who's predator and who's prey a reflection of zootopia


  • Analyze objects such as the lines said by the characters, the images of animals in the natural world, and the symbolizations behind them. Also, the facial expressions and body language should be analyzed entirely too, since every motion in an animation is carefully designed by the producers. By knowing the symbolization behind the movie, I am able to comprehend which type of animal corresponds to which type of people. The main idea of my project is that Zootopia reflects the structural inequality of races in a long history, which needs to be considered in American history.
  • In order to thoroughly analyze the objects to illustrate my main idea, I will relate the images of animals in movie to different physical features of races to see how stereotypes are created to different people in the film by letting them to be different animals. After that, I will refer back to the passage by Bonilla Silva after using my comprehension in the movie of different animals corresponding to different races. For instance, when predators are said it's their DNA to be savage, the responds and behaviors of the preys. By using Bonilla Silva’s idea, how racism leads to structural inequality in different aspect represented in this movie is clear.


My object of study is the image of “predators” and “prey” in the movie Zootopia.


All characters in Zootopia are separated into different groups “predator” and “prey,” which seemingly contradicts with each other just as the “stage play” demonstrates at the beginning of the movie. The lines in the play set predators thousands of years ago “vicious” while prey “meek.” The two words reveal the stereotypes the White had for Black people long ago, which is that Black people tended to be violent. Later on, their ancestors evolved and built Zootopia, where predators and prey live in harmony. That means that nowadays, race discriminations no longer exist. However, when the Dawn Bellwether framed Lionheart and other predators of being “just biologically predisposed to be savages” in order to stay in power, all prey believe in her words. The implication underlies the scene is that racial stereotypes are deep in-rooted in people’s mind. As a result, the problem cannot easily solved by evolutions. Certain behaviors are demonstrated in Zootopia by preys shows their attitude towards predators, which is part of the structural inequality.


The role of “predator” represents Black people, while “prey” represents the White. The racism stressed in the movie leads to structural inequality, which is represented by the attitudes towards predators and prey in the film. However, The structural inequality suffered by black people is an improtant part of America, because it contradicts with the famous melting-pot theory and boot-trap myth, which encourage more and more people to be Americans. My thesis is pessimistic: the movie reflects that people of color can never suceed as much as the white does, when putting the same amont of effort into the same thing.


All characters in Zootopia are separated into different groups “predator” and “prey.” The two words contradicts with each other in our real world, just as the “stage play” demonstrates at the beginning of the movie: thousands of years ago, before the ancestors of animals evolved, predators and preys lived lives opposite to each other. The lines in the stage play set predators at that time “vicious” while prey “meek.” At the beginning, predators were believed to be violent and aggressive as they are in the real world, just as the stereotypes of black people a long time ago.

figure of predators

In his work “Notes on the State of Virginia.” in 1832, Thomas Jefferson is aware of the notion of differences between races by describing “[besides] those of colour, figure, and hair, there are other physical distinctions proving a difference of race. They have less hair on the face and body. They secrete less by the kidneys, and more by the glands of the skin…They seem to require less sleep…They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome…” The sentences unconsciously start stereotypes of races by comparing the two races in own one conceptual map and neglecting the other. Conceptual maps are different not only for different races, but also for distinct individuals. Jefferson’s argument of black people is only one-sided because he only stresses one perspective of view. However, the white shared a more similar conceptual map. Consequently, their ideas on black people may be influenced by Jefferson’s words.

Later, as The Power of Illusion, Episode Two, The Story We Tell claims that when science plays a role in interpreting this difference, the conclusion becomes: “[well,] actually these races couldn't possibly come from the same place. There must be different and separate creations, since there are innate differences between races.” The argument becomes that black people were naturally more prone to violence and other aggressive behaviors because that was believed to be written in their DNA long ago. Later, negative words such as “violent” were used to supplant “brave” and “adventuresome.”

This scene is implicitly addressed in Zootopia, when Judy is asked what can she tell them about the animals that went savage, she points out that is because they are different species and all the animal that went savage are members of the predator family. As a result, it may have something to do with biology in their DNA. When science is engaged in explaining the difference in behaviors between races, racism is produced.

the mayor Lionheart is trying to find out the reason for predators to be savage

According to Bonilla-Silva’s idea in “Rethinking Racism: Towards a Structural Interpretation,” the ideas and beliefs contribute to racism. “Finally, these prejudicial attitudes may induce individuals to real actions or discrimination against racial minorities. This conceptual framework, with minor modifications, prevails in the social sciences.” In short, racism leads to structural inequalities. In Zootopia, the mayor Lionheart is a predator, while the vice mayor is Dawn Bellwether is a prey. The image of both the characters explicitly represent the group of people they belong to. Because besides Dawn Bellwether is a member in the prey family, her fur and skin are white, which match the physical features of the white. Additionally, Lionheart is a strong and tall predator. This physical features is corresponding to the “other physical distinctions” Jefferson points out when comparing black people to the white.

When Dawn Bellwether framed Lionheart and other predators of being just biologically predisposed to be savages in order to stay in power, all prey believe in her words. They even ask to expatriate predators from Zootopia. Officer Clawhauser, an obese cheetah who is too fat to be aggressive, is fired because he is a predator. The implication underlies the scene is that racial stereotypes are deep in-rooted in those animals’ mind, due to the fact that they said they have evolved but still regard predators as potential dangers. As a result, the problem of racism cannot easily solved by evolutions.

the expression of the mother
the action of the mother

The deep in-rooted racism causes structural inequalities in Zootopia. When a bunny mom is taking subway with her daughter, a tiger sits next to them. The mom stares at the tiger vigilantly and pulls her kid back to her, in order to protect her kid. Also, when the main character Nick signs up to be a member of the Junior Ranger Scouts in his childhood, all his fellow put a muzzle on him because he is the only predator in the group. “If you thought we would ever trust a fox without a muzzle?” Said by one of the members. When they are only eight, structural inequality forms. Nick could never join the Junior Ranger Scouts because of his race. This is something he was born with and couldn’t do anything to change it.

little Nick

According to The Melting Pot, America is the melting pot, where everything can be melted up and turned into one shape. However, things are different for people of color. Their racial differences can never be melted up. They can never be white. The assimilation process cannot do anything to that. Things happened in the real life is much worse than things the predators go through in the movie.

“The most prevalent accusation was the rape or sexual assault of a White woman by a Black male. This allegation would have reverberating effects throughout entire communities. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a young White woman accused a Black male of sexual assault and roughly 300 Black people were killed and more than 9,000 people were left homeless after White mobs destroyed the Greenwood community (Pickens, 2013). Regardless of producing evidence or facts, White mobs would seize Black defendants or attack Black neighborhoods to seek out revenge for this crime.” The structural inequality is driven by racial differences: when the whites accuse black people, no one ask for specific evidence and investigation of the case. As a result, numerous black people were killed at that time only because the white wanted them to die.

Zootopia reflects a long term history of the relationship between the white and black people in America. By pointing out racism and structural inequality in a Disney cartoon film, more attention will be raised, and kids will be educated in a positive way to treat every race equally.


  • Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. “Rethinking Racism: Toward a Structural Interpretation.” American Sociological Review, vol. 62, no. 3, 1997, p. 465., doi:10.2307/2657316.
  • Jefferson, Thomas. “Notes on the State of Virginia.” 1832, p. 98., doi:10.5962/bhl.title.33567.
  • “Story We Tell.” https://berkeley.kanopy.com/video/race-power-illusion-0.
  • “Zootopia.”