David Wisniewski's 1992 picture book version of the African epic of "Sundiata, Lion King of Mali" and the actual historical account of the 13th century Lion King, Sundiata, are both badly served by Disney's "The Lion King." Disney has been praised for using African animals as story characters; for using the African landscape as a story setting; for using African artwork as design motifs; and for using African-American actors as the voices for the film characters. If the film succeeds in having African culture accepted by people usually resistant to recognizing any other culture but their own, then it deserves to be noted for this small breach in the racial divide. Nevertheless, in the larger sense, the film diminishes the culturally rich heritage of history and story from which it derives. Sundiata was the 12th son of a king of Mali, and he was viewed by the king's "griot" as destined for greatness. He grew to manhood in exile, but he returned to fight the evil forces of his brother and return the kingdom to its rightful sovereignty. The film converts the real hero's private pain and struggle against truly wrenching physical and political disabilities into a screen situation of sentimental, tearjerker shallowness. An interdisciplinary approach would allow English and social studies teachers to present the epic from a historical and literary perspective. Study of African history texts may be augmented with research in encyclopedias under such entries as Sundiata, Sumanguru, and Mali as beginning leads. (TB)
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English (84th, Orlando, FL, November 16-21, 1994).
Cultural Sensitivity; Lion King (The); Mali; Walt Disney Studios