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Student paper apologizes for Obama Lion King cartoon

University of New Mexico African-American students are demanded and received an apology from the student paper, The Daily Lobo, after it ran a cartoon depicting the scene from The Lion King where the monkey Rafiki holds up the young Simba lion cub, but in the drawing President Barak Obama was the Rafiki character holding Osama Bin Laden’s head.

The editor took responsibility for the outrage and took steps to remedy it, including issuing the apology and vowing to have staff attend African-American Student Services and go through sensitivity training.

Along with the apology, the editor offered information on why the cartoon was printed in the first place.

Third, we must make it clear that we did not run the cartoon with the intent to be racist. We saw the cartoon as an interpretation of Osama bin Laden’s death and the American celebration along with it. We saw the cartoon as a symbol of the twisted nature of American pride and thought it would provoke interesting, not racist, discussion. Since we can only speculate as to the intent of the cartoon, I contacted the artist, Hajo de Reijer.

“It wasn’t my intention to be racist. And it will never be,” he said. “U.S. President Barack Obama tweaked Donald Trump at the annual White House correspondents’ dinner over the fuss he made over his place of birth. Obama showed the opening scene from the movie ‘Lion King,’ showing baby Simba being born to his Lion King father.”

De Reijer said his cartoon was simply a reflection of a current event. In full disclosure, De Reijer is from the Netherlands and is not necessarily attuned to the racial undertones of such a depiction of Obama in America.

We bring this up not to justify the cartoon’s content, but to try to foster understanding of our editorial decision to run it.

Here’s a news report from KOBTV.

Community Comments

#1 Tom Pappalardo
May/6/2011
@ 9:43 am

1. The Correspondent’s dinner was the first thing I thought of.

2. That is way-above-average art for a college paper.

#2 Mike Lester
May/6/2011
@ 10:01 am

As a giant klieg light w/ Jesse and Rev. Al hit the NM night sky, it’s Selma all over again. An editor of Indian decent and a cartoonist from the Netherlands of all places should certainly know that the wise hero character in a Disney movie triumphantly hoisting the villains head will be viewed as racist. Welcome to post racial America. Anything you say can and will be censored.

btw: How’s that apology to American Indians coming after the WH code named the most wanted terrorist on the planet, “Geronimo”?

#3 Kevin Moore
May/6/2011
@ 10:55 am

Although I am at pains to identify the specific racial stereotype that caused offense, I think this cartoon shows us why the method of combining two disparate current events to generate a juxtaposition joke fails. When Obama used the Lion King, he was making a joke about birther claims about his African identity — which, as one of African descent, he’s got the right to do. But notice the thematic correlation: birth of Simba to birth of Obama in Africa. It’s not much of a stretch … although still not very funny. Guess ya had to be there.

Anyway, the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan occurred thousands of miles away on a different continent. And death does not equate with birth. So the average reader will at least be confused as to what the hell the cartoonist is getting at. Yes, Obama ordered the hit on bin Laden. We read that in the paper. What else are you adding to the conversation? How does this cartoon reflect on that event? What are you trying to say?

Left with a void of meaning, people will have to provide their own content. That some might construe it as racist may seem far fetched, but what do else they have to go on?

#4 Kevin Moore
May/6/2011
@ 11:00 am

“Anything you say can and will be censored.”

Who’s being censored? They ran his strip. People got upset. They apologized. Just because you express something doesn’t mean people’s criticism is tantamount to censorship. Surely as a professional political cartoonist you have figured THAT out. I mean, when have you ever let criticism affect what you were trying to say? Not trying to attack you, but based on your track record as a cartoonist, I can’t say that you have let criticism from groups you have offended deter you from continuing to criticize those groups. Or offend them.

#5 Mike Lester
May/6/2011
@ 12:23 pm

Respectfully disagree, KM. Censorship all day long imho. Withholding photographs of a smoked terrorist is also censorship but that’s another movie.

This poor (I think he’s Indian) kid/editor was blindsided because he didn’t know the manual. But the aggrieved party is not only going to teach it to him and his staff in sensitivity classes, they’ll perpetuate the very stereotypes they find offensive in the process. This is how racism is kept alive by the Sharptons and Jacksons: by demanding we live w/ sensitivities from the ’50’s.

Had there not been an indignant hue/cry, I’m not sure who would have made the connection. I didn’t.

#6 Matt Bors
May/6/2011
@ 2:17 pm

Tom, the cartoonist is a pro from the Netherlands. His name is Hajo de Reijger. I don’t know why the cartoonist is never identified in these stories. That would never happen to an Op-Ed columnist who said something controversial.

