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Disney+ warns of “outdated cultural depictions” in older movies

on November 14, 2019, 2:48pm

Across 80 years and over 750 movies, the Walt Disney Company has represented progressive activism, racist regressivism, and almost every cultural stance in-between. But now that Disney+ is collecting the vast majority of that massive archive in one place, the entertainment behemoth has to reckon with the less-savory parts of its history. To that end, Disney+ has created a disclaimer that appears under some movies’ descriptions. It reads, “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

Twitter users have spotted the disclaimer on a couple of flicks, and apparently “outdated cultural depictions” is a nice way of saying racism. It’s been applied to Dumbo, which contains the infamous character of Jim Crow, voiced by a white actor doing the vocal equivalent of blackface, as well as The Aristocats with its cringey Chinese cat Sung Gon, Lady and the Tramp and its awful Siamese cats from Siam, Peter Pan and its ‘savage’ Native Americans, and The Jungle Book, which started off as prose by Rudyard Kipling, and which has been criticized as racist since before Walt Disney was born.

But there are some movies in the Disney catalog that can’t be fixed with a disclaimer band-aid. Song of the South boasts one of the most beloved tunes in the Disney songbook, ““Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, but you won’t find it anywhere on Disney+Song of the South’s depictions of freed slaves are infamously mean-spirited and full of minstrelsy. The character of Uncle Remus is sometimes cited as one of the first examples of the “magical negro” trope that’s been much derided by Spike Lee, among others.

Disney+ has had to deal with a few of these controversies during its technically challenging roll-out. A Simpsons episode featuring the voice of Michael Jackson was notably absent from the archive, and for the live-action remake of The Lady and the Tramp, the problematic “The Siamese Cat Song” was replaced with a new song by Janelle Monáe. But it hasn’t been all subtraction; in fact, Star Wars appeared with some rather puzzling new dialogue.

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