A recent article published by The Washington Post has claimed that the story of Disney’s The Lion King, both the original animated film and its CG-remake, are “[offering] fascist ideology writ large.”
In the article, author Dan Hassler-Forest reflects on the themes of The Lion King through a lens of social justice, asserting that the lions, hyenas, and gazelle are “stand in for human societal organizations” and that the themes of the movie “incorporates the white supremacist’s worldview.”
“The first thing to understand about “The Lion King” is that it isn’t in any way about lions, or any other animal species. As in every fable, a variety of cute and cuddly figures stand in for human societal organizations. Mapping our internalized social hierarchies onto the pristine and “neutral” world of the animal kingdom renders these power dynamics natural, common-sense and desirable. But by using predator-prey relationships to allegorize human power, the film almost inevitably incorporates the white supremacist’s worldview, one in which some groups of people are inherently superior to others.”
Hassler-Forest continues to draw comparisons between the fictional animals and real world politics, claiming that the iconic Pride Rock is “a kind of Trump Tower of the African savanna” and, bizarrely, that “the hyenas transparently represent the black, brown and disabled bodies that are forcefully excluded from this fascist society” and are “noticeably marked by their ethnically coded “street” accents” (a point which seems to be in and of itself racist as the hyenas have not been heard yet and fans are only aware of the casting of Eric Andre, Florence Kasumba, and Keegan-Michael Key for these roles). Hassler-Forest also believes that the divide between the citizens of the Pride Lands and those who have been exiled to the Outlands for breaking the ‘circle of life’ and the over-hunting of other species, such as the hyenas, is reminiscent of fascistic dividing of communities into specific ghettos:
“Just as fascist leaders constantly pinpoint specific groups they seek to villainize and cast out from “natural” society, the film’s heroes are preoccupied with keeping their kingdom free of contamination by undesirable elements, who are consigned to the shadowy ghettolike areas “beyond our borders” — on the wrong side of the tracks. With these elements in place, the film’s plot centers on what happens when the “natural” supremacy of traditional patriarchal rule is interrupted. This foul betrayal of tradition is predictably orchestrated by Scar, the misfit lion whose opportunistic desire to advance the status of minorities echoes the way conservatives speak of liberal politicians, when they act as if compassion is merely opportunism.”
Through the course of the article, it appears that Hassler-Forest projects the real world struggles of ‘out groups’ upon the exiled hyenas, as he puts forth that the heroic return of Simba to the throne of Pride Rock actually enforces a fascistic principles of hierarchy:
“But as so often in Hollywood films, the explicit Nazi iconography serves primarily to distract us from the heroes’ own fascism. Simba’s final ascent to the throne, his masculine roar returning Scar’s dystopia to its Edenic natural state, is nothing less than the Führer Principle at work: the idea that those we entrust with positions of leadership are blessed with a natural, even divine superiority. Groups who question this system or rebel against it are presented as genetically inferior and malicious beings who must learn to acknowledge their proper place in the social order. As Matt Roth has written, the movie thereby 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.”
Curiously, though he appears to sympathize with the plight of the exiled hyenas, Hassler-Forest makes only one reference to Scar, the character actually based on fascists Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, lamenting that “the social outcasts’ rebellion against Mufasa’s autocratic regime is explicitly associated with the imagery of goose-stepping Nazis.” To view Scar and the hyenas, a group who believe they have an almost God-given right to rule the Pride Lands and will even murder children in pursuit of that goal, as the ‘true’ heroes shows a shocking disconnect between Hassler-Forest’s personal political views and the actual plot of the film.
At no point in the film does Mufasa or Simba, the two rightful kings of Pride Rock, banish the usurpers because they demand that their sovereignty be respected, but rather because the usurpers posed a credible threat to the lives of the people entrusted to his care; in fact, after Scar takes over from Mufasa, we can see that he has turned the Pride Lands into a barren dystopia as he asserts his eminent domain over resources. To reach these conclusions, one must not only disregard the entire context of the story within the film, but must also arbitrarily project complex, real world issues onto a Disney film.
As is common among similar criticisms of popular culture, the progress made towards the remake being more ‘diverse and inclusive,’ such as replacing white voice actor Matthew Broderick with the black Donald Glover, is not satisfactory for Hassler-Forest, as he remains firm in his belief that “these films consistently champion authoritarian and anti-democratic values.”
“But it’s also not enough. In our increasingly nostalgic culture, we need to recognize that the real problem with “The Lion King” isn’t the ethnicity of its voice actors, just as the inherent misogyny of “The Little Mermaid” can’t be salvaged by casting a black actress in a role that’s notorious for sexualizing and objectifying teenage girls’ bodies. These films consistently champion authoritarian and anti-democratic values by reproducing a worldview in which power, strength and privilege are genetically determined, and where the weak and vulnerable only exist to serve, support and flatter their masters.”
Hassler-Forest ends his article with an emotional appeal to champion his point, referring to the “debate whether to call the horrific shelters on our border concentration camps or not” and how “anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate crimes continue to increase.” However, these issues are not the result of a culture, as Hassler-Forest states, that continues to “obsessively revisit narratives that celebrate the strong, the beautiful and the powerful, while looking down upon the rebels, the outcasts and the powerless,” but rather because of numerous and intricate social and national politics and the clashing of these ideologies, as the real world is more complex than a fictional story based on Hamlet. Ultimately, Disney is not attempting to support any fascists or fascist ideals, but instead focusing on making as much money as possible with the release of The Lion King.