Disney Seeks to Atone For Racial Stereotypes in its Films With Content Labels

Disney Seeks to Atone For Racial Stereotypes in its Films With Content Labels

Posted By Jared McKiernan February 25th, 2021 Last Updated on: April 1st, 2021

It’s no secret that Disney has a thorny track record of racist depictions in its content.

Maybe you recall the references to Native people in “Peter Pan” as “redskins,” a known slur against Native Americans. 

Or the cat named Shun Gon in “The Aristocats,” who’s voiced by a white person. Shun Gon bears stereotypical East Asian features and plays the piano with chopsticks. 



We can’t forget the infamous crows in “Dumbo“—let alone the faceless Black workers in the film shown working to offensive lyrics like “When we get our pay, we throw our money all away.”

These types of not-so-subtle stereotypes and racist overtones can also be found in “Fantasia,” The Jungle Book,” “Lady and the Tramp,” and others. While Disney has shrugged off these damaging cultural representations in the past, the entertainment giant is now changing its tune. 

Disney has created a series of warning labels on its Disney+ streaming platform to provide context for these portrayals. Viewers will encounter these Disney content labels in the program description and before the title plays for several seconds.

“We can’t change the past, but we can acknowledge it, learn from it and move forward together to create a tomorrow that today can only dream of,” Disney said on its website.

While several opposition groups have called for Disney to permanently pull these titles, the company stood by its decision to leave them up—instead adding the new label in hopes of sparking a dialogue.

The Disney Content label reads: “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together. Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe.”

In a message posted to Disney.com/StoriesMatter, which includes a PSA and information on the impact of diverse storytelling on culture, several entertainment professionals, including Geena Davis, Gil Robertson, Gloria Calderón Kellett and Cristela Alonzo, weigh in. 



“What message are we sending to little kids at the most vulnerable age, if characters are one-dimensional, stereotyped, sidelined, hyper-sexualized, or simply, not there at all?” Davis asks in the video. “There is incredible power in seeing someone who’s like you on screen. What children see sets the framework for what they believe is possible in life.”

What do you think? Are the Disney content labels enough?

Watch our Pow Wow Nation Live show where Paul G discusses these issues.


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julie mason

I recently read a book written in the Noir style that had a great disclaimer in the front of the book. I am not sure children would understand it but for many movies or books it would work. It went something like this -” the setting of this book takes place in the 1940s. There are phrases and sterotypes used and protrayed that were typical of the period and do not agree with current social and political cultures”

I thought that was a great way of acknowledging that it was wrong but that at that point in history thats what was happening. I like that distinction. The past was what it was. We can’t change it. We can only learn from our mistakes and work to become better people.

MaryStarshine Matlock

Dear Mr. Jared Kiernan, Editor, PowWows.com:

I am a subscriber to PowWows.com and have been for the past year or more. It would have been much more had I known about the website sooner. I attended my first PowWow at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL in the early 80s. And even though I didn’t invite them, almost all of my family, aunts and cousins on my mother’s side were already there when I arrived, and they brought my mother who had told all of them. We had a great time that day.

My maternal grandmother was a Native American born in Tampa, FL and married to a Jewish man who had been born in Kiev, Ukraine. They had 5 daughters together in St. Petersburg, FL. But back when my mother was growing up she was never given very much information about her mother’s mother except that somewhere back in time, likely the time of The French and Indian War of the 1700s, a French trapper had married a Native woman and that French last name was carried on down through my grandmother’s time in her Native line.

My mother appeared to have known her Native grandmother fairly well. Seems like almost every summer my mom would air out her trunk of family photos and show me the photo of her own mother at about age 8 or 9 yrs. old with her Native mother dressed in the clothing of the period, jacket and skirt that resembled Mary Poppins’ attire, the two of them standing on the sidewalk on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, FL. And one year I asked, who was the dark woman dressed like Mary Poppins. My mother exclaimed “That’s your grandma’s mother!” …. One year I dared to say what was on my mind and that was: “Can’t be, she’s too dark, must be the nanny.” My mother got very insulted over that! 🙁 But I am a young Semitic Native girl who doesn’t realize ALL THE RACES she is because I look like my father who is Caucasian from Europe and I am very white…on the outside.

