A content advisory notice for racism in classic Disney films, in place since last year, has been updated with a strengthened message. When played on the Disney+ streaming service, films such as Dumbo, Peter Pan and Jungle Book now flash up with a warning about stereotypes. “This programme includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures,” the warning says, these stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.
The message adds that rather than remove the content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together, other films to carry the warning are The Aristocats, which shows a cat in “yellow-face” playing the piano with chopsticks, and Peter Pan, where Native Americans are referred to by the racist slur “redskins”. Lady and the Tramp, which has several instances of racism and cultural stereotyping, also carries a warning, the company first added a warning about racism last November however, it was much shorter. Then, the disclaimer read: “This programme is presented as originally created, it may contain outdated cultural depictions.” Some films, such as’ Song of the South’ are not available to stream on Disney+ at all because of racism.
Racism and stereotypes in classic Disney films
- Lady and the Tramp (1955): Two Siamese cats, Si and Am, are depicted with anti-Asian stereotypes. There is also a scene at a dog pound where heavily-accented dogs all portray the stereotypes of the countries their breeds are from – such as Pedro the Mexican Chihuahua, and Boris the Russian Borzoi
- The Aristocats (1970): A Siamese cat called Shun Gon, voiced by a white actor, is drawn as a racist caricature of an Asian person. He plays the piano with chopsticks
- Dumbo (1941): A group of crows that help Dumbo learn how to fly have exaggerated stereotypical black voices. The lead crow is called Jim Crow – a reference to a set of racist segregationist laws in the southern US at the time – and he is voiced by a white actor, Cliff Edwards
- Jungle Book (1968): The character of King Louie, an ape with poor linguistic skills, sings in a Dixieland jazz style and is shown as lazy. The character has been criticised for being a racist caricature of African-Americans
- Peter Pan (1953): The film refers to Native people as “redskins”, a racist slur. Peter and the Lost Boys also dance in headdresses, which Disney now says is a “form of mockery and appropriation of Native peoples’ culture and imagery”. A song originally called “What makes the red man red” was also decried as racist – it was later renamed as “What makes the brave man brave”
- Song of the South (1946): One of Disney’s most controversial movies, which has never been released on video or DVD in the US. Its depiction of plantation worker Uncle Remus perpetuates an old racist myth that slaves were happy in the cotton fields
Warner Bros, similarly, has long had a warning about “ethnic and racial prejudices” in some of its cartoons. 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, the Warner Bros warning says.