Degree Name

MA (Master of Arts)



Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Elwood Watson

Committee Members

David Piercy, Matthew Holtmeier


Walt Disney Studios possesses a checkered past in how its films dealt with racism and representation. Some of the earliest films involved songs and characters that go against modern sensibilities. In recent years, the studio's films have attempted to go against their forebears' racist connotations. Racism, however, proved a constant problem for the company. This paper shall explore the various ways Disney feature films addressed (or did not address) themes of racism and discrimination in its films from 1990 to 2018. The first chapter discusses the business reasoning behind Disney's continued reluctance to address race issues adequately, chiefly fear of losing monetary revenue from alienated whites. The second chapter explores the different types of coding filmmakers employed to keep from directly address race, coding all characters as white in the process. This method lasted until the Princess and the Frog's release because the film's blatant use of Jim Crow imagery caused a considerable amount of backlash. The final chapter concerns how the corporation's current method of dodging race in its films. Dubbed the "Fantastical Reality," this method relies on leaning into the fantastic aspects of a setting (magic or otherness) to explain why race and racism do not appear in a film. This method came under heavy scrutiny with Zootopia and Black Panther's release, both of which make race a significant theme.

Document Type

Thesis - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.

Included in

History Commons