Zootopia puts forward a socially pertinent discussion about affirmative action and minority advancement through Judy’s constant need to overcome prejudices against bunnies and prove herself a worthy officer. Judy’s eventual success is not thanks to any advantage she is given due to her minority status. Rather, her drive to dispel prejudices leads her to develop an unstoppable work ethic.
Zootopia (2016) follows Judy Hopps, a female bunny police officer, in her journey to becoming an officer and solving a missing mammal case. Judy is admitted into the police academy through a Mammal Inclusion Initiative, which is described in the film as being a diversity program created by government leaders. The Mammal Inclusion Initiative is a clever plot point that is essentially an affirmative action program for the animal kingdom — both programs focusing on advancing underrepresented groups through directed inclusion efforts.
Judy in Zootopia (2016)
But both programs promise only the opportunity. It is up to Judy to prove herself a quality officer. At first, many of the testing areas are difficult for Judy as she is physically much smaller than the other students, and thus the conventional means of passing the examinations do not work for her. Furthermore, as a female and a rabbit, she is subject to ridicule because she is seen as lesser and unable to accomplish the same feats as her larger counterparts. However, through hard work and self-exploration, she discovers talents that enable her to not only pass the physical tests but also graduate at the top of her class as the first bunny police officer.
Judy’s eventual success in the police academy proves that she is intellectually and physically capable of being an officer. However, she must continue to overcome barriers in the form of stereotypes projected onto her. This is most clear when she first joins the police force after graduation. Despite Judy's proven ability, the Chief of Police refuses to recognize her talents. Judy responds, “Sir, I’m not just some token bunny” when the chief assigns all of the missing mammal cases to officers he deems as more worthy and leaves Judy to be a meter maid.
The Chief’s refusal to acknowledge Judy’s excellence can be perceived as a “glass ceiling” for Judy — a level that she is unable to climb higher due to her gender or race, or in this case her being a bunny. After fighting through the ridicule and disbelief from others to graduate, Judy is forced to keep proving that she is worthy of being treated as a full-fledged officer and not simply a token minority to make the police force look diverse.
Even as a meter maid, Judy is determined to excel. While the chief gives her the task of assigning 100 parking tickets by the day's end, she sets a goal for herself to give out 200 parking tickets before noon. This new goal presents itself as a type of black tax, or bunny tax, wherein Judy must work twice as hard to receive the same sort of recognition. Once again, Judy reaches another barrier that she must cross to prove herself as an officer.
While not approving or disapproving of affirmative action outright, Zootopia uses Judy’s experience to make a statement about our world in which minority advancement programs are still needed. The film asserts that hard work and dedication will eventually be acknowledged, but the amount of work it takes to reach recognition may vary for different individuals, depending on the prejudices in place. Judy’s eventual success is not thanks to any attention or advantage she is given due to her minority status. Rather, her drive to dispel prejudices leads to an unstoppable work ethic that shows her commitment to her dreams while also teaching her that diversity is more often an advantage than a hindrance.