It took me almost all my life to even realize who all I am. It was my current medical doctor from Peru who just last year slapped his thigh and exclaimed “That explains it!” when I told him I was part Native. “It” explained he said, why I have so much trouble with the drugs he prescribes and have to keep changing them. He said, and I quote, “You’re Native American and you have an SNP in your DNA!!! That! explains it!”

Surely YOU know what I mean, it’s the DNA chain that causes trouble between alcohol/drugs and how WE Natives react to them!

White on the outside, but Native on the inside. Joined at 7 yrs,. old by my Spirit Animal. When I asked my mom about the “invisible” animal jumping on my bed with me, she was puzzled. When I started having psychic experiences, she was puzzled. After that I quit telling her about my mystical experiences, although she did buy me a Ouiji Board when I was about 12. The psychic genes must’ve jumped a generation or two. I do have a couple of female cousins born from 2 of my mother’s sisters who are also very psychic. The one I was closest to went to live on what I now know from her sister, was the Creek Rez, I believe the one in NC near the famous Cherokee Rez on the Western end of NC. She wrote me until she died of cancer. I sure miss her.

The point of this letter to you, is to inform you that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I was very disappointed in this edition of PowWows.com which appears to focus on battering innocent actions by white men like Disney whose only aim was to delight children with their movies. I looked at the cartoon Indian chief and child claimed to be from a Disney movie and the angry rhetoric against them by what appeared to be an angry Native writer and I was very disappointed! The cartoon Indian chief and the little girl in the clip look well dressed and well behaved and respectable to me. This cartoon chief was overweight, but so is Gary Farmer, are you going to diss him? The cartoon scene also reminded me a bit of “Little Big Man” with Dustin Hoffman and Chief Dan George… do you object to that movie, too?

These are movies created by writers/artists, these are not real life scenes nor are they meant to be. Artists have artistic license. They have a point to make and a milieu in which to make it in. This freedom is not something anyone has a right to dispute, it is art…merely. I am a retired public school teacher and I majored in English Literature and English Language and in Teaching both to students in Grades 6-12. Fiction is fiction and any resemblance otherwise is just that, a resemblance, not a fact to dispute or get personally upset about and use as an instrument of your own personal dislikes…or a rallying cry to what?

Are you aware that there are 853 some Hate Groups already on file as active today in the USA? Don’t you think there might be something WRONG with that?

Can YOU honestly say to me that all of our Native “stories” by generations of Storytellers are any different? They are made up to send a message of underlying truth that we are encouraged by Storytellers to see and use to our ultimate benefit…not to pick apart as an excuse to exacerbate intrinsic ill will and encourage terror to reign.

As they say, if we do not “learn” from the past, then we are “doomed” to repeat it.

I’d like to see something more positive for the future of our new beginnings, preferably something that encourages us to remain Natives with NATIVE not “other Man’s” values…for when we become THEM, then WE have lost US!!! And I for one, believe that WE are the BETTER in our long held values, even though we can get pretty feisty at times…

Aho!

MaryStarshine Matlock

Marc Prigozen

Your article about Disney was very good. I grew up in the 50’s to the stereotypes you mention. When I was 11 or so I was in Hayward, WI and there is a reservation near by. I was, at the time, impressed as one tourist shop had a native American in full dress as a greeter. Looking back now, I am sure it was demeaning to him and probably one of the few jobs he could get.

On a wall in the Iroquois Museum in NY there is a poster with all the derogatory names used against native Americans. It was very powerful. After visiting that museum, I was back in Hayward WI and the memories came back.

My interest in Native American culture comes from learning about southwest art and starting a collection. Turns out that two of my grandchildren are 1/4 Arapahoe. I am talking with their other grandfather about certification.

Kathleen

If you never see the bad Stereo types , how will you know one when you see it …
Rose Colored Glasses are the problem, People (Parents, Politicians) want to hide all the So called bad things
from kids instead of showing them in a controlled environment and teaching them the difference between real, depiction. proper respect compared to what they see on TV and History — Learn all the Good and Bad in it ..

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