Americans Think Africa Is One Big Wild Animal ReserveRoundup
tags: Africa, Disney
ACCRA, Ghana — Last month, Delta Airlines posted a tweet congratulating the United States for defeating Ghana in the World Cup. The tweet featured two images, each representing one of the countries. For the United States, Delta chose the Statue of Liberty. And for Ghana, it showed a picture of a giraffe.
That’s not because “Ghana” and “giraffe” both begin with “G.” It’s because Ghana is in sub-Saharan Africa, of course. When I showed the Delta message to a friend here, he wasn’t surprised. “Americans think Africa is just for animals,” he said. “There aren’t any people here.”
That’s also the underlying message of The Lion King, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary last month. The second-highest-grossing Disney film of all time, eclipsed only by the recent blockbuster Frozen, The Lion Kingdepicts hundreds of animals cavorting across a rugged African landscape. All that’s missing are Africans themselves.
To be sure, The Lion King has faced its share of criticism over the years. Some American viewers thought the hyena characters—voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin—reflected negative images of blacks. Others said that Scar, the evil uncle of the film’s protagonist, embodied offensive gay stereotypes. But the debate about racist and anti-gay imagery in the film has a narrowly American ring to it.
Caught up in our own anxieties about race and gender relations at home, we’ve lost sight of the fact that our most popular movie about Africa reduces the entire continent to a game reserve. So does DreamWorks's 2005 animated hit Madagascar—in which Ben Stiller voices a neurotic lion—and the 2011 nature documentary African Cats, another Disney production.
For Americans, the Africa-as-animals idea goes back to Theodore Roosevelt’s reports on his safari in 1909-1910, shortly after Roosevelt left the White House. In serialized magazine articles, Roosevelt thrilled American readers with tales of pursuing big game in a vast, “uncivilized” land. He brought back over 20,000 specimens—including lions, elephants, and rhinoceros—for donation to the Smithsonian Institution.
Then came Tarzan, the series of adventure stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Adapted into several Hollywood blockbusters, Tarzan described a boy who was raised by apes in the thick jungles of Africa. And like Roosevelt’s safari reports, it encouraged Americans to think of the continent as a pristine, primitive setting for exotic beasts.
But most actual Africans don’t come any closer to wildlife than Westerners do. …
comments powered by Disqus
- South Atlantic Mystery Flash in September 1979 Raised Questions about Nuclear Test
- California Owes Reparations To Victims Of Forced Race & Intellectual-Based Sterilization, Study Finds
- All the times in U.S. history that members of the electoral college voted their own way
- The Harriet Tubman $20 Bill Could Make an Early Debut
- Report: Economists have documented for the first time the decline of the American Dream
- Economists are attacking historians’ recent works on slavery
- Salon suggests Paul Gottfried, "a retired Jewish political historian,” was a founder of the Alt-Right
- National Women's History Museum Receives Grant to Rebuild Website with Advanced Content Capabilities
- UCLA history professor Gabriel Piterberg continues to come under attack after being accused of sexual harassment
- Bristol Brexit-backer Arron Banks ridiculed for arguing Roman history with Professor Mary Beard