Disney Plus warning about racist scenes doesn’t go far enough, kids say

Story by CBC Kids News • 2019-11-21 13:15

Expert says disclaimer needs to be more direct

Been getting your binge on with Disney Plus lately?

If you’re one of the millions of people already subscribed since its Nov. 12 launch, you may have noticed the following disclaimer in the descriptions of some of Disney’s older content:

Disney has added the disclaimer to movies like Dumbo (1941), Lady and the Tramp (1955) and Peter Pan (1953) in order to address racist stereotypes that appear in the films.

“If you’re a kid and don’t know big words, you might not understand what it means.” - Jacob Townsend, age 10

In the original film, the group of crows that teach Dumbo to fly have exagerrated black stereotypical voices. They’re led by a character named Jim Crow, who shares his name with a set of laws that enforced segregation in the southern U.S. until 1965, meaning people of colour were not allowed to use the same facilities as white people. (Disney)

But how are the scenes racist, exactly?

Eve Tuck, an Indigenous professor of education at the University of Toronto, said these depictions are racist because they’re not true to real life.

“They’re never accurate, they’re exaggerated, in the way a character sounds or even how they move their body. They’re never the way people from those communities would ever represent themselves,” said Tuck.

Eve Tuck is Unangax̂, which is a group of people who are Alaska Native. Her work focuses on urban education and Indigenous studies. (Red Works)

She added that these depictions are also racist because they’re one-dimensional.

“They’re always the evil character, or a joke. They’re not taken seriously and never fleshed out or developed. We know nothing about their interior worlds. Their only role is to carry out a stereotype created by white imaginations,” she said.

So why not just take them out?

Disney isn’t the only company with a history of problematic cartoons.

Warner Brothers recently made a statement about the racist material in their Tom and Jerry cartoons, but say removing the racist scenes isn’t a solution.

On Amazon Prime, Tom and Jerry cartoons include a disclaimer that warns of ‘racial prejudices’ for its stereotyped depiction of Mammy Two Shoes, a black maid character. (Warner Brothers)

“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,” said Warner Brothers.

OK, but is Disney’s disclaimer enough?

Forest Lussing, a 10-year-old from New Minas, N.S., said he not only would have “no idea” what the disclaimer means but it probably wouldn’t catch his attention.

“I’m one of those people who doesn’t really even bother reading those things.” he admitted.

Forest’s classmate at the Booker School, Jacob Townsend, 10, said he also wouldn’t understand the disclaimer and that it could be more direct.

“If you’re a kid and don’t know big words, you might not understand what it means. Instead, it could just say this might contain racist stuff,” said Jacob.

Peter Pan (1953) also features the disclaimer because of its caricatures of Indigenous peoples. (Disney)

He added that a “big red warning” would be more likely to grab his attention.

Forest suggested either an audio disclaimer or something more interactive.

“It could give a warning before the scene that could say the next scene contains racist content, and you’d actually have to acknowledge it by pressing a button instead of skipping it,” said Forest.

Let’s be crystal clear

Tuck also said that warning of “outdated cultural depictions” isn’t enough.

“To say ‘outdated’ suggests they were OK at the time, but the truth is they were never OK. They were racist then and they’re racist now,” said Tuck.

She also thought that Disney’s disclaimer could be more direct.

“The more honest and responsible language would be that it includes racist and inaccurate depictions.”

Tuck said that part of the problem is that these stereotypes can seep out into the real world and affect how we interact with each other.

“Disney stories inform how kids play, what songs they sing, and how they play with others …. they can end up playing out racist depictions about people they'd otherwise care about very much."

When asked for comment, Disney said they "will continue to evaluate the advisories and they are likely to evolve over time."


With files from the Associated Press

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