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Disney Warns Viewers Of Racism In Some Classic Movies With Strengthened Label

Disney added a warning on its streaming service to some of its titles with racist depictions, including <em>Dumbo</em>. The crows' appearance and musical number in the movie "pay homage to racist minstrel shows," Disney said.
Disney added a warning on its streaming service to some of its titles with racist depictions, including <em>Dumbo</em>. The crows' appearance and musical number in the movie "pay homage to racist minstrel shows," Disney said.

Updated at 5:49 p.m. ET

Many people have long said certain Disney classics like Peter Pan, Dumbo and The Aristocats contain racist stereotypes and overtones.

Disney agrees. Viewers will now encounter a warning on Disney+ when streaming those and other titles containing racist material.

"We can't change the past, but we can acknowledge it, learn from it and move forward together," Disney said on its detailing the new advisory, "to create a tomorrow that today can only dream of."

Disney began labeling titles with a disclaimer in November 2019 but recently strengthened the message, explicitly calling some depictions "racist" on its .

The new message appears before the title plays for several seconds and in the program's description.

"This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures," the message reads. "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."

When viewing certain old Disney movies, a message appears before the title plays for several seconds and in the program's description.
/ Disney+/Screenshot by NPR
When viewing certain old Disney movies, a message appears before the title plays for several seconds and in the program's description.

Other movies that include this warning are The Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp and Swiss Family Robinson.

Disney's initial message last year was more brief.

"This program is presented as originally created," the message read. "It may contain outdated cultural depictions."

Although the original move received some praise, some critics thought the language was nonspecific and dismissive.

Racism in Disney movies

In Peter Pan, Native people are referred to as "redskins," a slur against Native Americans. The main characters sing a song titled "What makes the Red man Red?"

Disney calls this a "form of mockery and appropriation of Native peoples' culture and imagery."

In Dumbo, one of the crows is named Jim Crow, the same name as the set of laws that enforced segregation.

He is voiced by a white actor and performs a musical number that pays "homage to racist minstrel shows," Disney says. In the same movie, faceless Black workers are shown laboring to offensive lyrics like "When we get our pay, we throw our money all away."

The Aristocats features a cat named Shun Gon with stereotypical East Asian features who plays the piano with chopsticks. He is voiced by a white person singing in a poorly accented voice.

"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?" asked Geena Davis, actor and gender equality advocate, in a video posted to Disney's webpage.

Disney acknowledges "that some communities have been erased or forgotten altogether, and we're committed to giving voice to their stories as well." The company did not further specify how it would work toward that goal.

"There is incredible power in seeing someone who's like you on screen," Davis said. "What children see sets the framework for what they believe is possible in life."

Reese Oxner is a News Desk intern.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.