It’s more likely than you think.
CW// antisemitism, Holocaust mention
Animated movies make up a large portion of many people’s childhoods, but there’s a lot of things in children’s movies that children themselves don’t notice. Generally, those things are either small details that aren’t super important, or they’re unpleasant things that children don’t quite understand, like a villain’s motivation. When an animation company codes a character as something, it basically means that the character is implied to be that thing. It can never be actually stated in the series, but it can be easily picked up with context clues. For example, Darwin Waterson from The Amazing World of Gumball can be interpreted as a black person, even though physically he is a fish. This is somewhat common in animation, and it’s not always a bad thing.
However, something animation studios have been doing for a while is coding their antagonists to be minorities. A more prominent example of this would be the villain Him from the Powerpuff Girls, which is a heavily queer coded villain. Animation companies often code their villains as Jewish people, which is harmful to Jewish communities.
A common trait used to code people as Jewish is their appearance. Jewish people are stereotypical depicted with dark hair and larger noses, but not all Jewish people have this specific appearance. In stereotypes as well as World War II propaganda, Jewish people were stereotyped as greedy and money hungry, which is also made to harm Jewish people. A lot of the lies that were said about Jewish people were made up in an attempt to dehumanize them, which have stuck around in society.
Although appearances matter and character design is a huge part of a character, characters should be judged based on the combination of their actions and how that impacts people. As much as bad character design can warrant critique normally, sometimes a deeper look is required to understand and critique characters in a meaningful way.
Disney is guilty of coding villains as Jewish from time to time. A prime example would be Mother Gothel from the 2011 movie Tangled. She has the stereotypical appearance of a Jewish person which is already not the best, but her name is a common Jewish name. Her motivation through the entire movie is to be selfish and stay forever young, which is fine, but she steals a baby. This is normal villain behavior, but the fact that she is a Jewish coded villain makes this much worse, as Jewish people used to be accused of kidnapping and eating Christian babies, which was more specifically known as the “Blood Libel” which first emerged in the 12th century and has been subtly present in society ever since. Kidnapping on its own isn’t that bad for a villain, but it doesn’t pair well with everything else. Of course she never ate Rapunzel, thank goodness, but this can be interpreted as a very subtle, watered-down version of the “Blood Libel”. Disney could’ve done better with her character and completely avoided this mess.
Gargamel from The Smurfs is another key example of antisemetic stereotypes. He has the standard appearance of dark hair and a larger, round nose. His name is French, which is slightly better than Mother Gothel, but he is just as big of a problem as her. For a while on the show, his motivation is to eat the smurfs, which can be connected to the very old myth of Jewish people eating babies, but in this case it’s smurfs instead of a baby. Later in the series he needs the smurfs to turn them into gold. Jewish people were thought to be selfish and greedy as a way to demonize them, so his obsession with gold is an antisemetic stereotype.
Animation companies code their villains as Jewish or queer or any other sort of minority to try and subconsciously make kids associate those traits with being evil. These sort of characters are made to demonize Jewish people and further perpetuate the same ideas used to separate them from other people in World War II. The problems with these villains aren’t that they are villains, but the fact that they are made to look like Jewish people. Making minorities the villains of animated movies hurts the minorities they are representing.
Of course, there is a chance that animation companies don’t realise they do this. Since cartoons are watched mostly by children, they could’ve picked up the antisemitism in their movies from things they saw when they were young children. Children pick up on things they see around them, so there could be a chance that this antisemitism has been stuck with them since they were children and didn’t realize.
Witches. A Halloween staple. But why do they look like that? It’s almost like they’re a giant walking stereotype. There’s no need for witches to specifically have dark hair and large, pointy noses, but they do. They scare small children, another aspect of Halloween, which would be fine if they didn’t look like caricatures of Jewish people.Witches also have a history of being hunted down by Christians. Of course no hate to Christianity, just witches were burned and killed because they were thought to be conversing with the devil and other horrible things. They were seen as evil by people at the time of the witch trials, which have happened multiple times.
What else has happened multiple times you ask? The Crusades! This is going somewhere don’t worry. When the church convinced people to crusade, they also converted people to Christianity because they believed that anyone who wasn’t a Christian was a heretic and was going to rot in hell. Judaism isn’t Christianity, and making witches look like Jewish people really just adds double burning in hell from a historical standpoint. Now though, children just associate witches with being scared, so they might think Jewish people are witches and get scared.
Although this might not seem important, having characters like this in movies contributes to a larger problem. In December 2020, there was a huge rise in antisemetic hate crimes all over the world as Jewish people were celebrating Hanukkah. In New York, a predominantly Jewish private school’s website was hacked and the personal information of the students and faculty was leaked to the dark web, and the Anne Frank Memorial was vandalized. Even in January at the Capitol of the United States, a country built on the promise of religious freedom, people were wearing antisemetic clothing with slogans like “6MWE”, which is an abbreviation for 6 million wasn’t enough, in reference to the holocaust. As much as it seems like antisemitism ended, it is still very much present in society today.
However, it’s not like people can’t change their minds because of past incidents. Pointing out these stereotypes, especially when they are villains, can help people see them as well and not internalize the way these people are represented in the media. Dissecting characters can help people understand certain things about society in general, and by taking a deeper look into character design people can see it’s flaws and learn from them. Things can change and get better, but it takes a lot of work and time.
Some animation companies are already doing better and being better. For example Dreamworks released an animated kids t.v. show called Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, which’s main characters are all POC, and there’s a good amount of queer characters too. Disney also has changed quite a bit, as they released the movie Soul in late 2020, which is about a black man and his love of jazz to keep it short. Both studios’ work show that animation can and will change as people change society, which directly changes the children of society. Diverse and accepting media shapes the way society runs.
Hate isn’t born, it’s learned.