Disney is taking fire from conservatives complaining about so-called “cancel culture” for a change the company made to Disney Plus — five months ago.
In October 2020, Disney Plus added a new content warning that appears as a slate prior to several older movies on the service that contain racist depictions, including “Dumbo,” “Peter Pan,” “Swiss Family Robinson,” “The Aristocats,” “Fantasia,” “The Jungle Book” and “Lady and the Tramp.”
“This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures,” the advisory label says in part. “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.”
At the time, Disney Plus blocked those titles from being accessed in the service’s Kids Profile, which is restricted to G-rated films and television shows rated TV-7FV.
But the change was newly discovered this week by right-leaning media outlets, including the New York Post and Fox News, whose reports suggested Disney Plus had only recently made the decision to block the pics from Kids Profiles. “More like Disney minus,” the Post’s Tuesday story reads. “Months after flagging classic flicks over stereotypical portrayals, Disney+ has now decided to go whole hog and drop several of the once-loved, now-controversial titles from their kids’ menus.”
Following the reports, “Dumbo” and “Peter Pan” began trending on social media as commenters decried what was portrayed inaccurately as a new example of “cancel culture.” The stories gained traction amid the backdrop of a broader campaign waged by conservatives who feel threatened by the fact that classic movies, TV shows and books once considered acceptable are being reconsidered for their harmful depictions and in some cases blacklisted. In the most recent high-profile flash point, last week, the company that oversees the estate of Dr. Seuss said it decided to discontinue publication of six titles that “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”
Disney, which now has more than 100 million subscribers for Disney Plus worldwide, has explained the decisions to add the disclaimers to older titles as part of making its services more inclusive and diverse.
“Rather than removing this content, we see an opportunity to spark conversation and open dialogue on history that affects us all,” the Mouse House says on its Stories Matter initiative page. “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 Plus first added content warnings to certain titles shortly after its November 2019 launch, notifying viewers that movies like “Dumbo” and “The Aristocats” were being “presented as originally created” and “may contain outdated cultural depictions.”
Disney details objectionable scenes and depictions in some of the older movies on the Stories Matter website. For example, in the 1941 version of “Dumbo,” “The crows and musical number pay homage to racist minstrel shows, where white performers with blackened faces and tattered clothing imitated and ridiculed enslaved Africans on Southern plantations” — and the leader of the group is named “Jim Crow.”
Meanwhile, the original 1953 “Peter Pan” animated film “portrays Native people in a stereotypical manner that reflects neither the diversity of Native peoples nor their authentic cultural traditions,” including by repeatedly referring to them as “redskins,” Disney says on the site.
For the Stories Matter initiative, Disney has established an advisory council composed of third-party organizations including the African American Film Critics Association, Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE), the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, GLAAD, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, and RespectAbility.