If you haven’t seen the movie, bear with me. Oh, and well, SPOILERS. So maybe don’t bear with me. Maybe just stop reading, if you want.
Although that is the end of the bear puns, if it makes you feel any better.
In Zootopia, Judy Hopps, a bunny, travels to an idealized animal metropolis to become a police officer. There she partners with a sly fox, deals with species-based prejudices, solves a complicated mystery, and lives happily ever after and stuff (until the inevitable sequel). I’m not going to dwell on the plot; it’s pretty much a paint-by-numbers fun Disney thing.
However, it’s when you get into the moral of the story that things start to veer off a bit. For starters, the movie deals a lot with racial tension, albeit in lovable animal form. From the stereotyping of calling a bunny “cute” (“That’s our word,” comes the response) to the depiction of a full-on racially motivated protest, Zootopia tackles some heavy themes.
The key plot point is that certain predators are going “savage,” meaning that they are reverting back to pre-civilization animal ways and violently attacking everyone around them.
The prey residents of Zootopia come to the conclusion that all predators are bad news. And so they start to prejudice, going so far as to remove predators from their jobs and hosting protest rallies to encourage further segregation.
It’s not really hard to see the line being drawn to black/white race relations here in America. I mean, there’s a scene on the subway where a mother rabbit pulls her kid away from a big predator who sits down next to them. There’s montages of this kind of stuff. This is what the whole movie is about.
But here’s the thing: the predators aren’t just going savage because of their “nature.” They’re going savage because of a drug. A drug which only makes them act like vicious monsters. A drug that inspires city-wide panic as the majority prey population starts to live in fear of the predators, terrified of their supposed violent dispositions.
That drug that’s causing all this? It’s called Nighthowler, and it’s an allegory for crack cocaine.
Let’s look at the real world for a minute. In the late 1980’s violent crime was disproportionately high in African American communities. According to Roland Fryer in his Harvard paper Measuring Crack Cocaine and Its Impacts:
Between 1984 and 1994, the homicide rate for Black males aged 14-17 more than doubled and homicide rates for Black males aged 18-24 increased almost as much.
This spike in homicides directly coincided with the introduction of crack into the United States. The conspiracy theories that come into play here would assert that the CIA, or other members of the US government, knowingly spread crack into black communities.
Now, the specific motives and accuracy of this claim are still disputed, but this is where the newest Disney film takes a stand.
The parallel in Zootopia is that the Nighthowler drug (crack) is what’s responsible for the violent behaviors of some members of the predator (African American) community. The predators are not biologically disposed toward such behavior, they are being singled out and made to act that way by a nefarious drug epidemic.
And who is responsible for this epidemic? The government, of course. There is a conspiracy within the political elite to turn these minority predators “savage” so that the majority prey population will revile them and elect their own kind into office.
Here’s a government employee, manufacturing the crack epidemic.
So there you go. A Disney movie is explicitly taking the stance that members of the government introduced crack cocaine into black communities in order to sow discord and violence, then used the ensuing chaos to frighten the majority white population into obedience and ensure that their particular demographic stayed in power.
Ah, the simpler times when the message of a Disney movie was just, “A woman is helpless until a man comes along to save her.”
Just so we’re clear: Zootopia is fantastic. It’s a fun adventure, frequently hilarious, and beautifully animated. The fact that it deals with big topics and takes such a bold stand is really quite remarkable.
Personally, I can’t wait for the sequel. It will probably be about AIDS or something.