So that kids can learn about diversity from their parents (rather than the media), below are conversation starters based on Disney’s Zootopia. My own kids and I developed these together. 

Our story: Because movie theaters are so expensive for a big family, we Narishkin’s usually wait until the movie comes out on DVD. During our recent spring break though, I broke down. I took the kids to see Zootopia. They were thrilled that I was actually taking them into a theater. And we loved the show! That is, until after the show. I started asking questions about the prejudice the animals had experienced in their mammal metropolis, Zootopia.

Being a social justice educator and facilitator, I just couldn’t pass up on the teachable moment. As my kids and I unpacked different parts of the movie, I started recording the questions we were wondering about. Although my kids may never want to go to a movie with me again, we did manage to have a great discussion.

During our discussion, we talked about how the assumptions we hold about others can make us feel or think other people are less than they are. I was hoping my kids would know that because I have thought deeply about racial prejudice. Brigitte Vittrup, associate professor of child development in her article says, “Silence about race removes the opportunity for children to learn about diversity from their parents and puts it in the hands of media and misinformed peers. Television, movies, and video games are full of stereotypes, and over time children pick up on these.” Vittrup goes on to explain that, “Without discussion about the errors in these portrayals and a conscious effort to expose them to counter-stereotypical examples, children will unwittingly adopt these images as pieces of evidence of how the world is supposed to be, and these pieces become a breeding ground for prejudice.”

These questions, based on Zootopia, are designed to spur inquiry, not to arrive at right answers. They are meant to help make sense of concepts and ideas that are initially puzzling and confusing and culminate in new perspectives and empathy. If a child can’t answer a question, she or he probably needs an easier question first. So these conversation starters are set up to move the discussion from concrete to more abstract ideas. Rather than use them as a script, find a starting point where a majority of the children can engage and carry the discussion forward. I’d love to hear about what you learn together. -ASN

Our questions:

  1. What job did Bunny always want to do from the time she was a little bunny?
  2. Why did some folks discourage Bunny from being a police officer?
  3. By pursuing her desire to be a police officer, how did Bunny experience prejudice?
  4. How was Bunny able to overcome the prejudice and be a police officer?
  1. When the Fox wanted to be a scout as a young one, what did the other kids do to him?
  2. Why did the kids act that way?
  3. What kind of individual did the Fox become as an adult?
  4. How did the racism* (or prejudice) that Fox experienced as a young one impact him as an adult?
  1. What did Bunny say to the press about Predators?
  2. How did Fox show he was hurt by what Bunny said to the Press?
  3. Why do you think Fox was hurt?
  4. Although she may not have intended it, how were Bunny’s words be an example of racism?*
  1. What was the name of the flower that Sheep was using to make the blue bombs?
  2. Why did Bunny and Fox think that the Night Howler was an animal?
  3. How did the Bunny and Fox’s assumption get in the way of their investigation?
  4. How did their assumption hurt others?
  5. How was Sheep actually more savage than the Predators that were locked up?
  6. How was Sheep using racism* to her own benefit?

*Racism – the belief that all members of a race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that group (Webster)