18 Nov 2019

Racist Disney classics need a PG rating - American Studies expert

From Checkpoint, 5:54 pm on 18 November 2019

The so-called Disney movie classics need a parental guidance warning - that is the call of a US Professor in American Studies.

Disney's new streaming service has added a disclaimer to a number of its older films including Dumbo and Peter Pan.

The disclaimer reads: "This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions."

Dumbo for example features a crow called "Jim Crow" - a derogatory expression for African-Americans, and also a shorthand reference for laws that enforced racial segregation.

Psyche Williams-Forson, the chair of American Studies at University of Maryland, says the racist and sexist symbolism of the Disney Classics were in keeping with the time.

"It was a time in which depictions of people of colour... were seen as less than human, inferior. They were caricatures, they were stereotypes."

She told Checkpoint Disney's new disclaimer is "a polite way of saying it's racist."

"And therein lies the problem... The people who might be watching these - children, young adults of this generation might not know what 'outdated cultural depictions' might mean. That could be anything.

"'Outdated cultural depictions' could be... kitchens of another era."

The films need parental guidance rating, she said, in the same way that films with profanity or sexuality do.

"They're as insidious and as problematic.

"[Disney talks] about creating ... this kind of magical experience. Well, for whom is it magical?"

She said she would not want her children watching Disney's classic films without a parent to explain.

"They're a wholesome brand allegedly, they're a family brand, so one would expect they would promote family issues and activities.

"But no, I would not be comfortable with my child sitting down to watch any of that without some sort of mediation and explanation.

"When I was growing up my parents sat us down and explained them to us, so we knew better, in the '60s and '70s.

"So if our parents did that work back then, how much more do you need to do that work now?"