Skip to content Skip to footer

The Lion King doesn’t drop until summer and people are already losing it

If the reception of a teaser trailer is any indication of how hyped people are to see a film, the live-action reboot of the Disney classic, The Lion King is bound to be a major box-office success. Within only 24 hours, the teaser received close to 225 million views.

Disney released the trailer on Thanksgiving Day, knowing full well that families across the U.S. would gather together to watch the one-minute-plus video. With each viewing,  all were transported to a nostalgic place of their first and repeated viewings of the film.

Much of the excitement surrounding the reboot of the treasured Disney classic came from a desire for us to relive our childhoods and for parents to relive the moment they watched the film. They might not show it but our parents are just as excited and eager to reembark on Simba’s journey as we are.

At the same time, seeing the enlarged name of “Knowles-Carter” appears in title sequence on screen was plenty of incentive for people to watch the trailer.

Though some haters online anticipated Nala’s voice to have Beyoncé’s Texan accent, the Béyhive swarmed to the defense of their Queen.

Whether the superstar’s Southern accent hinders an authentic portrayal of a “lion accent,”  for sure, will be revealed once the film is released in July 2019.

Nonetheless, the response from Beyoncé’s fans on the release of the teaser trailer is evidence that the Twittersphere will most definitely be buzzing with unconditional support from the Béyhive.

The addition of CGI isn’t the only thing that is new to the reinstallment of the film. The cast is notably different too.

The original film included the voices of Mathew Broderick as Simba, Jeremy Irons as Scar, Moira Kelly as Nala, Rowan Atkinson as Zazu, and Nathan Lane as Timon.

In short, the original cast was predominately white, with the exception of James Earl Jones’ whose god-like voice in portraying Mufasa has become a hallmark of the film. It’s hard to admit and accept, but some of the most beloved movies from our childhood are racist and employ racist tropes.

Before some of you roll your eyes, at our contemporary PC culture, let’s just point out and address that some of the supporting characters in many of our favorite Disney films reproduce racial stereotypes and offer pejorative depictions of ethnic identities and cultures.

Let’s just let it sink in that the main crow in the Disney classic Dumbo, is called Jim Crow. The crows speak in the Black vernacular and serve the stereotypical role in classic musical films to be the source of Black comedic relief.

The Crows Lol GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Similarly, in the Jungle Book, the orangutan’s character serves as another source of Black comedic relief and entertainment. Singing in Louis Armstrong like fashion, the leader of the troop is King Louie.

When the head Orangutan, expresses his desire to be a man like Moguli, singing lyrics, “I wanna be a man, man-cub, and stroll right into town, and be just like the other men I’m tired of monkeyin’ around,” it is hard to disentangle these words from the historical development of biological racism that remains steeped in culture today.

It is a racist discourse that advanced a linkage between Black people and primates, in order to solidify their ‘sub-human’ status, legitimize imperialism and the enslavement of populations.

Plus, let’s not forget that the author of The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling was a white imperialist who wrote “The White Man’s Burden;” a poem that praises white colonizers for leaving their idyllic ‘civilized’ lives behind in the West to undertake their paternal civilizing mission to the ‘natives’ of Indonesia.

While Aladdin, Pocahontas, Lady and the Tramp, and Peter Pan are other examples to add to this list. All of these examples described are indicative of the type of racial coding that is implicit in many animation films and are intentionally portrayed to depict Black and brown people as foolish, ‘uncivilized’ and ‘backward.’

Returning back to the original Lion King, the hyenas in the film stand in stark contrast to the main characters in the film.

The depiction of the hyenas, Shenzi, Banzai and Ed and their buffoonish witless behavior are the most racialized characters in the film. They are highly villanized in their accents and vernacular. They also stand in stark contrast to the other characters in the film who have American and British accents.

Plus, the hyenas refuse to live under the lion’s rule and consequently exist on the margins and are banished to the Elephant Graveyard, that pretty much functions like a ghettoized space. The depiction in the original film ultimately aligns with traditional Hollywood conventions wherein Black and Hispanic perform racial stereotypes and are sources of comic relief.

The Lion King Laughing GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I know I may seem like the ultimate buzz kill and deliverer of bad news but I am simply encouraging us to be more critical of the images we see on screen and how they have implications for viewers, especially younger ones. But there is still a lot to be optimistic and hopeful about with the live-action version of the Disney classic.

If you peep the cast for the reboot of the film, you will see the likes of Donald Glover, the actor-producer-comedian-director-writer-singer whose highly politicized ‘This is America’ brazen music video explores what it means to be Black in the United States.

Glover has a huge following from his TV series Atlanta, his role as Lando Calrissian in the reinstallment of the Star Wars franchise, and finally, his rap persona as Childish Gambino. His inclusion in both Star Wars and The Lion King demonstrates that Disney isn’t afraid to have the star’s name attached to their projects. If anything, they see it as a benefit.

With the cast predominately a Black ensemble, we can see that Disney is aware of the financial viability of creating projects that cater to Black audiences.

Plus, given that Disney owns Marvel, the success of Black Panther is further proof that audiences (Black or not), are in support of providing diverse cinematic representation, even if Black artists are only lending their voice to the screen. It’s enough for many.