This clip is from the 1970 Disney movie The Aristocats. A movie about a family of aristocratic cats, who after being kidnapped by their owner’s butler are helped out by Thomas O’Malley the alley cat, who then teaches them to learn to appreciate the coarser things in life. This clip shows a scene towards the end of their adventures, where they’ve entered a Jazz club run by “Scat Cat,” a friend of O’Malley’s.
Race is coded throughout the theme, the main family’s wealth positions them as white, O’Malley’s last name (and orange fur) suggest him to be a working class Irishman, Scat Cat is the only character voiced by a Black voice actor – Scatman Crothers – and thus racially produces the band’s music as authentic – as Jazz is a music genre that originated in African American communities. The most obvious racial coding can be seen at the end of the clip, where we meet Shun Gon, a Siamese cat clearly coded as East Asian. Shun Gon bangs a gong on his head to look like an Asian conical hat, his eyes have a prolate spheroid shape, and are often closed, he plays the piano with chopsticks and sings “Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg Foo Young! Fortune cookie always wrong.”
Despite these characters being cats, how is race coded into the different characters?
Why does Shun Gon’s racial coding seem more problematic than the other cats?
This is a children’s/family movie, what does it mean for children to see this clip?
Can you think of other representations of non-human characters coded with human constructs (gender, race, sexuality, class, etc.)?