The purpose of this research is to explore how Latinos are being portrayed in Disney movies. At a young age children are socialized from mass media and it affects their cognitive and social development. With the average child watching television 3-4 hours of television a day, television and film have the greatest impact of socialization in children (Gonzalez, 2009). Since 1937 Disney has been making movies that many of us have grown up with and loved. As kids we are shown our first glimpse of the larger world with movies like The Lion King and Aladdin. “We think that these are innocent kids movies, but they aren’t” (Avant-Mier, 2013). Of the different nationalities shown in Disney movies, Latinos are shown the least, and when they are shown they’re in the most stereotypical ways. Disney movies introduce and enforce negative stereotypes about Latinos to children. Children try to interpret and reason about race at an early age. For some children stereotypes can be difficult to tell the difference between fact and fiction. Stereotypes can affect children in many ways ranging from negative interracial exchanges, affecting their academic ability and mimicking theses stereotypes resulting in false representation (McKown and Strambler, 2009).
Children ages 3 to 5 are able to identify and create judgments about ethnicities apart from their own (Aboud, 1988). Disney does a good job showing the appearance of a Latino in the most stereotypical ways. There are two main kinds of appearances when it comes to these stereotypes, one is the macho look, and second is the greaser bandito. The word bandito comes from the Spanish word for bandit, the look is usually portrayed as a dirty, unshaven, missing teeth and greasy hair. A Disney character that portrays this kind of look is Tito from Oliver and Company. Tito is a small rugged chihuahua; he has a bite taken out of his ear and always wears a green bandana. The macho look is best portrayed in the movie Despicable Me 2. The character Eduardo had a thick black moustache; he wore an opened silk shirt that showed his chest hair and his gold chain. Eduardo looks like he was based off Scarface’s character Tony Montana.
Along with the appearance of Latinos, Disney does a good job using the stereotypical thick accent. In most cases Latino characters have thick accents that are used in a comical way. Kids associate the accents they hear in the movies to the ones they hear in real life. It is said that a kid who sees an antagonist with thick accents will have negative views on them in real life (Lippi-Green, 1997). Tito from Oliver and Company has a thick accent, voiced by Cheech Marin, and is used as the comic relief in the movie. Tito is shown being hyper active and is always trying to pick a fight. Marin voiced another Disney character Banzai, a hyena from The Lion King, and his accent was used in a similar way, the character was used in humor, as he was always getting hurt or joking around. Accents are used to add flavor and to distinguish themselves apart from other characters in the film. Tim Allen voices buzz Lightyear from Toy Story 3, however when he is switched to Spanish mode Javier Fernández-Peña voices him. The new voiceover added flare and a whole different dynamic to the character, making it very obvious that he wasn’t English anymore.
I find it interesting that Disney movies show Latinos having different social interaction than the rest of the characters. This is blatantly shown with Buzz Lightyear’s character in Toy Story 3. In the movie Buzz accidently gets switched to Spanish mode, his language not only changed but his interaction with the other characters changed as well. Buzz re-discovers the character Jessie and makes it know that he is interested in her. Buzz became very jealous with her friendship with Woody and not only did Buzz create a rivalry with Woody, he also made wooing Jessie his priority. The creators showed Buzz wooing Jessie in one of the most stereotypical ways, he used romantic words, using his masculinity and good looks, and he also knew how to salsa dance. This stereotype is known as a Latin lover. The Latin lover was first shown in the 1920’s by the work of Rudolph Valentino. The Latin lover is a stereotype of an attractive, charming, exotic, mysterious, masculine, passionate, hypersexual Latino (Sutherland and Feltey, 2013). This is a very common stereotype, and even though there is something to be said about being a ladies man, the stereotypes often makes them look like a sex symbol. In Despicable Me 2 both Eduardo and Antonio were portrayed as Latin Lovers. Antonio is smooth and seductive and he catches the interest of Gru’s daughter Margo. Gru does not trust Antonio throughout the film. Latin lovers are shown as sneaky and untrustworthy. Later in the film Margo catches Antonio flirting with another girl, proving to her that Gru was right not to trust him.