#7 Dave Stephens
May/6/2011
@ 5:19 pm

And so the minefield grows and prospers… And as that field is nurtured by the aggrieved tears of the offended, so another field is starved of income and opportunity, broken stalks of editorial cartoonists swaying gently over the cracked and desiccated ground…

#8 Carl Moore
May/6/2011
@ 5:47 pm

This is a silly controversy. Would Obama himself be offended by this cartoon? Of course not. And neither would anyone else except those hyper-sensitive, politically-correct, race hustlers who get a shiver up their leg every time they can take a cartoon that’s obviously not intended to be racist and – voila! – turn it into a racial “gotcha” moment… It’s sad. When does common sense come back in vogue?

#9 Mike Peterson
May/7/2011
@ 3:32 am

Gee, I’ve never heard anyone say that African-Americans get offended if you depict them as monkeys. That’s a completely new one on me. There’s just a new thing to watch out for every day — what’s next, Jews getting upset at being depicted as hook-nosed pawn brokers? It’s hard to keep up!

Anyway, monkeys and lions are the same thing because they are both in the same movie. It’s like, if your mother referred to herself as Princess Leia, then obviously you wouldn’t be offended if I were to compare her to Jaba the Hutt, and, if you said you were offended, you’d be stupid and wrong to feel that way.

#10 Carl Moore
May/7/2011
@ 4:57 am

“… African-Americans get offended if you depict them as monkeys.” Yes, that’s certainly true. Let’s see: I don’t see a monkey’s body. I don’t see a monkey’s tail sticking out from under Obama’s coat. Hmm… maybe the cartoonist is just so subtle and clever that he knows his racist readers will make the racist connection – he’s a monkey, like in the movie. Get it? Wink. Wink. Yeah, that’s the way to make it as a cartoonist – depict the President of the United States as a monkey. But do it with so much subtlety that one has to bend over backward – way, way, backward, like slinky backward – to draw the correct racist conclusion intended. C’mon, it’s ridiculous. Anyone who looks at this cartoon and sees racism is in the same company with Trump and his ilk still seeing forged birth certificates in their dreams.

#11 Mike Lester
May/7/2011
@ 6:54 am

Peterson, no argument; blacks as monkey’s is an old Jim Crow insult. And that’s my point: it’s as old as Jim Crow. White, Southern, tooth challenged, inbreds are drawn everyday but I don’t identify myself w/ them. We give people the power to offend us. Or we don’t.

I feel very sad for these kids on both sides. But that’s the parent in me.

#12 Mike Peterson
May/8/2011
@ 4:14 am

Mike, some years ago I collaborated with Sid Couchey to republish a cartoon history of the Champlain Valley he had done for the local newspaper. There were only two or three changes in how the local Indians were depicted to keep up with modern sensibilities — substituting the words “bloody attack” for “savage attack” (which meant what he meant with a less loaded word) and changing a small visual scalping joke in the corner of a much bigger picture (he laughed over that like a little boy caught with a spitwad). But before it published, I sat down with the superintendent of a school that overlapped the Mohawk reserve to go through it with him so he wouldn’t be blindsided if it got negative response.

He acknowledged that Sid took humorous swipes at everybody in the series — the Scots blew off-key bagpipes, the British wore monocles, etc etc. But he said it’s easy to take that kind of kidding when you don’t perceive yourself as already being picked on. As someone from a rural area, I share with you the resentment over “Yo’ in a heap o’ trouble, boy” depictions of sheriffs and the inbred pervert Deliverance jokes — but the fact is, I can write it off as stupid commentary from ignorant city people, because I’m not repressed in any meaningful way. Fact is, when I go to the city, nobody knows I’m a “yokel.” It’s an identity I can put on or take off as I wish. Racial minorities don’t have that luxury.

I’m not arguing with you on this — I’m passing along something that was pointed out to me that I have given some thought to since. I’d love to see a day when this stuff didn’t matter anymore. But, meanwhile, that’s how it’s seen from the short end of the stick and it’s something to ponder, even if you refuse to give in to it.

As for Carl’s contention that the joke doesn’t evoke a baboon because he didn’t draw it that way, well, then it has no context and doesn’t evoke a damn thing. You’re really contending that the cartoon was not evoking that scene from that movie? Then what was it about? Do you think we’re idiots here?

#13 Brayo
May/8/2011
@ 8:33 am

I am conflicted on this one. A few points, without context this is rather shocking in its gruesomeness.I do agree with Kevin Moore, I don’t quite get the juxtaposition of Simba’s birth and Osama’s death(other than the imagery of holding up the cub/head). And therefore from purely humor point of view, I am not sure if it works. Now for the racial element.

