Mary Poppins is a beloved children’s movie from the 1960s. The film, which stars Julie Andrews in the titular role and Dick van Dyke as the beloved chimney sweep Bert who serves as a friend to Mary Poppins and the Banks children. The film contains many much-loved songs that children — and even some adults — love to sing along to.
The December release of a sequel to the popular musical has renewed the spotlight on the original film, and now a scholar in the U.S. has slammed the 1964 movie, claiming that one scene toward the end of the movie is blackface, according to the Shreveport Times.
The scene in question is the one where Mary Poppins, Bert, and the two children fly up through the chimney and up onto the roof. Having traveled through the sooty chimney, they all come out on the other side with their faces filthy and covered in soot.
Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a literature professor from Linfield College, has now written an op-ed in the New York Times slamming the film for the scene, calling it “Mary Poppins and a nanny’s shameful flirting with blackface.”
According to Pollack-Pelzner, the “blackface performance tradition” continues “throughout the Mary Poppins canon, from P. L. Travers’s books to Disney’s 1964 adaptation, with disturbing echoes in the studio’s newest take on the material, Mary Poppins Returns.”
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Pollack-Pelzner takes issue with the fact that when Mary Poppins appears on the rooftop covered in soot, she doesn’t wipe it off her face, instead “gamely powdering her nose and cheeks even blacker.” Not only that, but an entire group of chimney sweeps with equally blackened faces appears, incensing Pollack-Pelzner even further.
“These aren’t really black Africans; they’re grinning white dancers in blackface,” he wrote. “It’s a parody of black menace; it’s even posted on a white nationalist website as evidence of the film’s racial hierarchy.”
The professor argues that because the original novels “associate chimney sweeps’ blackened faces with racial caricature,” using the soot to blacken the characters’ faces was racist.
Not everyone shares his opinion on the matter though. Plenty of people have taken to Twitter to share their own thoughts on the supposed blackface and racist undertones of the film.
“Um, really? You just going to ignore that Mary Poppins [sic] face is dirty because of soot from cleaning fireplaces? It’s not black face you intolerable troglodyte,” wrote one user.
“Things that are not blackface: -Mary Poppins -Coal miners. Back to actual incidences of racism now please,” another added.
Pollack-Pelzner has also responded to the criticism about his work, saying that the purpose of the op-ed was solely to make Disney executives re-evaluate their live-action remake of Dumbo to make sure there are no unintentional racist comments or actions in the film.