Open Forum Friday: Is Horton Hears a Who Sexist?


The recent CGI adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! has been out in theatres for a few weeks now, and has been the biggest commercial success of the year thus far with over $130 million in ticket sales. Obviously it helps that most of its competition has been god awful, and also the fact that it’s a family-friendly flick. Recently, however, there has been a little bit of controversy surrounding what might appear to be a harmless film… and not for the reasons you might think.

Initially, there were some concerns that the movie was going to become a rallying cry for the Pro-life movement, because of the film’s motto, “A person’s a person no matter how small”. Thankfully, this hasn’t really turned out to be an issue; most viewers understand that the story has broader implications (after all, you could say that The Lord of the Rings Trilogy has a similar theme as well, and that was never labelled as being “Pro-life”). However, a new issue has bubbled to the surface, thanks to a few critics who apparently feel that the movie is sexist. Yep, that’s right, sexist.

NPR’s Peter Sagal wrote an editorial last week that points out a few interesting details: “Not only does the movie end with father and son embracing, while the 96 daughters are, I guess, playing in a well, somewhere, but the son earns his father’s love by saving the world. Boys get to save the world, and girls get to stand there and say, I knew you could do it. How did they know he could do it? Maybe because they watched every other movie ever made?”

Now I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I am pretty sure this subplot wasn’t in the original story and was added just for the film. I guess it shouldn’t be all that surprising, after all, Hollywood is clearly still a boys’ club for the most part. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it right. Did anyone else see the movie and find this aspect of the story to be upsetting? Or is this just an example of someone overreacting and looking for controversy where there is none? Give us your thoughts here on Open Forum Friday.

  • Is this implying that every film that has a male hero is ist?? because that’s ridiculous. The fact that there are more films that have male heroes is irrelevant when pinpointing a disctiminatory “problem” with a film. That film should be judged based on what happens in that film only. That being said, I have not seen Horton Hears a Who, but I highly doubt that this is a problem. It sounds like a gross overreaction.

  • “Not only does the movie end with father and son embracing, while the 96 daughters are, I guess, playing in a well, somewhere…”

    So, let me get this straight, Mr. Segal is saying that fathers can’t embrace sons because it’s some sort of gay thing? Is that what you think Mr. Segal? For shame. And where else but a well is Mr. Whozit supposed to keep his daughters? We all know that once those 96 young “whomen” start menstruating you just gotta get them out of the house…

  • Ludicrous.

    Next they will be saying that the film paints women as bad because the villain of the piece is a female Kangaroo.

    The AdamSandler/RobSchneider films are more guilty of wearing racism on their sleeve (not to mention that gawdawful Mickey Rooney sequence in Breakfast at Tiffanies.

    It should also be noted that the source book was written in 1954, it was a question of how much details the filmmakers were willing to change.

    Oh, if there is a flaw in Horton (it’s a really good childrens film) – it’s the cheap Myspace gag in the film which instantly dates what should be a timeless classic. No, kudos to the Ice Age people for making a half decent film of pixal levels.

    Horton at the very least is a hellavalot better than CARS, which is also highly male-dominated…if we want to compare the sillyness of the npr argument

  • er, of PIXAR level..

  • Ok, I haven’t seen the movie either but I did hear Peter Sagal’s little rant on NPR and frankly, my first reaction was to agree with him. I think he may be over reacting a little but I also think he has a bit of a point. Why couldn’t they write the mayor to have ninety whatever sons and one daughter who saves the day?

    I think the argument that “women saving the day” are under represented in Hollywood is a good one but I also think that bringing up the issue and taking it out on a kid’s film is not the best forum. So though I agree with the argument, I disagree with his timing and the movie he’s taking issue with. As Kurt mentioned, there are bigger infractors (I’m pretty sure that’s a new word).

  • Here’s another new word via Kurt’s first post NPRgument. (sound it out)

  • This is the stupidest thing i have ever heard, just because the hero’s are boys they say the movie is sexist. You know what? The Brave One’s sexist against men, how bout that.

  • As a man, I am highly offended by the following characters:

    Buffy the vampire Slayer
    Ripley (Aliens)
    The Bride Kill Bill)
    Wonder Woman
    Alice (resident evil)
    Sarah Connor
    Princess Leia
    Leeloo (fifth element)
    Leela (Futurama)
    Aeon Flux
    Samus (metroid)
    Liz Sherman (hellboy)
    Miss Piggy
    Emma Peel
    River Tam
    Lara Croft


    Just Kidding…that is seriously ridiculous. And if it was sexist…so what, its a movie that was written as entertainment in a free nation(s), it’s not a political document…if it is sexist (which it isnt) would it not have every right to be?

