While Disney has given us many films to enjoy, it’s undeniable that a large chunk of their collection contains racist and insensitive cultural depictions. So, in releasing many of these films on their new streaming platform, Disney+, they had to make some choices about managing problematic content—and one of the solutions they came up with was adding a disclaimer.
The disclaimer on certain titles is found slightly buried within the description box and reads: “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.” Popular movies such as Dumbo, The Aristocats, Fantasia, and The Jungle Book all have this disclaimer.
In Dumbo, for example, a group of crows sings about seeing an elephant fly. The scene relies on racist stereotypes, including naming the main crow “Jim Crow.” Images of crows were commonly deployed as racist tropes in American history, and “Jim Crow” is a racist insult meant to mock black men—”Jim Crow” characters often have exaggerated features and speak in over-the-top African American vernacular.
Lady and the Tramp includes a scene in which two Siamese cats, voiced by white singer and actor Peggy Lee, sing in broken English with an accent. The cats are designed to look like racist caricatures of Asian people, and they are total jerks and villains, fitting in with how Eastern “others” were depicted at the time in film. (In the new, live version of Lady and the Tramp, the Siamese cats and their racist characterization is out—they are gray with stripes and voiced by Janelle Monae.)
Some folks are praising Disney’s decision to recognize their less-than-stellar past racism with the disclaimer, while others say it’s not enough.
“Look at #DisneyPlus letting the people know early that their old films were racist and culturally insensitive,” wrote one user. “Accountability is key, and historical context is important.”
Checking everything out and wanted to point out that movies like Dumbo, The Aristocats, Jungle Book, and Lady and the Tramp have a disclaimer about outdated cultural depictions. This is good. #DisneyPlus pic.twitter.com/tpFoPAEpOl— Evan (@324_B21) November 12, 2019
"Outdated?"— Marsha Warfield (@MarshaWarfield) November 13, 2019
As in, they used to be appropriate once upon a time? https://t.co/KciqtTum9I
Other Twitter users compared the Disney+ warning to Warner Brothers’ disclaimer, which reads, “The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society.”
“These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”
Hate to nitpick a sensitivity warning but Disney+’s feels so brief and kind of dismissive by calling it “outdated cultural depictions” vs Warner Brothers actually calling it racial prejudice pic.twitter.com/98uYEBLyZK— give Rise 3 seasons or we fight (@unicornmantis) November 12, 2019
“Hate to nitpick a sensitivity warning but Disney+’s feels so brief and kind of dismissive by calling it ‘outdated cultural depictions’ vs Warner Brothers actually calling it racial prejudice,” said one user.
Warner Bros has been doing the same thing with their home video cartoon releases. Their disclaimer is way better than Disney’s. pic.twitter.com/APyzyih06n
— Paul Sanchez ?? (@PhotogSanchez) November 12, 2019
Song of the South (1946), which is about life in the post-Civil War South, is probably Disney’s most problematic and racist film. This movie is absent from the Disney+ collection.
It’s good that Disney is recognizing their cultural history of racism, but some folks believe they can do a lot more to rectify the past as well as make sure films in their future are free from racism.