The Lion King, one of the most successful animated films of all time, grossed almost a billion dollars in box office earnings when it opened in 1994, and the recently released remake is also crushing box office records. Some critics were right to call out sexism and racism in the original Lion King, and in this post, we analyze portrayals of gender in the remake. Did Disney learn its lesson?
The new Lion King still centers around the stories of men’s lives, epitomized by the visual exclusion of women from the “circle of life” (a father holding up his son). But the remake offers positive male relationships and a healthy message about masculinity.
The new Lion King sticks closely to the original, keeping the same plot, songs, much of the same script, and even recreating shots from the original. But the male characters in the remake are more positive masculine role models than the original. Simba’s (Donald Glover) father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), is a compassionate, caring, and selfless leader. He teaches his son that it is okay for even a King to be scared, and that a true leader “looks for what he can give,” not for what he can take. Mufasa also shows physical affection to his son, playing with him and cuddling him at various points throughout the movie. Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Mufasa’s evil brother, is a stark representation of toxic masculinity. Scar is violent, selfish, disrespectful, vengeful, power hungry, and most of all, manipulative. His downfall sends a clear message about the ultimate cost of toxic masculinity.
The Lion King remake is still inherently flawed in its emphasis on male leadership. Although the remake provides more powerful female leaders — Sarabi (Alfre Woodard), Nala (Beyoncé), and Shenzi (Florence Kasumba)– they lack real power in both movies. For example, there is no zero consideration of the possibility that a female lion could rule, which is especially rich since real lion prides are matriarchal.
The Lion King remake is a fun romp, but one that requires a discussion afterward if you view it with children. Which lion would you like to be– Mufasa or Scar– and why? Why does the “circle of life” only include men? Why is it that only male characters could be leaders? This movie is a great way to teach your kids about media literacy!