Are we seeing a post-racial Disney?

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Are we seeing a post-racial Disney?

Disney is shifting to an era of accountability amid the introduction of warnings to caution audiences of offensive and potentially racist depictions in their classic movies.

To understand why Disney has made this decision we have to remember that 2020 has been a turbulent year. The Coronavirus has rapidly spread across the globe and thrust many of us into new and unfamiliar circumstances. The murder of George Floyd by police in the USA has also led to widespread protests and potentially historic changes are being made, as the Black Lives Matter movement garners immense support.

As a result, changes are underway by many organisations and services to ensure that they show inclusivity and distance themselves from any discriminatory tags. For example, this Black History Month, the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, published a suprisingly contreversial message about inclusivity on their Twitter page. Now Disney is in a bid to distance itself from any racist undertones in their past movies. 

What Is Disney Doing?

Some classic films listed on Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, will now be labelled with a “strengthened” message to warn audiences of the presence of culturally sensitive and potentially offensive depictions. Classic films that will be prefaced with the disclaimer include Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, and Dumbo amongst others.  

This isn’t the first time Disney+ has issued a disclaimer at the beginning of their movies. Last November, the streaming service made the decision to release a relatively shorter message warning audiences that some films may contain “outdated cultural depictions.”

The recent extension of this message includes the claim that Disney wants to “acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.” This addition suggests that Disney wants to overtly take a stance against racism, thereby situating itself in line with such an audience.

Initially, Disney+ had made the decision to pull certain classic films or troubling scenes from the streaming platform. The musical, Song in the South, which is considered to be its “most controversial film” was one of the movies set to be removed. The Jim Crow scenes from the film Dumbo were also to be deleted.

Disney magic castle
Thomas Kelley/UnsplashMagic Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, United States

Why May They Have Kept Them? 

Disney keeping movies with potentially racist depictions and allusions may well be their way of accepting and rising above their racist past. They have decided to acknowledge instead of purge previous mistakes and showcase their efforts to preempt a repeat. 

Is This a Good Decision?

Personally, I feel this may not be the reformatory shift they hope it will be. That is because of Disney’s primary target audience.

For most adults, disclaimers are a good way to deliver a message of inclusivity, aligning the streaming service with the narrative that many espouse. But for children, who may not understand the significance of such a message, it may go unacknowledged. Thus leaving them at the risk of internalising racism.

There is no need to keep racial depictions for the purpose of education when it comes to entertainment viewed by kids. They should be kept away from exposure to such things as they grow. Racial misrepresentations are misleading depictions that may live on in children’s minds if they are not shielded from them.

Disney may seem to believe they are taking a didactic position by not removing offensive material, but it should not be their duty to teach. Especially when the only signifier that they do not approve of racism cannot be understood by the age group they’re targeting. 

Children can be taught about racism at school. In controlled conditions, where they can be shown what racism looks like and its consequences. This would be better than to simply let children watch what they don’t understand and try to remedy the consequences at a later stage. 

It is extremely important to tailor an anti-racist stance so that the results are adverse. Disney would do better to stop streaming racist messages, even if that does incur some monetary loss.