Saturday evening I had the pleasure of watching a collection of newer animated short films by Disney studios. There were plenty of heartwarming themes, and some witty humor as well. Some seemed like they were meant to contribute to the general Fantasia collections.
One in particular stood out to me, a tribute to John Henry done in an art style meant to evoke handmade quilts.**
(You can view the full short film here for now.)
I watched, as you might expect if you’ve read my previous musings on John Henry as an African-American representation of Thor, with a certain Thunderer in mind. So you can imagine my delight when, at the very end, thunder was attributed to John Henry swinging his hammer! Hee!
It has also come up several times that, just aside from the modern social need for an Everyman God like Thor to actually reflect, y’know, every man, that it makes perfect sense for Thor to have darker skin according to the actual, well-accepted lore. We already know He’s of mixed race – half As via Odin, and half Jotun.
Specifically, Thor’s mother was an Earth Jotun. She could just as easily have skin like rich planting soil, or deep umber clay. I intend to explore this further in art, and I will be sure to share it here when I do.
** Now, of course, it’s Disney, so I did worry at first that they’d do something deeply stupid, like not have him die at the end. (I’m looking at you, Little Mermaid!), but no, they stay true to that aspect, at least. I suspect this was partially offered as an apology for the ways The Princess and the Frog went wrong, but I can only guess whether this comes across as better – it does to me, but I’m pretty fuckin’ white, eh?
Honestly, Disney always messes some things up in the processes of Disney-fying folk tales no matter what the story is, but there’s a whole other level of difficulty involved in trying to bring other ethnicities into the mix, even if they have utterly sincere reasons for wanting the Princesses to be diverse. There are a lot of catch-22’s involved in portraying cultural memes vs. stereotypes, positive portrayals of negative historical events, and so forth. I don’t envy them the job, but Disney’s skill or lack thereof in portraying non-white characters isn’t really the point of this essay, which is why all of this musing is a footnote!
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