Disney has had a long history of retrograde depictions of people of color in their classic animated films — an issue that the company has been grappling with for decades. See: the saga of Disney’s famously racist 1946 film Song of the South, which has been both promoted and hidden by the company at various intervals throughout the years.
But unlike Disney’s treatment of Song of the South, which Disney has made a concerted effort to make unavailable on home video and streaming, the House of Mouse is attempting to have a fuller conversation about the racist elements of its beloved classics like Peter Pan, Dumbo, and The Aristocats. The company is expanding is Disney+ content warning to these three films, improving and enhancing its advisory label to include “negative depictions” and deeper dives into the cultural context of the titles.
Disney+ first introduced its warning label for classic films that contained “outdated cultural depictions” in 2019, adding warnings to films such as Dumbo (1941), Lady and the Tramp (1955), The Jungle Book (1967), and The Aristocats. The advisory label was met with some divided opinion, but it was a better move than just leaving out the films completely or cutting the dated scenes in question — which streamers like Netflix have done in order to avoid the “discourse.” This way, at least a conversation can be had about why these elements are troubling — and Disney+ is smartly looking to continue that conversation with an expanded content warning label.
Here is the new, full text on the content warnings on Disney+ (via Collider):
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.
To learn more about how stories have impacted society, please visit www.disney.com/StoriesMatter
The link at the end of the text takes you to a website that gives deeper examinations of the cultural stereotypes that show up in classic Disney titles, including The Aristocats, Peter Pan, and Dumbo, and explain the historical context and negative aspects of these depictions. The page promises how Disney is planning to change representation in the future:
“Stories shape how we see ourselves and everyone around us. So as storytellers, we have the power and responsibility to not only uplift and inspire, but also consciously, purposefully and relentlessly champion the spectrum of voices and perspectives in our world… We can’t change the past, but we can acknowledge it, learn from it and move forward together to create a tomorrow that today can only dream of.”
It also lists the social justice groups Disney is working with on this new initiative, including The AAFCA, CAPE, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, GLAAD Media Institute, IllumiNative, NALIP, RespectAbility, and more.
It’s admirable that Disney is not trying to sweep these issues under the rug by including this expanded advisory warning, especially after the company has been in hot water for serious issues like the politically thorny production of Mulan. While it doesn’t make up for all of the company’s past issues, it’s good to know that Disney is willing to have these conversations instead of painting over its past.
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