Dragon 2: DreamWorks Could Use Some Training in Racial Stereotyping

How to train your dragon 2 theatrical posterDiversity in animation is often evident via the fanciful creatures that populate such stories. Big green ogres, cutesy blue smurfs, jocular bright-yellow minions. In How to Train Your Dragon 2 dragons are the diverse creatures of choice, ranging from the uber-spikey untrainable babies, to the salamander-like faithful Toothless, to the menacing mastadonesque alpha-dragon. The humans that race, ride, capture and love these dragons are far less diverse: Most are blonde, most are male, all are white, except the films villain, Drago.

This baddie from “another land” has dark skin in a sea of whiteness, dreadlocks in a world of long beards and braids, a deep “black” voice in a world of Viking accents (the character is voiced by Djimon Hounsou). Presumably to justify having a villain of color in this Viking-like world of hulking white men and petite white women, Drago is named as coming from an Other place—but could this “Other” place not also be populated by whites? Why, when we have only one true villain in the Dragon films, must he be black? Even better, since the film is a reimagining of Viking lore, replete with dragons, why not reimagine the possibility of non-white Vikings?

Using dark or “colored” skin to convey evil is hardly new in the world of animation (see: the purple-hued Ursula, the green-faced Maleficent, the grey-toned Cruella DeVille), but to do so in a film that is so obvious in its whiteness—and to make Drago not a fictional color, such as green or purple, but dark-skinned with dreadlocks, no less—makes one wonder why the filmmakers chose such stereotypical shorthand: The evil one is black.

Drago is scary, thuggish and, as with many “black baddies,” misguided and inept. He’s like the scary black stranger (documented so well in the widely anthologized ”Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space,” [PDF], first published in Ms. magazine in 1986): the black thug, the physically brutish black fighter/athlete or the morally and spiritually corrupt black leader. His plan is easily destroyed by a puckish young white boy, Hiccup,  a self-effacing savior-type, earning our admiration via his kindness to animals, his sweet relationship with Astrid, his modest demeanor and, aw-shucks, his love for his mother. Don’t get me wrong, though: Hiccup is a good hero who does not display the chest-pumping hypermasculinity and power-over ethos that often accompanies that character type.

Hiccup is a pacificst, he is nurturing, he is in touch with his emotions. Despite these relatively rare traits in the world of male heroes, Hiccup is typical in his heroism in that he is white, he has a heroic “birthright” and he earns his leadership role via acts of bravery and self-sacrifice. Oh, and he saves the day from a dark threat, in the form of Drago.

This narrative arc of the Dragon sequel echoes the racial problemmatics of so many animated films. Africa is devoid of black humans in Tarzan, there are jive-talking crows in Dumbo, Peter Pan faces the “red Indians”, Lady and the Tramp features the sinister “we are Siamese” cats and the first black Disney princess was actually a green frog most of the film (Tiana of The Princess and The Frog).

Even when both hero and villain are marked as Caucausion, the villains are often visually darker—even if that involves being so white as to appear grey. Sometimes their hair is darker (Captain Hook’s black locks verses Peter Pan’s boyish red), their fur (Scar verses Mufasa from The Lion King), their dress (black being the color choice for Maleficent, the evil queen and her old-crone disguise in Snow White, etc.). Often their bodies and features also display the marks of racialized associations, and the dark/evil body is animalized (think Ursula’s snake-like octopus form in The Little Mermaid) and has ‘excessive features’ such as a hooked nose (Captain Hook),  and/or dark hair.

Drago thus joins the legacy of animated characters of color whose villainy is linked visually, audibly, and physically to his racialized body. Though the film certainly deserves props for being another notch in the recently formed belt of animated movies that portray mother figures positively (Brave, Maleficent), we must not overlook its heart of darkness.

Next time, DreamWorks, could you please be as inventive with your villains as you are with your dragons?

Photo courtesy of teaser-trailer.com



Natalie Wilson teaches women’s studies and literature at California State University, San Marcos. She is the author of Seduced by Twilight and blogs for Ms., Girl with Pen and Bitch Flicks.


  1. Also, I notice the author failed to mention that Toothless, the “hero” dragon of the movie is black. Suppose that little tidbit would tend to disprove the untenable, crackpot thrust of this “article.”

    • Katelynn Mudgett says:

      R u kidding me? We’re talking about human beings, not dragons!!!! No dragons (being fictional) have ever had to deal with racial prejudice and hate crimes and the like. Humans have! Trying to make the connection to a fictional dragon makes no sense.