  • Itchy-Finger

    You forgot Marge Simpson.

    She’s my hero.

  • I think some of you people may be missing the point. I mean when we really think about the legendary movie heroes in our culture, don’t even try to argue that just because there are some prominent female heroines the genders are on equal footing. There’s complex and deep-rooted cultural attitudes at work here, and the reality is that the overwhelming majority of our most revered champions are male. It’s easy for men to say that it’s a ridiculous argument, but we don’t really have the proper perspective to comment on the issue. Now, I haven’t seen the film or checked out Sagal’s full piece, but of course he’s on to some here. I’m sure there’s much better examples of overt sexism in film today, but in my opinion it’s never a bad time to point out that it is in fact a reality. Plus, when these attitudes are expressed in films that are made for children, we should probably pay attention to the messages we’re sending.

  • billyjoe

    seriously, fuck the children. it’s the parents who should be monitoring what thier kids watch.

  • Yeah Derek & Marina, I definitely agree with you (my previous post was of course a joke), and while it seems strange that Segal would pick out this movie, I guess his point is that this cultural idea is being presented to us as children. So in some ways that would make Horton Hears a Who a more insidious offender than say, Adam Sandler (though I can’t think of anyone I know under the age of 16 who still watches his movies, zing!). And I haven’t seen Horton Hears a Who, so my jury is still out on whether or not it is offensive. I’m usually a pretty laid-back dude who wouldn’t notice something like that until someone like Sean or Peter Segal gets their panties in a bunch about it…

    But, yeah, I grew up with movies like Disney’s “Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” (what? my parents wouldn’t let me watch anything with curses!) and those movies are classic examples of lip service paid to women’s lib by having the main character be a chick yet she’s always gotta be saved by a man at the end (at least I think that’s how those movies ended). I thought “Enchanted” from last year was a great movie that totally played with the sexist archetypes in kids movies, especially the disney “princess” movies. So maybe some people are coming around. Plus Amy Adams is a total babe.

  • I am in no way sexist (although I was called that on the Prince of Persia article). Women deserve equal to everything men get, no question about it.

    still…I wont punk out and not admit that I prefer the John McClanes and the Indy Jones’s of the world to the Buffys and wonderwomen…if that makes me wrong then…cliche I know…I dont want to be right. Nor will I not acknowledge the fact that since I’m a MALE I would prefer MALE heroes because I could better associate with them…same goes for FEMALES…right? The fact that there is more male heroes, and they are more prominent is just something that we all are going to have to deal with until it equalizes itself through time. Sure they are most often men, but mainstream entertainment in this form has only been around for 80 or so years, most of those years contained alot of unfortunate and unfair sexual views. Give it time and it will work itself out as writers, directors, and studios realize that the BROADER you get (even broader then the disgustingly broad shit we have now) and the more people your entertainment relates to the more money you make…and they like money cause it buys hookers, yachts, and drugs…

    or I could be completely wrong…

  • More whiny and overly sensitive people complaining about frivolous things that really don’t amount to anything in the big picture.

  • I mean the ones that create controversy in movies.

  • “Plus Amy Adams is a total babe.”

    Amy Adams is like, the ultimate wife. Knowing that she exists, makes my own existence more miserable.

  • Matt

    Before you post an article like this, Sean, you should see the movie first and decide for yourself.

  • @”Before you post an article like this, Sean, you should see the movie first and decide for yourself.”

    Nah, fuck that. The time has come for uninformed, hysteria fueled conjecture.

    @”It’s easy for men to say that it’s a ridiculous argument, but we don’t really have the proper perspective to comment on the issue.”

    That is some rank and shrill political correctness. As if only one gender is qualified to have an opinion on the subject. As if whining about being victimized is some kind of virtue that lends you special insight. And unless “derek” is a girls name your point nullifies itself.

    I don’t see why it’s important that there be the same number of female and male role models. Either their are or are not prominent female role models in our culture.
    And secondly I think you descend into self parody when you accuse a film of being sexist just because it doesn’t expouse any specific message of female empowerment. I can understand why someone may want more positive female role models in popular culture; especially with so many bad female role models out there.
    But I don’t see why it became Horton Hears A Who’s job to personally fix this broad social trend. It seems almost random to single out this movie.

    Also, I hate Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. People who think it’s funny are wrong. And I personally advocate putting menstrating whomen in wells.

