Disney adds content warnings for racism in classic movies

Lawrence Kim
October 17, 2020

The crows' appearance and musical number in the movie "pay homage to racist minstrel shows", Disney said.

Specific explanations for why advisory warnings have been issued for certain titles are included on the Disney website (see explanations for Dumbo and Peter Pan below).

Instead of editing or removing library titles that have been identified as problematic, the aim is to acknowledge them and open up discussions so people can learn from those mistakes.

"This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures", a message will read at the start of films that the coalition has flagged. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.

The new warning will appear on viewers' screens for 15 seconds before they watch animated movies including Dumbo, Peter Pan and The Aristocats, as well as live-action adventure Swiss Family Robinson. For years, Disney has been taken to task over a number of its classics - a situation exacerbated by the more recent global reckoning on racism and discrimination.

"This program is presented as originally created", the message read.

These notices are a new iteration of the "outdated cultural depictions" warnings which have appeared on some classic Disney titles since the service launched.

Although the original move received some praise, some critics thought the language was nonspecific and dismissive.

In Disney's The Aristocats (1970), for example, a yellow-faced cat uses chopsticks to play piano.

"Peter and the Lost Boys engage in dancing, wearing headdresses and other exaggerated tropes, a form of mockery and appropriation of Native peoples' culture and imagery".

In Dumbo, one of the crows is named Jim Crow, the same name as the set of laws that enforced segregation. The new resource goes on to specifically detail damaging depictions, such as the original Dumbo including a group of crows (one of whom is actually named Jim Crow) that ridicules African-Americans who lived on Southern plantations during USA history. In "The Song of the Roustabouts", faceless Black workers toil away to offensive lyrics like "When we get our pay, we throw our money all away".

Lady and Tramp has been placed on the list due to its perceived stereotyping of Asians courtesy of Siamese cats Si and Am, while a dog pound features canines with largely ethnic names and accents, including Mexican and Russian. We also want to acknowledge that some communities have been erased or forgotten altogether, and we're committed to giving voice to their stories as well. The company did not further specify how it would work toward that goal.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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