The racist crows of Dumbo and the stereotyped Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp are just some of the ‘outdated’ depictions Disney is trying to counteract by bringing in a warning system for some of its classic flicks.
The Disney+ platform has strengthened advisory messaging that warns viewers the film they’re about to watch contains racist content. The announcement was brought in last year for select movies, but Disney has this week double-downed on its language.
“This programme includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were 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.”
The wording is a step up from previous warnings that prefaced films, which critics took aim at for using the vague term “outdated cultural depictions”.
Viewers won’t be able to speed-through the messaging. And if you want to know exactly why the Siamese cats in The Aristocats are problematic, Disney will link you to an explanation.
It’ll appear on classics like Peter Pan (1973) for its portrayal of Native people in what Disney calls “a stereotypical manner that reflects neither the diversity of Native peoples nor their authentic cultural traditions”.
It’s not just cartoon movies, either. The Disney version of Swiss Family Robinson (1960) also gets an explainer.
“The pirates who antagonise 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 jewellery, reinforcing their barbarism and ‘otherness’,” Disney writes on its Stories Matter website.
“They speak in an indecipherable language, presenting a singular and racist representation of Asian and Middle Eastern peoples.”
Debate over content continues
Disney said it chose to display the messaging on its movies, rather than pull them down altogether, as a way to “spark conversation and open dialogue on history that affects us all”.
Earlier this year there was a mass movement for streaming services to pull down problematic content – Little Britain, The Mighty Boosh and Australia’s own Summer Heights High all got yanked for their racist characterisations.
HBO pulled down Gone with the Wind over its overt depictions of slavery.
“Gone with the Wind is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society,” an HBO Max spokesperson said at the time.
“These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.”
It reappeared on the US service a couple of weeks later, now carrying an intro video that says it’s important the film be viewed in its original state, as a way to facilitate further discussions on the topic.