  • Liz

    Although I agree with Marina that taking out this issue on Horton Hears A Who isn’t the best platform for this kind of discussion on “women saving the day”, some of the comments in this post exhibit exactly what Derek is talking about when he mentions the “complex and deep-rooted cultural attitudes” that result in the kinds of films we get (or don’t get). There’s obviously not a huge female readership of this site or else people would get called on this behaviour a lot more frequently.

  • My attitudes are certaintly complex and deep rooted.

  • People should grow beyond identifying themselves through their gender. You identity should come from things you yourself have had thoughts, ideas and influence on. Gender is just a uniform for your mind, which can think ANYTHING!

    Instead of worrying that more women aren’t main characters, you should be whining that more pacifists aren’t main characters. That would make alot more sense.

  • More protagonists are not Pacifists because pacifism is an immoral ideology which most people have the good since to reject.

  • Whats a word for people avoiding violence that doesn’t invoke an ideology so that I may avoid confusing a smarmy intellectual like yourself Rusty?

  • @”Whats a word for people avoiding violence”

    common sense. your welcome.

  • You are right, however, I don’t think the point is made very clear if I say “you should be whining that there aren’t more main characters with common sense”. I agree with you though – and I am sorry for tickling your american sensibilities by saying ‘pacifism’.

  • For a guy against violence you sure can pick a fight. You remind me of my friend Brawly McFistyCuffs.

  • Sticks and stones Rusty.

  • Andrea

    Oh, geez. Another one of those. Listen, I saw the movie (best movie I have seen in many months!), and I don’t think there is any reason to be concerned for many reasons. 1. Why point the finger at one movie when a million others before its time have been the same if not even worse? 2. Listen,the story happens to have the mayor’s silent struggling child, who JUST HAPPENS TO BE A MALE, speak up and reveal his true self…which I think is a lesson that many people should carry within themselves plus it adds a heart to the story that makes you wanna go “Awwwww…” 3. You wanna raise empowered daughters? Stop feeding them this “superiority” crap that feminists who have strayed from the original message have shoved down people’s throats. Its “equal” not “better”. (I’m female by the way, and oh, a single daughter in a family of 4 males!)

    Movies, and Hollywood in general, have fairly grasped the concept of having more female heroines in their movies. I mean, no reason to worry and become paranoid, hey, it might not be COMPLETELY fair but if you over-analyze and whine about everything nowadays why don’t you just go jump on a bridge and solve your problems? It’s just a children’s movie…not the state of the union speech….


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  • Kelly

    Saw Horton with my 5-year old daughter.

    The 96 daughters each had two minutes to get daddy’s attention, which they all craved. Then the son, who was introverted and wanted to be alone got all dad’s attention BECAUSE HE HAD TO BE THE MALE HEIR. This, in spite of the 96 daughters who were working their a@@es off to get on dad’s good side.

    The subplot is totally archaic, and actually it is never explained why the mayor’s son had to be the heir…since the mayor had female predecessors. ODD.

    The messages are subliminal, but they are pervasive. How many female protagonists have there been in the past 25 kids movies…I mean protagonists, not supporting characters. Enchanted is the only one that I can think of. Even the animal movies. Females are half of the planet. They should be half of the characters.

  • “The subplot is totally archaic, and actually it is never explained why the mayor’s son had to be the heir…since the mayor had female predecessors. ODD.”

    He was the oldest. And the heir went to the oldest person (male or female). It was not because he was male.

    “Females are half of the planet. They should be half of the characters.”

    There has yet to be a female president but the Kangaroo was the “leader” of the forest. Now females are less aggressive and weaker than males in general so to make a movie realistic that would need to be overcome. The problem remains that when someone sees a male and female fight the expected winner is the male.

  • Jeff Fisher

    Wow. I just saw the first part of Transformers. The main male character knows nothing about cars, while we learn that the female “sidekick” knows everything about cars and could take one of the Transformers apart and put it back together without breaking a sweat. We see another equally gorgeous and equally superior female computer expert at the Pentagon who is smarter than everyone there, except that the sexist men are too stupid to realize it. Then we see a President who only wants to eat Ding-Dongs – he makes yet another noble suffering saint of a female get them for his worthless self while her genius could obviously be better employed.
    I was stunned by the sexism. On a lark I did a search on Goodle for “sexism Transformers movie.” I got a lot of hits. Yes, it seems that people agree that the movie is sexist…against women.
    I’m going to leave this alternate universe now. I’m going bacx to the world where Thomas Edison, a man, invented the lightbulb. Even if the women in that world are too stupid and too bigoted to admit even to themselves that men sometimes have their uses and shouldn’t be exterminated…