Disney Minuses Its Racist History From Kids Profiles - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Disney Minuses Its Racist History From Kids Profiles

Disney Minuses Its Racist History From Kids Profiles

These days, we have all resorted to watching some of our favorite childhood movies to pass time. If you have done so recently, you may have noticed a heightened advisory notice before certain films on Disney Plus. The notice appears before titles such as Peter Pan, Aristocats, Dumbo, and Swiss Family Robinson.1 The strongly worded content advisory warning replaced the discrete notice appearing in a small box that simply advised viewers that the content contained outdated depictions.2 While these childhood favorites are still available for streaming on Adult profiles, Disney Plus recently decided to remove them from Kids profiles. Let’s discuss why the streaming platform made this decision, as well as the important question it raises.

Disney’s “Stories Matter” initiative seeks to acknowledge, learn from, and leave behind the company’s history of racist stereotypes and negative depictions of people and cultures.3 The company-wide effort encourages conversation and open dialogue about its history, which is why it pledged to add advisories to negative content, rather than remove it.4 So, why were certain movies pulled from Kids profiles?

The decision to remove certain movies from Kids profiles was obviously a result of the negative and racist depictions in each of the movies, but who was responsible for making the decision? Disney Plus brought in a group of third-party experts to assess whether the content represented global audiences.5 The organizations that comprised this third-party counsel are listed on Disney’s Stories Matter website.6

In light of its efforts to acknowledge and spark dialogue about its racist content, Disney provided the following explanations of some of the negative depictions in movies that were removed from Kids profiles:

• Aristocats: “The cat is depicted as a racist caricature of East Asian peoples with exaggerated stereotypical traits such as slanted eyes and buck teeth. He sings in poorly accented English voiced by a white actor and plays the piano with chopsticks. This portrayal reinforces the ‘perpetual foreigner’ stereotype, while the film also features lyrics that mock the Chinese language and culture such as ‘Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg Foo Young. Fortune cookie always wrong.’”7

• Dumbo: “The crows and musical number pay homage to racist minstrel shows, where white performers with blackened faces and tattered clothing imitated and ridiculed enslaved Africans on Southern plantations. The leader of the group in Dumbo is Jim Crow, which shares the name of laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States. In ‘The Song of the Roustabouts,’ faceless Black workers toil away to offensive lyrics like ‘When we get our pay, we throw our money all away.’8

• Peter Pan: “The film portrays Native people in a stereotypical manner that reflects neither the diversity of Native peoples nor their authentic cultural traditions. It shows them speaking in an unintelligible language and repeatedly refers to them as ‘redskins,’ an offensive term. Peter and the Lost Boys engage in dancing, wearing headdresses and other exaggerated tropes, a form of mockery and appropriation of Native peoples’ culture and imagery.9

• Swiss Family Robinson: “The pirates who antagonize the Robinson family are portrayed as a stereotypical foreign menace. Many appear in ‘yellow face’ or ‘brown face’ and are costumed in an exaggerated and inaccurate manner with top knot hairstyles, queues, robes and overdone facial make-up and jewelry, reinforcing their barbarism and ‘otherness.’ They speak in an indecipherable language, presenting a singular and racist representation of Asian and Middle Eastern peoples.”10

In this day and age, many parents entertain their children by giving them access to streaming services. This, therefore, begs the question of who should monitor the content that children are exposed to. Unsurprisingly, people’s opinions on this issue vary. Some argue that when a streaming platform removes potentially offensive content from children’s’ accounts, it gives parents the satisfaction of knowing that they do not need to monitor every program their kids watch. Others argue that parents should be able to make their own decisions about what programs their children should and should not be allowed to watch, and that parents should have the freedom to filter their children’s exposure accordingly.

For now, it seems as though the streaming platforms are doing the monitoring. However, this could change in the future. Perhaps a list of potentially offensive titles and a feature allowing parents to remove such titles from their children’s profiles could serve as a compromise. We’ll see what happens.

  1. Matt Patches, Disney Plus quietly pulls Peter Pan, Dumbo from Kids Profiles over racist stereotypes, Polygon (Jan. 27, 2021, 10:45 AM), https://www.polygon.com/disney-plus/2021/1/27/22252244/disney-plus-removes-peter-pan-dumbo-racist-stereotypes-kids-profiles [https://perma.cc/5QWM-T3DA].

  2. Janet W. Lee, Disney Plus Adds Content Warning to ‘Dumbo,’ ‘Peter Pan,Variety (Oct. 15, 2020, 3:19 PM), https://variety.com/2020/film/news/disney-plus-dumbo-peter-pan-content-warning-1234806732/ [https://perma.cc/WY7S-TG3H].

  3. Stories Matter, The Walt Disney Company, https://storiesmatter.thewaltdisneycompany.com [https://perma.cc/RU87-E9CY].

  4. Id.

  5. Id.; Katie Hind, Disney+ blocks under-sevens from watching ‘racist’ Peter Pan, Dumbo and The Aristocats for breaching ‘content advisories, Daily Mail (Jan. 23, 2021, 5:12 PM), https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9179987/Disney-blocks-sevens-watching-racist-Peter-Pan-Dumbo-Aristocats.html [https://perma.cc/KU96-XEBS].

  6. Stories Matter, supra note 3.

  7. Stories Matter, supra note 3.

  8. Id.

  9. Id.

  10. Id.

Lauren Schulman

Lauren Schulman is a third-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Law from Binghamton University.