Was the cartoon intended as racist? Nope. Could it have been perceived as racist? Hell ya! And this is where the painful lesson comes in for the young editor. When publishing an editorial cartoon, think of every possible permutation of the likely reactions you will receive. And if you are still willing to take the heat, publish it.

#14 Joe Vissichelli
May/8/2011
@ 6:50 pm

A lot of these sort of public outrages have some substance to them but when they don’t, it’s a shame that the “offenders” don’t usually just tell people to lighten up.

Obama himself publicly showed his image in the Lion King setting in the past week and this was just a take on that recent event. Couldn’t that be explained to those who needed to understand it (but maybe were not have been aware of it)? Couldn’t they, in turn, slightly stretch their imaginations to take that in?

Everyone can find something to be offended about in the media but sometimes we all need to just back off and say, “Oh? never mind!” Those that can’t do that in the face of the evidence may be just as offensive.

#15 Joe Vissichelli
May/8/2011
@ 7:03 pm

BTW, in a rare instance of not backing down, neither NY Post editorial cartoonist Sean Delonas nor his newspaper apologized for his drawing of a chimp in his allusion to Obama’s economic stimulus. Now THAT was offensive and both should have made amends. There IS a difference if people want to consider it.

#16 Jeffrey Weston
May/8/2011
@ 10:12 pm

I do a comic strip where the main character is an Ape.

When I want to satirize political topics, though, I made a concious decision to not use the Ape character as a stand in for the President.

The thought being that people who were unfamiliar with the characters, would get “distracted” with the unintended symbolism.

As Kevin Moore inferred above, for comedy to suceed, it needs clarity.

#17 Jim Lavery
May/9/2011
@ 8:12 am

This is so typically stupid—I clicked on the story and figured I’d see the monkey from the movie with Obama’s head on it. Instead I just see the president uplifting bin laden’s dead head. No monkey, not even a lion. The image is of giving up an offering/sacrifice to the gods or the populace or both. The best known iconic image depicting that concept is from “The Lion King” so that’s why it was used. The fact that one character was originally a monkey was irrelevant, unintended and not even considered–the point was about offering something up.

The paper and the editor should have told the whiners to shove it and demand that THEY take reality training classes. Every time someone caves into the Sensitivity Goons they only empower them to look for more offense where none exists.

#18 Beth Cravens
May/9/2011
@ 10:00 am

Racial characteristics can’t be washed up or fixed at the dentist. Stereotypes are painful to people who are descendants of repression. I understand how black people can be sensitive to racial overtones. I don’t always understand and sometimes I feel it’s overblown, but what do I know as a white girl?
Personally I didn’t see this cartoon the same way everybody did apparently. I saw it as Obama holding up a trophy for all to see and I thought the grand pose and pompous expression was funny.

#19 Dean Harris
May/9/2011
@ 10:25 am

The paper’s editor dropped the ball here, he should of said “I don’t get it” and “some will take a offense” but the artist is pretty good and now this this artist on the rader, I wonder which paper will hire the cartoonist first?

#20 Steve Wise
May/9/2011
@ 12:44 pm

The ultra sensitivity is becoming a hindrance to healing and a means for the race brokers to prosper. There is not one group on this planet who’s descendants/ancestors had not been under some form of servitude, oppression, religious bigotry or the like. No one group holds the keys to victimization alone. Although racism is despicable, we as the human race need to move on and above these things and stop empowering those whom thrive on perpetuating this nasty stuff for their own means.

Should I be offended because Cracker is used in Saltine cracker? No, because context matters, and this case of the Obama Lion King cartoon is an example of over reaction of something taken out of context. To any editor, unless it’s blatantly racism in context, you will drive yourselves crazy because any cartoon can be construed as racism or bigotry because as I said above, “No one group holds the keys to victimization alone.”.

#21 Matt Bors
May/9/2011
@ 2:25 pm

I wrote a column on this, soliciting the views of Hajo as well as some African cartoonists.

http://blog.cartoonmovement.com/2011/05/monkey-business.html

#22 Mike Peterson
May/10/2011
@ 3:35 am

You’re right, Steve. The fact that my great-grandfather was denied a job a century and a half ago because he was Irish is every bit as personally painful to me as being called names and beaten up for the color of his skin would be to a black person today.

Of course, we white folks are inherently more sensitive. That’s why we’re able to understand what should offend those other people, and to lecture them on why their experience is no different than our own.

I mean, you should have seen what the Saxons did to my ancestors. It still makes me weep a bit.

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