Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ is insidious fascist propaganda for kids, according to a Washington Post editorial that consigns the beloved children’s film (and its sure to be less-beloved CGI remake) to the bonfires of wokeness.
The Lion King “offers us fascist ideology writ large,” according to Dan Hassler-Forest, a Dutch academic who has been delivering achingly PC reviews of Disney films for WaPo since last May. Capable of finding “problematic” elements in every film he’s reviewed thus far, Hassler-Forest certainly has a talent for this sort of thing, and the fact that he’s a media studies professor is no surprise, though one must pity his students.
It’s hard to take seriously an article that refers to the lions’ home, a rock jutting out over a clearing, as a “Trump Tower of the African savanna,” and the analysis goes downhill from there. The film “introduces us to a society where the weak have learned to worship at the feet of the strong,” Hassler-Forest writes, apparently forgetting that there are no safe spaces in the savanna. Anthropomorphized lions are still lions, and in fact, the big cats’ easygoing relationship with the other species they encounter is quite a bit warmer and fuzzier than tooth-and-claw reality. While the film’s lions have respect for the other creatures, in reality every pompous bird, happy-go-lucky meerkat, and probably the wise old monkey too would become a quick snack as soon as Simba’s stomach started rumbling.
Hassler-Forest, however, insists the film merely uses the animal-kingdom relationships of predator and prey to smuggle in “the white supremacist’s worldview, one in which some groups of people are inherently superior to others.” It’s unclear where he sees race in creatures with no hint of human characteristics – indeed, the naive viewer might even think that, like many fables, the film uses animals instead of humans to more easily communicate its message without the interference of human social factors – baggage like racism, patriarchy, and other intersectional mainstays.
Tropes which on the surface appear benign, wholesome even – the Circle of Life is all about environmental sustainability! – are actually the most evil of all, according to Hassler-Forest, who humansplains lion king Mufasa’s talk with his son about how the kingdom must be kept in balance as no mere call for natural equilibrium, but instead an insidious dogwhistle for “why it’s perfectly fine to behave dictatorily.”
Indeed, he claims, the film “idolizes bullies by mythologizing the most brutal social principles: only the strong and the beautiful triumph, and the powerless survive only by serving the strong.” Except the warthog and meerkat duo, whose irritatingly-catchy theme song became a mainstay of an entire generation of American youth, are hardly leading-man types – and they share their wisdom with the young lion cub not out of fear or servitude but because of a genuine cross-species friendship.
That the WaPo’s self-styled champion of the downtrodden looks at the “bad guys” in the Lion King – a pack of wisecracking hyenas and a lion voiced by Jeremy Irons – and sees “black, brown and disabled bodies,” antisemitic and homophobic stereotypes speaks volumes more about how he sees racial minorities, Jews and gay people than about the film. Interestingly, he dismisses the only actual reference to fascism in the Lion King, in which hundreds of hyenas goose-step past the “bad” lion, as an attempt to smear their noble rebellion – even though they’ve literally been hired as mercenaries with promises of a food-filled future the evil lion has no plans to deliver.
It would be one thing if Hassler-Forest was denouncing racism in Disney’s The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling came up with the concept of the White Man’s Burden, after all. And even the grating feminist criticism of certain Disney princesses contains a grain of truth (a girl won’t get far in life passively waiting for Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet, especially if she’s in a coma in a glass case). But Hassler-Forest sees Disney’s recent efforts at “inclusivity” – the Little Mermaid remake starring a black Ariel, the Aladdin remake toning down the over-the-top Muslim stereotypes, and yes, this Lion King remake voiced by black actors – as falling short. Disney has not flagellated itself sufficiently to earn its place in the cultural pantheon.
Like many of the modern-day crusaders who’ve taken it upon themselves to dismantle pop-culture touchstones and instill guilt in those who once enjoyed them, Hassler-Forest appears to be working from an internalized loathing of humanity. It’s hard to look at the Lion King, even with the eyes of an adult, and see a kiddie Triumph of the Will unless one is predisposed to seeing Nazis under every rock.
It’s not surprising to see WaPo put out a hit on Disney – parent company Amazon is a competitor, after all – but this verges on self-parody. The culture-warrior shock troops have already carried away the Betsy Ross flag, the Declaration of Independence, and – not to put too fine a point on it – the First Amendment. Can they at least leave us some cartoons?