Filed Under:  Entertainment & Style

Racism from Pixar in Cars 2

Contributed by on July 27, 2011 at 7:51 pm

 

As kids, many adults were exposed to racial stereotypes in cartoons, it seems our children won’t escape it either.

Children’s movies, especially those created by Disney and Pixar, have become world-renowned animations that children of all ages love to watch. From Toy Story to Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and Up, there is a never-ending list of movies that are designed and marketed as entertainment for kids. In most cases, movies created by such production companies are meant to be light-hearted, fun, exciting, and most importantly thought-provoking pieces that have a moral to teach. Take for example the popular Pixar Animation Studios Cars series. Both Cars and Cars 2 subtly portray the importance of friendship, trusting those around you, and teamwork.

While we’d like to think that children’s movies are truly innocent and free of stereotypes that flood today’s society, sometimes producers may add in a hint of stereotypical thought, which may or may not be done consciously. In the same movie that teaches children about accepting others and building friendship, the movie also includes a subtle, racial stereotype: the African-American male’s gap-toothed smile. In Cars 2, the “black” car named Lewis, has a diastema, which is dental speak for a gap between the teeth.

Truth Behind The Stereotype?

What causes a diastema? Well, we all know that infants are prone to putting things in their mouth, especially small toys and, of course, their thumbs. If you’ve ever raised a child, you probably also know that long-term thumb sucking is a habit that pediatricians urge parents to break, quickly. Thumb sucking and other factors can lead to diastemas. Diastemas can occur in any one of any ethnicity and gender. According to Dr. Pappas, a cosmetic dentist practicing in Phoenix, “Diastemas can be due to a number of factors. The most common reason is a discrepancy between jaw size and tooth size. In dental crowding, the teeth are too big for the amount of space provided by the jaw arch. The opposite is true for diastemas. In these cases the jaw arch is larger than the size of the teeth in that arch, leaving space between some or many of the teeth. Diastemas can also be caused by habits like tongue thrusting and thumb or finger sucking.”

Of course, anyone can suffer from a problem with jaw and tooth size, just as anyone may have had a long-term habit of thumb sucking. But, in the movie Cars 2, Lewis and Mater are the only cars with any type of dental problem. We can guess that the animators who originally designed Mater’s character in the original Cars movie gave Mater bad teeth to represent that he comes from a rural area with limited availability of dental care and perhaps a lack of funds to even afford dental care. He’s sort of a “hick”. The acceptability of this stereotype is debatable, but what about Lewis’ teeth? Was his character given a gap between his teeth for any other reason than the fact that his character is “black”? The truth is that Lewis is a character based on a real-life racer, Lewis Hamilton, who does have a diastema between his front teeth. But why bring that facial feature across? Is it true that African-Americans may be more likely to have a diastema? Dr. Pappas explained, “African-Americans are more prone to diastemas according to some research. Research also shows that the condition is more prevalent in males than females.”

We’ve all seen celebrities on TV and in magazines that have this dental issue. To name a few: Elijah Wood, Madonna, Anna Paquin, Flea, David Letterman, Elvis Costello, and then there’s Bobby Brown, Lawrence Fishburne, Samuel L. Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Mike Tyson, Michael Strahan, Bokeem Woodbine, and Laurence Maroney. There are celebrities of a variety of ethnicities, so why is it that the only characters in Cars 2 who have diastemas are a seemingly token “black” character and the loveable but dim-witted, country bumpkin and star, Tow Mater?

None of the British cars had bad teeth, so why was the black stereotype represented in Lewis Hamilton’s character but the English “bad teeth” stereotype not applied to characters like David Hobbscap and Finn McMissile who were voiced by British-born actors? The Cars 2 character Jeff Gorvette was voiced by Nascar icon, Jeff Gordon. Jeff Gordon doesn’t have particularly good teeth, so why wasn’t his character given crooked teeth? It seems that Lewis’ character design was influenced by a cultural stereotype similar to that which influenced Mater’s character design.

Stereotyping and Racism in Children’s Movies

Even though the stereotype may hold some validity in terms of genetic predisposition, is it right to portray such a stereotype in a children’s movie that teaches children the lifetime importance of “not judging a book by its cover?” Opinions will vary, but in the end Pixar did perpetuate a stereotype that can easily be taken as a hint of racism.

Today’s adults grew up with Disney movies like Dumbo which featured faceless black workers who sang, “We work all day, We work all night. We have no time to read or write.” This no doubt reinforced racism in some children of _Dumbo_’s day. The Crows from Dumbo were also portrayed as being uneducated and poor, and don’t forget about King Louie and the other monkeys from The Jungle Book, all of which speak jibberish and wanted to be “real people” while the other characters speak with very classy English accents. Coincidence? Probably not.

In the end, Cars 2 isn’t the first, and more than likely isn’t going to be the last children’s movie to depict stereotypes and racism. It’s just unfortunate that the audience of these movies is in its formative years and may be negatively influenced by the ignorant stereotypes that the movies’ creators deem harmless.

Ashley Page writes for Off-Topic Media. Dr. John Pappas has a dental office in Phoenix, Arizona.

Editor’s Note:

As Sarah Palin would say, I would like to give a shout out to the dentist that took a risk on something different.

If you live in arizona, he can be contacted at:

Arcadia Dental Arts
4124 North 40th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85018
(602) 957-9643

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