Last week I watched Zootopia with my kids, as news of Charlottesville burned through our TV screens. An eye-opener of a film that some have likened to George Orwell’s 1984 in terms of its incisive social commentary. As the inclusiveness of the American dream is being questioned unilaterally, and our corporate hierarchies are still paying lip service to the notion of equality, an ambitious bunny, an insecure fox and a hedonistic sloth make us think about how we see ourselves, how we would like to be seen by others, and how society actually views us.
The film has a basic message that rings true to all of us who feel that our assumed place in society isn’t “who we are” nor should it determine what we become.
If you want to be a gun-toting bunny law enforcement officer, why is it relevant that your 159 brothers and sisters all work in the family carrot business? Why is it so surprising that the virile lion mayor is usurped by his scheming (middle-aged and female) sheep deputy? Why is it so contradictory that wolves guard evil sheep henchmen? It's because even with animals we have built complex stereotypes and irrationally ascribed human traits and expectations. We have preordained their fates and therefore reject the instances in which they do not conform, or worse, penalize them. We do this to people in much the same way.
Stereotypes derive their strength from the victimhood of their targets. What I mean is that they dictate your life to the extent that you remain a victim.
The poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks will never start a billion dollar hedge fund if he lets his doubts hold him back from making those crucial deals. The insecure trainee can become a leader of men within a few short years only if his people feel that he has confidence in himself first. We have all missed opportunities in life because we have felt that they simply weren’t for us. We have all missed opportunities because others thought they weren't for us. Enough! Shake off the shackles of preconception and take control of your fate.
Zootopia attempts to embolden its viewers in this way, yet, sadly, falls short.
At the end of the day, the sloths are mostly all slow; the cops are mostly big and beefy; and the “glamorous” (non-farm) animals populate the center of Zootopia. You don’t see many sheep there, but there is at least one. You don’t see many rabbits, but there is at least one. They are present but do not occupy space, and the audience perceives that tension.
Well, if there isn't room for you then make some. That's what I say! It isn't going to be easy. That's fine. Press on and don't let other people author your life. When all is said and done, you should look back on what you've written proudly.
Be who you want to be. Be an exception to the rule. Period.
That is the American Way.