In 1923, two brothers from Chicago, Illinois, founded the Disney Brother's Cartoon Studio. Over the course of nine decades, this studio, founded by Walt Disney and older brother Roy, has evolved into one of the world's largest multinational mass media corporations. Disney's animated films are renowned for exposing children to the concepts of good and evil, right and wrong, life and death, villainy and heroism. The Walt Disney Company has maintained a consistent dominance in the field of children's entertainment. The firm plays a vital role in the transmission of cultural messages to children in the United States and abroad. Over the years, Disney's animated films have received a great deal of criticism due to their misrepresentation of African Americans, as well as other ethnic groups. Given the pervasiveness of Disney's animated films and their target demographic, these misrepresentations function to perpetuate ethnic stereotypes. The 1994 film The Lion King exemplifies this misrepresentation by stereotyping African Americans. Exposing children to these messages, some subliminal and others overt, is no doubt harmful.
The Lion King was not the first Disney film to project these stereotypes. Dumbo (1941) is one of Disney's first animated feature films to misrepresent African Americans. Dumbo will serve as a historical reference point from which The Lion King will be examined. Even though these two films were released half a century apart from one another, the two films similarly misrepresent African Americans. Dumbo was released in 1941 at the tail end of The Great Depression. Southern slavery had come to an end only a few generations prior. African Americans were facing racial discrimination in all facets of life; federal housing, social security, and youth programs were but a few government sponsored programs to provide substandard treatment to African Americans. It is important to assess the cultural atmosphere during which a film is released.