Disney film classics get disclaimer about racism
Disney’s new streaming service has added a disclaimer to classic films from its back catalogue, including Dumbo and Peter Pan because they depict racist stereotypes.
The move follows the launch of Disney+ earlier this week, which bagged more than 10 million subscribers on the first day.
The advisory, which will run alongside the films, states: “This programme is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”
Streaming has underlined the problem the entertainment industry have been wrestling with for years over how to deal with stereotypes featured in older movies.
In the 1941 film Dumbo, the crows that help the baby elephant to fly are depicted with exaggerated black voices.
The lead crow is also called Jim Crow, a term that describes an infamous set of laws in the southern states that legalised segregation.
Peter Pan, from 1953, caricatures Native American characters.
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Other Disney movies with the disclaimer include The Jungle Book and Swiss Family Robinson.
However, Pocahontas and Aladdin do not feature it, despite concerns by some that those films contain stereotypes as well.
On computers, the disclaimer appears as part of the text description of shows and movies underneath the video player.
It is less prominent on the smaller screen of smartphones, where viewers are told to tap on a “details” tab for an “advisory”.
However, many people are calling for Disney to go further than a simple disclaimer.
Psyche Williams-Forson, chairwoman of American studies at the University of Maryland, argued the company “needs to follow through in making a more robust statement that this was wrong, and these depictions were wrong”.
But she said it was important that the images were shown rather than cut out, in order to encourage discussion about the films and their part in cultural history.
Disney is not alone in having to tackle this contentious issue.
Universal Pictures’ teen comedy Sixteen Candles has long been criticised for stereotyping Asians with its Long Duk Dong character.
Warner Bros faced a similar problem with the Tom and Jerry cartoons that are available for streaming.
Some of the cartoons now carry a disclaimer as well, but it goes further than Disney.
Rather than referring to “cultural depictions”, the Warner Bros statement explicitly refers to ethnic and racial “prejudices”, contained in its own cartoons.
Its disclaimer states: “While these cartoons do not represent today’s society, they are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”
At times, Disney has withdrawn a movie entirely.
The 1946 film Song of the South, which won an Oscar for the song Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, was never released for home video and has not been shown in cinemas for decades, due to its racist representation of the plantation worker Uncle Remus and other characters.