Hasa Diga Eebowai, What a Wonderful Phrase!: Subverting the Cultural Binaries of Disney’s The Lion King in The Book of Mormon

A.J. Knox


In his Carnival and Cannibal, Jean Baudrillard suggests that “Whites may [be] said to have carnivalized—and [simultaneously] cannibalized—themselves”[1] in their appropriation of Other/other cultures and images, and nowhere is this clearer in today’s theatrical landscape than in Disney’s Broadway sensation, The Lion King.  While much praise has been given to the production and to Julie Taymor, the 2011 Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, an unquestionable runaway success, is perhaps the first major theatrical critique and deconstruction of the binary economies established—and supposedly blurred—in The Lion King.  Far from being merely a simple satire or burlesque of the Mormon religion, The Book of Mormon calls into question the politics of performance surrounding Western depictions of “non-Western” cultures, blatantly subverting the portrayals of Africa, Africanisms, and the non-White in Disney’s theatrical cash cow by both carnivalizing as well as cannibalizing its target.  This paper analyzes the precarious position held by The Book of Mormon as both a satire of Broadway spectacle as well as a commentary on racial politics of The Great White Way, while likewise examining the musical's success as a suggestion of the future of American theatre.

[1] Jean Baudrillard, Carnival and Cannibal, trans. Chris Turner (London: Seagull Books, 2010), 7.


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