I went to see Disney’s Zootopia with my sisters for our birthday, not really expecting much. I was hoping for a cute cartoon that we could laugh about for the rest of the day together.
I got so much more than that.
Zootopia, as the name implies, is about an ostensible utopia where “anyone can be anything” and dreams become reality. It only takes about a minute after you enter the city to realize that there is so much more going on here.
Most of the ink spilled over this movie has been about its dealing with racial relations; others have written about that far more eloquently than I ever could. I am here to deal with its implications for disability rights and activism.
One of the main problems the protagonists face is of individuals going “savage” and harming others. I was struck by the parallels between how these animals were discussed and how we talk about mass shooters being mentally ill.
“It could be biological,” “We can’t ignore the possibility that it has to do with them being predators (mentally ill),” and other such commentary that sounds so very reasonable. This is what you hear, both in movie and out, when someone does something that we cannot understand. I, a person diagnosed with mental illness, live in a world where my rights can be taken away without a moment’s notice. The correlation between mental illness and violence, or deveopmental disabilities and violence, means that if someone dislikes me and they happen to have a medical degree, or be related to me, they can functionally jail me until I change my behavior to suit them–or until I die. I have my rights only as long as people decide that I am a human being and not a threat.
I can be refused jobs because I am dangerous. If I am a pilot, I could be removed from duty. If I am arrested, there is little to no possibility that I will be given accommodation as I hyperventilate till I pass out. And if I deal with someone who despises or condescends to me for other reasons–if I am a woman with a sexist man–a black person with a racist–the likelihood of me being helped, or even treated like a human being, drops to nil.
And the more “Dangerous” my mental illness is perceived as, the more likely I am to lose my rights.
The movie turns this all on its head, though. The most dangerous people in this movie–an arctic shrew, a bunny, a (SPOILER)… they are not predators.
Kill this idea that evil=mentally ill. Kill the idea that mentally ill=dangerous. Start holding people responsible for their own actions, rather than holding an entire group of people hostage to your fear.
And WATCH ZOOTOPIA. It’s worth your time.