Indian Country Today
After adding cultural advisories to racially-questionable films in October 2020, the online streaming platform Disney Plus has now blocked the accounts of children under 7 from watching several films due to “negative depictions of race.”
Disney created the initiative called “Stories Matter'' to address racially-offensive and stereotypical images and themes that have appeared in past films, such as “Dumbo,” “Peter Pan.”
The “Stories Matter” webpage includes statements about inclusion, along with videos of people from diverse communities addressing representation.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion, we are in the process of reviewing our library and adding advisories to content that includes negative depictions or mistreatment of people or cultures,” read one website statement. “Rather than removing this content, we see an opportunity to spark conversation and open dialogue on history that affects us all. We also want to acknowledge that some communities have been erased or forgotten altogether, and we're committed to giving voice to their stories as well.”
The films with cultural advisories are “The Aristocats” and “Lady and the Tramp” for Asian stereotypes, “Dumbo” due to scenes of crows portraying Black minstrel singers, “Peter Pan” for the stereotypes of Native people and traditions, “Swiss Family Robinson” for several ethnic stereotypes by pirates and “The Jungle Book” for its stereotypical portrayal of monkeys that refers to Black people.
Since the site first appeared, Disney has removed the potentially offensive images.
Disney's 'Stories Matter' website images and explanations from 2020
Disney Plus has not offered any comments on films such as “Pocahontas” — a film that does not include a cultural advisory message — nor revealed what other films might be subject to receive warnings or restrictions from under-7 accounts in the foreseeable future.
Sonny Skyhawk, Rosebud Sioux, an actor and advocate for his nonprofit American Indians in Film & Television, said that the company’s efforts are a step in the right direction.
“Pocahontas has been the poster child film for what is commonly known as appropriation. The name Pocahontas draws people’s attention due to the history of the name,” Skyhawk said. “But it is the poster child of racism. In reality, it’s about a young girl with a tragic history. The film turned into everything besides that.”
Skyhawk also noted that the stereotype tied to the name Pocahontas wasn’t helped when former President Trump referred to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas.
“We need to bring people up to the 21st century. Native mascots and imagery should not be used as a vehicle for racism,” Skyhawk said.
Though these films will remain on the Disney Plus site, another film, “Song of the South,” which has been criticized for its racial-themes and Black stereotypes, is not on the platform.
The page also has a video which is opened by actress Geena Davis.
“There is incredible power in seeing someone who's like you on screen, what our children see sets the framework for what they believe is possible in life,” says Davis in the video. “What message are we sending to little kids at the most vulnerable age? If characters are one dimensional, stereotyped, sidelined, hypersexualized, or simply not there at all.”
Other comments include statements on Black, Asian and Native American culture and stereotypes and sexual orientation.
Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor of Indian Country Today who enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org he is also the opinions’ editor, email@example.com.
Like this story? Support our work with a $5 or $10 contribution today. Contribute to the nonprofit Indian Country Today.