Disney+ adds racist stereotype warning to some older movies

Entertainment

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On Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, some classic animated films now have a content warning for racist stereotypes. 

The 12-second disclaimer, which cannot be skipped, tells viewers: “These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together. Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe.” 

Previously in 2019, Disney introduced a shorter disclaimer that told viewers: “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

The updated, expanded warning appears at the beginning of several titles, including Peter Pan (1953), Dumbo (1941), The Aristocats (1970), Lady and the Tramp (1955), and Swiss Family Robinson (1960).

The warning directs viewers to a website called Stories Matter that explains why Disney is taking this initiative and addresses some of the problematic scenes.  

“Rather than removing this content, we see an opportunity to spark conversation and open dialogue on history that affects us all,” states the website. 

The website includes examples of why these titles are receiving the advisory: 

  • The Aristocats: “The cat is depicted as a racist caricature of East Asian peoples with exaggerated stereotypical traits such as slanted eyes and buck teeth. He sings in poorly accented English voiced by a white actor and plays the piano with chopsticks. This portrayal reinforces the ‘perpetual foreigner’ stereotype, while the film also features lyrics that mock the Chinese language and culture such as ‘Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg Foo Young. Fortune cookie always wrong.’”   
  • Dumbo: “The crows and musical number pay homage to racist minstrel shows, where white performers with blackened faces and tattered clothing imitated and ridiculed enslaved Africans on Southern plantations. The leader of the group in Dumbo is Jim Crow, which shares the name of laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States. 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.’” 
  • Peter Pan: “The film portrays Native people in a stereotypical manner that reflects neither the diversity of Native peoples nor their authentic cultural traditions. It shows them speaking in an unintelligible language and repeatedly refers to them as ‘redskins,’ an offensive term. 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.” 
  • Swiss Family Robinson: “The pirates who antagonize the Robinson family are portrayed as a stereotypical foreign menace. Many appear in ‘yellow face’ or ‘brown face’ and are costumed in an exaggerated and inaccurate manner with top knot hairstyles, queues, robes and overdone facial make-up and jewelry, reinforcing their barbarism and ‘otherness.’ They speak in an indecipherable language, presenting a singular and racist representation of Asian and Middle Eastern peoples.” 

According to their website, Disney was advised by the African-American Film Critics Association, the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment and other organizations “who advocate for the communities they represent and are at the forefront of driving narrative change in media and entertainment.” The website states that a third-party “advisory council” is providing Disney with “ongoing guidance and thought leadership on critical issues and shifting perceptions.” 

 

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