Disney's self-proclaimed squeaky clean reputation is not completely without blemish. Throughout its history, the studio has come under fire numerous times for its misrepresentation - and lack of inclusion - of people of color. Racial bias within the Disney brand reaches back to the company's beginnings in the 1920s and '30s. Notably, Disney's The Princess and the Frog, released in 2009, introduced the first Black princess to Disney's lineup, and while many praised Disney for this step towards inclusivity, others contested that one film could not atone for decades of racial and cultural insensitivity.
Since the release of The Princess and the Frog - and especially since the studio's earliest offerings - Disney has substantially improved its inclusion and representation of non-white groups; however, many believe this representation could still be increased. Since Disney's acquisitions of blockbuster properties such as Marvel and Star Wars, characters of color have appeared more consistently - 2018's Black Panther became the highest-grossing solo superhero movie of all time, and the third Star Wars trilogy features a much more diverse cast than its 1970s progenitor. Despite this diversity increase, many claim the Disney brand can always expand and improve its representation.
In order to truly understand the Disney studio's growth, we must reexamine their past offerings. Some of these films are widely regarded as insensitive and have been for some time, while others still largely bask in a rosy, nostalgic glow.
One scene in the original 1940 version of Fantasia depicts a group of playful centaurs, one of whom is Black. The centaur's exaggerated features and assigned subservient role - cleaning the hooves of a graceful white centaur - leave modern audiences rightfully troubled. The scene was removed from the official release of the film in 1969.
While 1941's Dumbo is, for the most part, remembered fondly - to the extent that Disney remade the tale in 2019 - many regard the group of crows who teaches the eponymous elephant how to fly as tasteless and insensitive depictions of African Americans. One of the birds is even named "Jim Crow."
The film also includes a scene in which a group of nameless, faceless Black men sing about their lack of education while they perform menial labor.
- Photo: Walt Disney Studios
Song of The South, released in 1946, centers around storyteller Uncle Remus, a Black man living on a Georgia plantation during Reconstruction. Uncle Remus's behavior, exaggerated dialect, and seeming contentedness with his life on a white-owned plantation have led to numerous accusations of insensitivity from film critics and Disney fans alike.
Infamously, Disney has never released the film on DVD, implying that the studio is just as disturbed by its contents as their audience.
Peter Pan, released in 1953, is fondly remembered by many; however, in recent years, Disney fans have noted that the film's depiction - or rather, its caricatures - of Native Americans are far from appropriate. Aside from the tribe's clearly exaggerated appearance, their culture and customs are not only othered, but framed as outlandish and laughable.