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A Stern Reminder about the Race in Universal Pictures' Hop

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On March 23, 2012, Universal Pictures will release the Easter-themed film, Hop, on Blu-ray and DVD. Although some hail Hop as a family-friendly Easter classic, the message of this film is something far more insidious. Akin to the worst examples of racial and ethnic stereotyping found in twentieth century film, the not-so-subtle message of Hop is that those who speak with a "Spanish" dialect do not count in American society. Put another way, Hop depicts Hispanics as deluded and dangerous for believing that they can ascend to a position of employment beyond that of menial labor.

Despite public controversy surrounding the film's initial release on April 1, 2011, Universal Pictures has decided to move ahead with a home video release of the film that they describe as a "comic tale" that blends "state-of-the-art animation with live action." Universal's cheerful press description omits the offensive subplot that revolves around the actions of Carlos (Hank Azaria), a possible heir to the Easter Bunny mantle.

In fact, the majority of the press about the film ignores the Carlos character and instead dwells on the relationship between EB and Fred O'Hare. EB (Russell Brand) is the son of the retiring Easter Bunny. Unwilling to follow in his father's footsteps, EB flees to Hollywood to pursue his dream of becoming a rock drummer. Back in the live-action world, the audience meets Fred O'Hare (James Marsden), the unambitious and irresponsible son of Henry O'Hare (Gary Cole). Despite his pattern of unreliability, Fred gets the opportunity to housesit a multi-million dollar home. Predictably, Fred encounters and injures runaway EB. "Hilarity" ensues as EB ransacks the home, plays his rock drums, and slowly wins the friendship of Fred.

Meanwhile, the picture is much less rosy in the animated Easter world. EB's father is beside himself with worry about his missing son and fears that he will have to cancel Easter. Carlos, a loyal factory supervisor, steps forward to offer his assistance to EB's father. He articulates a compelling case for why, in the absence of EB, he should become the next Easter Bunny. After all, he has worked in the factory for years, knows the entire production process, and is familiar to the workers. EB's father scoffs at the idea and informs him that a chicken can never become the Easter Bunny.

Regardless of his tireless loyalty and ample qualifications, Hop boldly ridicules even the suggestion that "Carlos" can become the Easter Bunny. Admittedly, it would not seem racist, or even far-fetched, to suggest that the Easter Bunny should in fact be a bunny. However, the consistent negative portrayal of Carlos and the film's denouement ultimately reveal the true reason Carlos cannot become the Easter Bunny: his ethnicity.

Inexplicably, the filmmakers choose to racialize the character of Carlos. Throughout the film, Carlos speaks in broken English with a strong mock-Spanish dialect. Imagine how this film might have been received had the Carlos character been renamed "Chang" and unable to discern his "Rs" from his "Ls." Likewise, what if he had been named "Darius" and spoke with a mock, African-American dialect?

Hop doubles down on persisting stereotypes of Hispanics in American film and television. First, Carlos is not depicted simply owning or transporting chickens (as is often the case in American television and film), he literally is a chicken, or more precisely, un pollito. Second, his broken English and mixed metaphors encourage the audience to laugh at and mock him. Consequently, the film reinforces the belief that Mexicans who speak English with a thick accent are somehow stupid, unqualified, or a joke.

Sadly, the film dashes the viewer's hope that the negative portrayal of Carlos is actually somehow subversive. Replete with weaponry and violence, Carlos leads a failed Che Guevara-style revolution at the factory that ultimately leaves him disfigured. Banished, Carlos leaves his chick henchmen to toil in the factory with no hope of a better life. Ironically, the film then playfully resolves by declaring the conspicuously human Fred O'Hare "co-Easter Bunny." The audience is left to ponder why this entitled, untalented, lazy, white twenty-something is more qualified to be Easter Bunny than the loyal and hardworking Carlos.

Hop is disturbing for what it reveals about Universal Pictures and American culture more generally. It suggests that Universal Pictures, or at the very least the production team of Hop, involved very few culturally aware individuals in positions of authority. The racial subtext of this film is glaringly evident for anyone who has even tangentially experienced discrimination based on race, class, religion, gender, or sexual preference. Secondly, it suggests that American consumers are blind to, or perhaps even comfortable with, the negative portrayals of Hispanics advanced in American television and film today. As consumers, we need to relegate Hop to the dustbin of history alongside decaying reels containing the faces of Charlie Chan and Uncle Remus.