One of the things I try to get across when I teach race and ethnicity is how much we live in a racist culture where white is associated with goodness, purity, and other good qualities whereas darkness is associated with evil. Based on this dichotomy, we have an entire symbolic repertoire that we are all socialized into. By default, we are all racist, especially those of us who are white. Being racist, not necessarily consciously, is the basic setting. It is NOT being racist that takes work.
How is this default setting socially and culturally produced? Well, through media products, for one. Take the main Disney animated films. Certainly, for the most part of the 20th century, white characters dominated.
Once Disney got into ethnic heroins, their ethnicity was considerably downplayed, just a little ethnic so the audience “gets” that the heroin is not White Anglo, but not too much so that the majority white audience is not unsettled. So, smooth features are the rule. On the other hand, villains are over-ethnicized (if that is a word) so that evil is associated with strong ethnic traits.
Shanyu, the villain:
Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog.
So, yes, the main characters are non-White, but that is settled within the first 20 minutes when they both get turned into frogs. And for the record, in frogs, females are usually larger than males. Not on cartoons:
And who is the villain in that film? He is black, of course (the setting is New Orleans), but look how much more ethnic he is:
It even works with animal characters. Take The Lion King, for instance:
Mufasa and Simba:
The point here, of course, is not to accuse the film makers of blatant racism but simply to recognize that when designers think of the traits of different characters, they fall back on cultural scripts we were all socialized into: a villain has overemphasized traits and one way to overemphasize is to push the ethnic button.
Then, we should not be surprised by this: