The Trouble with “Horton Hears a Who”

Kareem Abdul-Jabaar blogs that Fox’s “Horton Hears a Who,” one of the year’s most successful films, is divisive.

He writes on Huffington Post, “To make the story long enough for a full-length movie, a sub-plot was added about the mayor of Whoville who has 96 cheerful daughters and one brooding son. This is where things take a nasty turn. Basically, the mayor ignores his 96 daughters in order to groom his uninterested son to become mayor. Why doesn’t he groom one of his much more enthusiastic daughters? And, of course, it is the brooding son who, in the end, saves the entire world of Whoville. The daughters? They get to cheer from the sidelines. While it’s true that in the book a “very small shirker named Jo-Jo” does add his tiny voice to the din and thus saves Whoville, but that promotes the idea that we all have our part to play in our community, not that sons are smarter than daughters.

“”Hey, it’s just a cartoon,” you might say. But this particular cartoon will be seen by millions of children around the world. And they will come away with a clear impression that a single son is worth more than 96 daughters. That boys are inherently more valuable than girls, and more likely to be successful (in this case, in saving the world) than girls.”

His entry is called “Horton Hears a Racist,” and he makes the connection this way:

“…If our society is willing to tolerate any form of social injustice and discrimination toward any single group, then they have created a breeding ground for injustice throughout society. If we allow sexism, ageism, homophobia, religious intolerance, than racism can only flourish as well. We expose our impressionable children to funny cartoons about wacky animals voiced by famous actors and what do we think is going to happen? Will a little girl step out of Horton feeling empowered and motivated, or just slightly less capable than the little boy walking beside her?”

Is too much being read into the content of a children’s movie? What springs to my mind is in 2004, when I attended a screening of “The Incredibles” on the day after the presidential election. It was at the Arclight, and it is safe to say that much of the audience was a bit depressed after Bush was re-elected. When Brad Bird gave a Q&A session afterward, he was asked whether his pic had a political motivation, i.,e. a pro-Bush bent. Bird said that he actually wrote the script before Bush even took office, and that he had gotten the question from both sides. In other words, people were extra sensitive about politics and suspicious about its impact on pop culture.

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