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Disney now issues stronger advisory messages on racist content

By Kara Santos Published Mar 10, 2021 2:47 am

Disney Plus subscribers who log on to watch classic films such as Peter Pan and The Aristocats will now see stronger advisory messages warning of racist content.

As part of their ongoing commitment to promote diversity and inclusion, Disney said in a statement that they are reviewing their library and adding advisories to content that includes negative depictions or mistreatment of people or cultures on their streaming site.

Founded in October 1923, The Walt Disney Company has a rich history of films that span back to almost a century. They are currently one of the largest media companies in the world.

"Rather than removing this content, we see an opportunity to spark conversation and open dialogue on history that affects us all. 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,” said Disney.

The company added a section on their website headlined "Stories Matter" which explains their aim to uplift, inspire and provide representation for the wide range of spectrum of voices and perspectives in the world.

Last year, Disney started issuing disclaimers on old films with troubling scenes such as the 1955 classic Lady and the Tramp which contains a depiction of Siamese cats in a way that perpetuates anti-Asian stereotypes. 

The warning on the streaming service's menu that previously stated that "this program is presented as originally created” and “may contain outdated cultural depictions" has now been updated and strengthened for several classic films. 

Now, once viewers press play before identified titles, they see the following message containing stronger language, which cannot be fast forwarded: 

“This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. 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.”

Viewers are then encouraged to visit the company's website "Stories Matter" to learn more.

The Disney site gives a few examples of titles that carry the advisory, explaining the negative depictions and why they were selected.

In the 1970 film 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.”

According to Disney, “the portrayal reinforces the "perpetual foreigner" stereotype,” and lyrics of the song mock the Chinese language and culture.

In the 1941 film 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," adds Disney.

The classic Peter Pan, originally released in 1953, is said to "portray Native people in a stereotypical manner that reflects neither the diversity of Native peoples nor their authentic cultural traditions.”

The film shows them speaking in an unintelligible language and repeatedly refers to them as "redskins," which is considered an offensive term. 

Additionally, “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.”

Other films that receive similar advisories include The Jungle Book (1967), Fantasia (1940), the live-action The Swiss Family Robinson (1960) and Aladdin (1992).

The "Stories Matter” initiative seems to be provoking major changes in other aspects of Disney's operations. As reported by Vulture, both the Splash Mountain and Jungle Cruise ride at Disney parks will receive major overhauls in order to flush out the racist history and iconography from the rides. 

(Images via Disney)