Refer to Edward Said, the writer of “Orientalism: Western conceptions of the Orient 1978”, Orientalism is the way that people in the Western cultures picture and explain the differences between themselves and people of Eastern cultures. They always think that Eastern people are not modern, backward, countryside, or even brutal. In the book, Edward says that “I shall be calling Orientalism, a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western Experience.”(
It seems that Orientalism is a sensitive aspect. If it is not managed well or present carefully, it will somehow turn into racism. Especially when it is in a children’s animation. Since it is for children, anything in an animation will affect how a kid thinks. It may even affect how they grow and who they are growing to be.
However, there is a Disney animation that got widely accuse as Orientalism, or somehow even racism. And it is “Aladdin”. “Aladdin” was a story based on the folktale “Aladdin and the magic lamp” which is from “One Thousand and One Nights”, a collection of Middle Eastern folktales record in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. The story is about Aladdin, a poor but kind-hearted thief, tries to gain the fondness of Princess Jasmine after getting a magic lamp which had a genie inside. It is a story that happens in Arabic, so of course, there will be a lot of Arabians in this film. Yet how they present them grabs many people’s attention.
One of the points in the film that showed Orientalism was its strange use of racial stereotypes. it seems that most of the Arabian characters have obvious facials characteristics – they have hooked noses, angry eyebrows, thick lips, wearing turbans. And they mostly get stereotypically portrayed as “evil” or “stupid”. However, the “good” people like Aladdin and jasmine the princess, they look just like American people and have no accent(Roger Ebert, 1992).
In the film, they also pictured Arabians as violent and dangerous people. They all carry a knife on their waist, even the peddler who sells apples have knives. And they are inhuman in the film. They will cut off other’s arm if they steal anything. Is this real Arabian life? After all these things managed to get into the big screen.
Actually, not every film that related to Orientalism is that bad. “Aladdin” is just an example from the last century.
“Big Hero 6” is a 2014 American film set in a Japanese city. In this film, there are less stereotyping people. Although the main character is a Japanese young boy, he still speaks English and has no accent. the only things that remind me of him being a Japanese are his name, which is Hiro Hamada, and his black hair and yellow-ish skin colour.
That doesn’t mean that this film doesn’t mention about Japanese culture. It does show the neon sign culture and the family caring factor through the movie.
there are so many ways to show different countries’ culture differences. there is no need for them to stereotyping people.
- Roger Ebert, (1992, November). Review: Aladdin, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/aladdin-1992
- Lani Conway,(n.d.). The Biggest Disney Movie Controversies,
- Josh Jones, (2017, March). Animated Introductions to Edward Said’s Groundbreaking Book Orientalism, http://www.openculture.com/2017/03/animated-introductions-to-edward-saids-groundbreaking-book-orientalism.html
- KnowJapanWell, (2015, April). Learn Japanese culture with fun from Big Hero Six, https://kkianac.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/learn-japanses-culture-with-fun-big-hero-six-japanese-special-version-ending-song/