herself had an ingrained fear of animals who were different than her. In her heartfelt apology to Nick towards the end of the movie, she reveals that her ignorance was something she was not aware of. The Elephant in the Room: Addressing Internalized Racism and PoliticsAs a Black woman, there were three scenes that stuck out to me most. On the lighter note, where Nick touches Bellwether’s hair without her permission and another where Judy is called “Cute” by another animal and she has to correct him by saying (loosely quoted),  “It’s ok if I call another bunny cute because I am a bunny and I can do that. But since you’re not a bunny, you are not allowed to call me cute”. These were two lessons in fetishism in culture and cultural appropriation. Take note, please don’t pet me because you have never felt a Black person’s hair and just because I am Black and can say certain things like —->”Nigga” doesn’t mean it makes it ok for you. Got it? Good. On a heavier note, the scene where Judy moves back home and is listening to Gideon Grey apologize for his childhood behavior hit me hard. It rang eerily similar to the mass police killings of our young Black men in America. Gideon explains that who he was as a child did not determine his future. As a fox, he could have been killed based off of the fact that he was a predator to some, was predestined just to be a “thug” as so many like to proclaim but he was given the opportunity to become an adult and outgrow childish behavior. In becoming an adult, he was a prominent businessman who worked side by side with the same individuals who used to vilify him. Zootopia manages to touch on internalized racism many times throughout the film, also notably as Nick Wilde tells his childhood story of wanting to be a cub scout but is the victim of a mean and insensitive prank by his peers based on his genetic predisposition of being a fox. So as he insists, if the world sees him to be an untrustworthy and sly fox, that’s exactly what he will be. We also see politics turn its ugly head again and again. From Bellwether being hired as a form of affirmative action and for gaining votes to Judy getting to keep her job because of the Chief Bogo’s fear of being reprimanded from the Mayor’s office for firing the first female bunny cop. Tiger Officer Clawhauser (Nate Torrence) is relieved of his duty as front desk receptionist and sent downstairs to work near the boiler because his face (as a carnivorous animal) should not be the first face seen in the police department during such a volatile time. And Judy’s words are twisted by the media to cause panic outrage and illegal policing actions against carnivorous animals. An Unlikely Target: GMO’sI was a bit surprised that Disney took jabs at GMO’s. The Night Howler plants is what ultimately caused the animals to become savage due to Doug genetically modifying them to cause deformities and erratic, wild behavior amongst some of the animals. At first this was not particularly clear to me if it were a strike against GMO’s or the drug industry but I quickly realized they were one and the same. Genetically modified foods have been a huge concern lately as the FDA continues to pass laws taking away our rights to know where our food comes from. More and more studies are being released that clearly define that GMO foods and heavily processed meats are causing cancer at a more rapid pace than ever before. Even with all of this proof, the government is still allowing this to happen so I give Disney two thumbs up for bravely announcing its stand so to speak, in the form of a children’s movie. I hope their defiance, while slight, did not fly over the heads of Zootopia viewers. Ultimately, I would give Zootopia a five out of five stars. I loved the adult themed references but appreciated how the movie was still geared towards children. It was funny and colorful and energetic enough to where any child, ages 3 and up would thoroughly enjoy the film without being so bombarded by adult innuendos that it would make you cringe as a parent. I would definitely recommend watching this and give it a family approved rating!Have you seen Zootopia yet? What were your thoughts? With love,-ShaniciaAll photos courtesy of Disney