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12 Ways 'Zootopia' Addresses Racism in a More Meaningful Way Than Most Films

Updated September 17, 2020 160.9k views12 items

Zootopia isn't just a fun adventure featuring a cast of anthropomorphic animals. Well, it is that, but it's also much, much more. So what is Zootopia about? The film brilliantly tackles racism and prejudice better than most serious dramas or documentaries touching on similar subject matter. Yes, it's a Disney movie about adorable animals, but it's also loaded with incisive commentary on how and why Americans are continually divided along racial lines.

Many of Zootopia's themes focus on inclusion and how to live among people who are different from you, but the film also addresses issues like police bias and political correctness. In spite of this, it's not preachy or pedantic. Check out this Zootopia analysis on how the film subtly uses the coexistence of predators and prey as an allegory of past and current racial issues in America.
  • A 'Token Bunny' For Political Purposes

    When Judy graduates from the police academy, she is celebrated as the first bunny police officer in a press conference, yet is regulated to meter maid duty in actual practice. She flat-out says that she wants to make an actual difference and not be the "token bunny" of the police force. Later in the film, Assistant Mayor Bellwether casually mentions to Judy and Nick that Mayor Lionheart hired her because he "wanted the sheep vote."

    Both Judy and Bellwether are prey, little more than political pawns in a mostly predator-heavy government, paraded in front of the public when it is beneficial to their superiors and the inequitable power structure. Parallels in the real world are abundant, from face-saving diversity measures by corporate institutions to political figures citing "good friends" of diverse backgrounds.
  • Celebrity Involvement In Civil Rights

    When backlash and prejudice against predators is at a full-time high, Zootopia's biggest mega-music superstar Gazelle joins the front lines of a protest for predator rights despite her being prey. Back in the real world, history saw a handful of white musicians and celebrities come to support civil rights issues.

    Celebs such as Paul Newman, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Marlon Brando participated in Martin Luther King Jr.'s march on Washington D.C. in 1963. Before that, superstar singer Frank Sinatra would refuse to play for audiences and clubs that didn't allow Black attendees and entertainers. While imperfect, American history is chock full of pop culture icons who fought for equal rights and inclusion for all.

  • Discrimination Knows No Age

    Both of the main characters in the film, Judy and Nick, experience childhood trauma due to people judging them based on being prey or a predator. Being ostracized as the only predator in a scout troop of prey animals scarred Nick to the point that he truly believed he could be nothing more than the sneaky fox people unjustly believed him to be.

    Similarly, Judy has to overcome the literal and figurative scarring she receives as a kid to achieve the dream that everyone says is unattainable due to her species. Zootopia reinforces the issue that, if left unaddressed, hatred and prejudice can sadly be easily absorbed by the next generation.
  • 'Never Let Them See That They Get To You'

    After Nick was muzzled and mocked by the prey scout troop as a child, he promises to himself that he won't give anyone the satisfaction of seeing him affected by the physical or emotional pain inflicted upon him. This attitude and motto was similarly adopted by some marginalized groups in order to try to get by and overcome the hate that had been piled on top of them.

    In this way, racial biases are internalized by the oppressed and, in some ways, become self-fulfilling prophecies.
    Convinced that he could only be the fox his culture expects him to be, that's exactly how Nick behaves, and when Hopps encounters him, she believes his foxiness to be a confirmation of her prejudice against his species.