      • Umm the author even used Scar and Mufasa as examples….last time I checked they aren’t human.

        • Shannon says:

          The difference, however, between using Toothless as an example and Scar/Mufasa as an example is that Scar and Mufasa are anthropomorphic; they speak, they are given human personalities, therefore it is far easier to recognise “race” with them than it is with Toothless, who doesn’t speak and resembles a house cat more than a human.

  2. If you grab some stills from the movie where Drago is actually standing in light (something he does not do often), open them in photo editing software, and use the color identification tool to check out his facial color, you’ll find that he’s actually the same shade as Hiccup, or very close.

  3. There is a lot of debate, I see in the dialogue on this on reddit and tumblr. The answer of whether harm is done is whether people feel harmed. I feel harmed. I am white and the movie was wrecked for me because of this obvious racism. I think it’s interesting there is even discussion of whether Drago is white. He’s obviously not white to me. If we have to imagine what he looks like next to so and so in special lighting in order to decide if the film is racist, we are doing a very old dance that I am completely over. I am finding ways online to enter the dialogue and simply speak up. Thank you for writing, Natalie and for everyone engaging. Even those who disagree are at last engaging in one of our culture’s most important considerations.

    • Drago is depicted as a swarthy Caucasian. He has green eyes. He most decidedly is not black, as the author of the piece claims. He certainly doesn’t look Nordic, but he certainly doesn’t have black racial features either. The idea that anyone who isn’t Nordic is ‘colored’ is itself a racist concept.

      As I indicated in another post, a better case could be made that the depiction of Drago as a comparatively swarthy foreigner may have xenophobic implications, but to say he’a a “black baddie” really just reflects her own Anglocentric/Nordicist.

      • Really, I know a few blacks with green eyes, and you forgot to mention the dreadlocks? This is clearly racisim.. good white alpha dragon, evil blackish alpha dragon? Its ridiculous to even dispute it.

      • So, because people like Rihanna and Beyonce and Joe Jackson have green eyes, suddenly they are not black? Oh my god, Tyra Banks has been white all along?! I had no idea that race was determined by eye color!

        Did you know that Drago Bludvist was also voiced by a black actor? He is the same man who played Solomon in Blood Diamond– Djimon Honsou. Are you still going to try to tell me the character wasn’t supposed to at least hint at some attributes of blackness?

        This is a really offensive artistic choice for the movie. This will influence how children think. I have had many friends tell me that, growing up, they were influenced by who represented their race and other characteristics in movies. Shit, one of my friends who is East Asian said that he thought he could never be a hero, and he had to be a doctor or scientist, because that is the token role for East Asian people to play. That may sound a bit funny or even like a good thing, but it isn’t.

        Too often, we see dark people, ambiguously African-ish people, and so on presented as evil and bad. That, or stupid, thuggish, and ignorant. This would not have been as problematic a choice had there been ANY other non-white characters in the entire movie, but the sole black person in this movie was the villain. It’s wrong, and it harms children as they grow up. The author is completely right here (though her points on Ursula are a bit of a stretch).

        I know you’ll probably never see this, but I can’t leave this without a proper response.

    • Sunflower67 says:

      I am White and not particularly sensitive to racial issues one way or the other. But in this case, it was so striking to me, I googled “How to Train Your Dragon Two dreadlocks” and found this article. To me, the Drago character is either Black or Arabic–the lone bad guy in a sea of pearly white Norsemen. Deeply offensive. Makes me sad for all the little Black or Arabic children who saw this movie. Really irresponsible.

  4. But the villain in the movie is Caucasian, has green eyes, and an Eastern European name. The fact that you saw Drago Bludvist as non-white really only calls attention to your own Anglocentric, even Nordicist view of whiteness (i.e. anyone swarthier than an Anglo is ‘colored’). To some extent here the author of this post and those that agree with her are pointing one finger at others while unwittingly pointing 3 back at themselves.

    A stronger, if still questionable argument could be made that the comparatively swarthy Dragon might reflect some subconscious xenophobia, but in leaping past that somewhat more reasonable speculation into a full blown accusation of ‘racism!(TM)’ the article just comes off like a stereotypically silly PC lament that most reasonable people will just roll their eyes at.

    Sometimes a dark haired puppet is just a dark haired puppet.

