Disney modifies films over racism and sexism criticism

Global Business

Disney modifies films over racism and sexism criticism

Disney’s gearing up for the launch of its streaming service, Disney+, which goes live in November.

CGTN’s Phil Lavelle reports.

The offering will give subscribers the chance to view Disney’s biggest hits including Star Wars, the Marvel movies and all of the Disney classics.

But one movie will be notable by it’s absence: 1946’s Song of the South which Disney is deliberately withholding.

Song of the South was a live-action musical with animated characters. It features an African American lead played by James Baskett as storytelling Uncle Remus and is set in the period following the end of the civil war and the abolition of slavery.

But it has long been a headache for Disney, with allegations that it is racist, offensive and out of touch. The problem Disney has is that it can’t delete the movie completely because it gave birth to one of the studio’s most recognized songs: ‘Zipadee doo dah, zipadee day’.

The movie has never actually been released in the United States on DVD or even VHS. Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, said that it wouldn’t ‘sit right or feel right with a number of people today.’ But it has been freely available for many years in other countries in Europe and Asia.

It’s the right decision, says Earl Ofari Hutchinson: an author and political analyst based in Los Angeles. He’s written extensively on race and social issues in the United States:

“Song Of The South is seen today, even as it was then, racially offensive. Even then, I can’t emphasize this strongly enough, there were protests”, he said.

“I think when Disney made the decision to pull SOTS or at least not include it in the catalogue, Disney understood one thing It’s bad for the image, it’s bad for business.. I think in that sense, Disney did the right thing.”

Part of Disney’s problem is its age: it’s been around for the best part of 100 years and generations have grown up watching its characters. But as times have changed, it’s become clear that some of its characters are not appropriate in the modern day.

The studio’s already made a number of changes: back in the sixties, it completely removed a character from the musical, Fantastia: The black centaur was a subordinate with dark skin and big red lips, shown waiting on the larger white models. In the nineties, the hit movie Aladdin had to change the words of its opening song after Arab-Americans pointed out the line “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face” was racially stereotypical and offensive.

1941’s Dumbo is currently having a re-edit to remove the black Jim Crow character ahead of the movie’s availability on Disney+ and the siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp are being completely reversioned with a new song to replace “We are Siamese” by the time the live action remake hits movie theaters.

“They do have to contend with the fact that for a century old company, they were part of the problem for a long time” explains Peter Debruge, the Chief Film Critic at Variety.
“There is not a more scrutinized company in entertainment, in the world than Disney. I mean Disney is the sort of gold standard.. it’s the characters that everybody around the world loves and grew up with.”

And so, while some will regret Disney’s decision – many have campaigned for the studio to make the film freely available – it is clear that Disney believes this film belongs in the past and that’s where it’s going to stay.