The Walt Disney Company is facing accusations of “whitewashing” is history by refusing to release the 1946 film Song of the South on its new streaming service, Disney+. Also removed from the service is a scene in 1941’s Dumbo involving a character in blackface.
As Yahoo Entertainment reports, at least two reputable entertainment websites confirmed in the past week that Disney’s new streaming service, which costs $7 per month, offers users almost the entirety of the company’s movie and TV catalog, with two notable exceptions. Those exceptions are, depending on whom you ask, either unfortunate reminders of a different time in the country’s (and the company’s) history that are best forgotten, or works of art intended for public consumption that should be left as-is.
Song of the South
Though it inspired a major theme park attraction (Splash Mountain) and a song that is practically a theme song of Disney theme parks (“Zippety Doo Dah”), the Disney public relations machine has tried valiantly to pretend the film never existed. The 1946 film, based on Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus tales, takes place in the post-Civil War South and features a main character who, though sympathetic and portrayed with love, echoes the stereotypes of the era regarding blacks. The film is also accused of glossing over the horrors of slavery.
Dumbo‘s Unfortunate Blackface Scene
Also excised from the Disney+ catalog is a scene in 1941’s Dumbo. The scene features four singing crows, one of which is named Jim Crow and whose face resembles a performer in blackface. “Jim Crow” is, of course, a reference to the laws at the time that enforced segregation.
The infamous Jim Crow scene in “Dumbo” and the highly controversial “Song of the South” will not be on Disney+. But what about all the other racist content? https://t.co/abPGlbGdR5
— Fast Company (@FastCompany) April 23, 2019
Internet users are not convinced that the company is making the right move in removing those memories from its collective consciousness.
Some users, for example, are convinced that it’s an attempt by the company to deflect from its “racist” past.
Super disappointed if Song of the South isn't on Disney+, but you better not touch Dumbo. I hate it when they censor old cartoons and take out all the racism. You don't get to pretend that stuff never happened, white people!
— Eli Sanza (@ejunkie2014) April 19, 2019
Other users note that pretending something doesn’t exist doesn’t change the fact that it exists.
These films should be preserved, not censored, especially on Disney's own streaming service. I'm extremely disappointed in the company. Getting rid of the scene and pretending it doesn't exist won't help anything. https://t.co/8dAkn8qMeO
— Matterhorn Matt (@MatterhornMatt) April 18, 2019
Others note that there are plenty of other scenes in other Disney films that could be deemed “racist,” such as the Siamese cats of Lady and the Tramp, who are considered a nasty caricature of Asians; or the unfortunate characterizations of Native Americans in Peter Pan.
The Walt Disney Company is not the first major studio to have to contend with unfortunate content from its past. Warner Brothers, for example, produced Bugs Bunny cartoons with racist portrayals of Asians, and the entire Speedy Gonzalez canon is itself one big stereotypical portrayal of Mexicans. The company, rather than censoring those things from its catalog, continues to make them available, only with the disclaimer that they are products of a different time and should be understood within their historical context.