  5. There are many shades of white. For many years dark hair and big nose like the one of the only bad guys in this movie meant “semitic” race. In fact, this is the way Jewish people are portrayed by racist groups still nowadays. Also, dreadlocks today in the US mean black. Considering that all the good characters are clearly white and clearly “non-semitic” or black, would have preferred that the bad guys on the movie would have been clearly white too.

  6. Gordon Whitman says:

    Please share this petition to DREAMWORKS to stop using racial stereotypes in its animated movies:https://www.change.org/petitions/allison-rawlings-dreamworks-stop-using-racial-stereotypes-in-movies-like-how-to-train-your-dragon-2

  7. I’ve got to say I agree with the article. And to those who are saying Drago is a white guy, I’m guessing you’re either trolls or are middle class white people. Drago has dreadlocks, appears to be a North African, and is voiced by a guy from Africa. Meanwhile, he leads an army of completely nordic looking white guys.

    As for Nightshade being black, none of the dragons really have any characteristics that could be deciphered as human traits specific to one race (either physical or behavioral). So Nightshade being black is the same as one of the other dragons being blue or green or red. The author’s point is that the human characters all have quite obvious physical and behavioral (speech) characteristics indicitive of specific races. And only one is truly distinguishable from the others. One of these things is not like the others…

    • Holly Marshall says:

      Drago is not white, you’re right, but he’s also not black. From his facial features and the shading of his skin, I would place Drago as middle eastern. This is not much better, however, it would fit the “other world”ly description of his character, as all the other characters are from the North. This would also explain all of his mens features too, along with Eret, who also has different features to the rest of the tiny chinned gang of misfits from Berk.
      And before you argue, yes, I acknowledge that Drago has dreadlocks, and that green eyes can in fact be a common trait in those of darker skinned races. But the fact stands that you look at the anatomy of a specifically African descended human and suddenly all those arguing that Drago is black are reaching for straws. Drago’s nose is hooked, and pointed, African noses tend to be rounded, and large towards the nostrils. Their lips tend to be bigger too, while being smaller in width to show an ‘o’ shape when opening mouths. And although this may be a rather wrong choice to convey evil-ness in a character, dreadlocks may have been an artists choice to show that the character does not bathe.
      Drago is not white, but he’s also, not white.

  8. The problem of this movie to me.(and yes I am black and part Jamaican so seriously black, and I am also a child) Is that they tired to HIDE the black character. If you’re going to be racist. Do it right. Make him look like a typical black man. The man looked like a FREAKING MONKEY. He has a staff, so are you implying that he’s a witch doctor? The voice actor for him is AFRICAN. So don’t tell me he’s not black. I don’t even care that he’s black or the villain, why did you hide it? I was trying so hard to get over that part because I was IN LOVE with the movie at first, then I saw that and I was like… is he black… or not? Then I thought, is he an islander… or NOT? anyways yeah. That’s my point on the subject.

  9. First of all Dreamworks and this movie is not racist! Drago Bludvist is a Viking of Salvic or of some Eastern European decent. Some Vikings had dreadlocks. In the wiki he has green eyes. He doesn’t look dark at all. His voice actor is African and he played in many movies of ancient culture.

  10. Agreed. He’s some kind of ‘brutish darkskinned man’ stereotype and this was very disappointing. Even if he’s not “meant” to be specifically African, the stark visual difference from the heroes is still problematic. Poeple have said he has an Eastern European name, but I know no culture in Eastern Europe where dreadlocks is a fashion.

  11. Just wanted to add that Dreamworks chose a premise and setting for this movie (Vikings, Northern Europeish) that *ostensibly* gave them the green card to exclude any POC from the cast. (Europe was a lot more racially hetereogenous, but whatever, that’s not public knowledge so the excuse still tends to fly.)
    However, in that case, you’d expect them to actually stick with it, not turn right around and introduce a POC character after all when they need a villain. If a character from a far-off land like Drago could’ve been gallivating among the Vikings, there’s no reason we couldn’t have had Viking POC protagonists too. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  12. Michael Liew says:

    Why shouldn’t stories written from the view of Vikings portray outsiders as villains? The problem here is diversity and tolerance, both of which are diseases of western privilege. Ethnocentrism is the positive way of the world, and should be encouraged even in America. The canard that this somehow leads to fascism is one used by apologists for equality, and should be disregarded on those grounds alone.

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