Why the elimination of Disney’s antiquated racist views can be more damaging than helpful.
Recent cultural events have inspired many to call for the redesign of Disneyland’s Splash Mountain. While the ride is based on the 1946 Disney film Song of the South, mind you, a film which has never been reproduced in later Disney media for home viewership and ownership, I’m not in total agreement of the reasoning behind the ride’s design change. Yes, in true 90s baby fashion, I am highly cognizant of how much of my childhood was shaped by Disney, and while I have not seen Song of the South because of the idealistic imagery surrounding post-slavery, the cultural fabric is missing the opportunity to learn about Southern (and especially African folklore via the African Diaspora) fables, the cinematic advances of live-action storytelling coupled with animation, and a grounded mechanism to remind us of our past.
…Splash Mountain is honestly the least of the troubles of Disney’s racist past
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is still taught in schools as a contributing tale to the literary canon, and I strongly believe that Song of the South is similar. Heck, even Gone With The Wind, both the book and film, are accessible, but with the consumption of this material are new disclaimers. Times have changed, many Americans do not harbor the idyllic notion of how beautiful and quaint the antebellum lifestyle is, but Splash Mountain is honestly the least of the troubles of Disney’s racist past.
Where is the room for healthy discussion when this evidence is scrubbed away?
These same voices championing the change of Splash Mountain are not equally requesting a revision committee for the fact that Disney creators had a song called “What Makes the Red Man Red?” in Peter Pan. Or, what about the Siamese cat in The Aristocats playing the keys with exaggerated eyes and chopsticks while happily singing an “imitation” of Asian languages? Although an adult, I still feel incredible discomfort at the song “Savages” from Pocahontas which was released in 1995. What I am arguing is for a disclaimer before such movies that present that such imagery will not be further supported by Disney.
Many do not realize that the characters Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Bear are storytelling tools that are inspired by the African trickster tales. Uncle Remus is an embodiment of the African griot, a storyteller that upholds the method of oral tradition. Yes, some of the depictions are harmful, but where is the room for healthy discussion when this evidence is scrubbed away? Now, Disney’s decision to change the ride is great when it comes to public recognition of Splash Mountain’s origins. I can agree with the fiscal ramifications, but we cannot ignore that part of the minimal understanding is simply because the general public has not been tasked with the contextual analysis of this film’s viewership.
We cannot continue to ignore these antiquated beliefs as if they never existed.
Distant treatment of slavery’s effects on America is further created with not only the minimization of its history but the sheer lack of talking pieces. At the minimum, the movie should be made accessible with a welcoming disclaimer that reminds us of what hurtful images were allowed for the sake of entertainment. We cannot continue to ignore these antiquated beliefs as if they never existed. The band-aid treatment cannot continue to be our answer because that’s what has contributed to where we are today.