Saturday, March 12, 2016

Cops and rabbits

I feel incredibly conflicted about Zootoopia. It's adorable and beautifully, lovingly animated so I've got no beef with that. It WANTS to have a really fantastic message. The characters are, for the most part, fun and funny and entertaining to watch. It probably isn't a total waste of money to go see it. And that ends the spoiler-free portion of my review.


Buuuuuuut it's SUPER pro-cop in ways that are VERY uncomfortable. Especially since the film very badly wants t at least seem anti-racist but doesn't quite pull it off.

Judy becomes Zootopia's first ever bunny cop. Within a very short time she's assigned a case against her captain's wishes by leveraging a city official's preferential treatment of her against her captain. She solves the case by:

1 - Recording a suspect who was unaware that she has a recording device
2 - Blackmailing that suspect to participate in her investigation
     (2b - in doing so she agrees to ignore evidence of felony tax evasion)
3 - Illegally accepting favors from her blackmail victim to access DMV database information
4 - Entering private property without a warrant under false pretenses
     (she saw a "shady character" enter so had probable cause, but it was her blackmailed associate
     entering the locked lot to retrieve the blackmail material she'd been holding over his head)
5 - Illegally accessing city surveillance footage with her city contact.
6 - Entering ANOTHER private property without a warrant.

And then she, who fought so hard for bunny acceptance, throws the entire carnivore kingdom under the bus and subjects 20% of the city's population to unwarranted suspicion as a result.

I've talked about DUE FUCKING PROCESS on this blog before. It's kind of a big deal for me. And obviously the laws of a fictional animal city are going to be different than the laws of any real-world place but teaching that blackmail is an acceptable practice for the hero cop in the story is a little fucking problematic.

Because she's a private citizen when solving the second big mystery of the movie it's somewhat less reprehensible that she (at the very least) is guilty of breaking and entering, grand larceny, and reckless driving of a FUCKING TRAIN, but again the crimes in Zootopia are solved by committing more crimes. Kind of a problem.

And the way this movie handles racism is an oroboros-like knot of issues. Judy faces prejudice because she's a cute little bunny (at one point stating that it's okay for a bunny to call another bunny cute but it's gross for another animal to call a bunny cute) and attempts to overcome her own prejudice against foxes but then it turns out that it's another cute little herbivore who's attempting to drum up hatred and fear of predators. Soooooo how does institutional power play into this dynamic? Apparently the predators are the minority in this situation but they're also (typically) the ones with a greater ability to exercise physical control of other animals. How does intersectionality play in Zootopia? Does an otter experience the dual prejudices of being seen as both cute and a predator? Does an elephant experience microaggressions about her memory while also experiencing size privilege (clearly, if the Tommy Chong water buffalo scene is any indication)? How does sexual dimorphism play into this? Assistant Mayor Bellweather clearly experiences prejudice because she's small and cute and harmless but she employs a group of large rams to act as her goons - they're the same species so how does that work or is it a problem of intra-cultural misogyny? Which is probably realistically too much to get into in a kid's film but it highlights the fact that species-based-prejudices-as-a-metaphor-for-racism is maybe not the best way to discuss racism. There's a difference between prejudice and racism, and that difference is institutional power. But in this story the Mayor is a lion, the police chief is a bull, and the cute bunny and the sly fox both experience species-based stereotypes that limit their ability to fully participate in society. So who's racist? Is it the predators or the prey? Because it can't be both - otherwise it's prejudice, not racism, because one group needs to have the institutional power for racism to be the issue. In our world it's white people who are racist, even though white people are a global minority, because globally whites hold greater institutional power. So are the predators the white people in this story? Who are forced out of their places by a biased majority? Because that's gross as fuck. It's probably more fair to say that large herbivores are the ones with the most institutional power (several times it's reiterated that there are more herbivores than carnivores) and they don't experience the same size-based prejudice that small, cute animals experience. But that kind of makes Judy Hopps a White Feminist (tm) sort of figure - a member of both a powerful and an oppressed class who learns her lesson and acts as a savior to an oppressed class she isn't a member of. Which is also gross as fuck.

I don't know, it's a kids movie and they bit off probably more than they could chew by trying to handle two big mysteries based on oppression in a single flick.

It was okay, and other than "blackmail is cool if you're a cop" it probably isn't actively harmful and most of it will probably sail over the head of the intended audience.

     - Alli

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