A very common stereotype that is used is that all Latinos are the same. Stated by World Atlas there are twenty countries that Spanish is the official language and each country has their own culture, yes there are similarities between each country but they are not the same. Most of the time kids don’t know different countries that speak Spanish but the one that is most commonly used is Mexico. Because of this it is shown to kids very early that all Latinos are Mexican. One similarity that not all Latinos share is the use of salsa music. The ironic part is that salsa music is very big in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico but not very much in Mexico. This doesn’t stop Disney from putting it into their movies, showing Latinos listening to salsa music and instinctively knowing how to salsa dance, like a dog knows how to swim. Tito from Oliver and Company is first shown listening to salsa music while the rest of the gang is sleeping; Tito is shown salsa dancing around the houseboat. In Toy story 3 when Buzz gets switched to Spanish mode and when he does he instinctively knew how to salsa dance, and continued to salsa dance to woo Jessie. The biggest use of salsa dance and music was used in Despicable Me 2. In the movie Eduardo was the owner or a Mexican restaurant called Salsa & Salsa, which included salsa music and salsa dancing. Eduardo was introduced salsa dancing on stage and throughout the restaurant. Antonio also knew how to salsa dance; he danced with Margo at the Cinco de Mayo party. When Antonio was caught flirting with another girl his comment was “you were a lucky girl that had the opportunity to dance with me.” Whenever the characters were in the restaurant there was salsa music playing in the background and when Eduardo or Antonio were on screen salsa music would play.
Since the beginning of film Latinos have been portrayed as bandits and that doesn’t change in Disney movies, as Latinos are associated with being criminals. In Oliver in Company the main character Oliver meets a gang of dogs that live on the streets. As a member of the gang, Tito is the only dog that knows how to hot wire a car and it’s his job to steal cars. The fact that the Latino dog is the only one that knows shows kids that all Latinos must steal cars. In Toy story 3 Mr. Potato Head is shown trying to escape from the day care. He transforms himself into a tortilla to slip away. A pigeon attacked him at tore him into strips, “hinting that they’re is something unnatural about the Latino incarnation” (Montilla, 2013). Lastly in Despicable Me 2 both characters were shown as untrustworthy villains. Gru recognized Eduardo as a super villain from twenty years earlier named El Macho. Eduardo continues to be El Macho throughout the film, trying to turn the minions into evil minions to destroy the world. Even though these movies are fun and meant to be shows as entertainment showing these characters to kids gives the impression that all Latinos are criminals.
In conclusion, Disney makes a lot of movies that most of us have grown up watching and loving, but that doesn’t stop the presence of negative stereotypes that we see every day in our society. Disney movies introduce and enforce negative stereotypes about Latinos to children. As kids we are shown that Latinos have very distinct thick accents that allow kids to have judgments about Latinos as a whole. Latinos are stereotypically shown as a bandito or having a macho look. Latinos interact with people in a different ways than the rest of the population such as a Latin lover. Latinos are portrayed as criminals and villains that create conflict with the rest of the characters. Finally, all Latinos are portrayed the same even though there are twenty countries that have Spanish as their official language. These stereotypes give kids a false representation of Latinos as a whole, and since it’s difficult for children to distinguish between reality and fiction many kids carry these beliefs into adulthood.
Avant-Mier, Roberto Despicable them: When a children’s movie makes stereotypes fun, that’s just wrong 2013
Wenke, Eric Accents in children’s animated features as a device for teaching children to ethnocentrically discriminate 1998
Allende Llona, Isabel Toying with the Latino Identity: Latinization in Toy Story 3 2010
Montilla, Patricia M. Latinos and American Popular Culture 2013
Sutherland, Jean-Anne and Feltey, Kathryn Cinematic Sociology: Social life in Film 2013
Aboud F.E Children and Prejudice, Oxford, England 1998
Lippi-Green, R Language, Ideology, and Discrimination in the United States. London: Routledge 1997
Gonzalez, Mena The Media as an Influence on Socialization 2010
McKown, Clark and Strambler, Michael Development Antecedents and social and Academic Consequences of Stereotypes – Consciousness in middle school 2009
World Atlas www.worldatlas.com/spanish.htm
Oliver and Company Dir. George Scribner, USA 1998
Toy Story 3 Dir. Lee Unkrich, USA 2010
Despicable Me 2 Dir. Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, USA 2013