Disney's new streaming service is adding a disclaimer to Dumbo, Peter Pan and other classics because they depict racist stereotypes, underscoring a challenge media companies face when they resurrect older movies in modern times.
The disclaimer comes as Disney Plus is a hit out of the gate, garnering 10 million subscriptions in just one day. The disclaimer reads, "This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions."
Media companies have been grappling for decades with what to do with outdated cultural stereotypes that were able to slip into TV shows and movies at the time but look jarring today. Streaming brings the problem to the fore.
In Dumbo, from 1941, crows that help Dumbo learn to fly are depicted with exaggerated black stereotypical voices. The lead crow's name is Jim Crow, a term that describes a set of laws that legalised segregation. In Peter Pan, from 1953, Native American characters are caricatured. Other Disney movies with the disclaimer include The Jungle Book and Swiss Family Robinson.
Others like Pocahontas and Aladdin do not have it, despite rumblings by some that those films contain stereotypes, too.
On traditional personal computers, the disclaimer appears as part of the text description of shows and movies underneath the video player. It's less prominent, though, in a phone's smaller screen. Viewers are instructed to tap on a "details" tab for an "advisory."
Disney's disclaimer echoes what other media companies have done in response to problematic videos, but many people are calling on Disney to do more.
Universal Pictures' teen comedy Sixteen Candles has long been decried for stereotyping Asians with its "Long Duk Dong" character.
Warner Bros. faced a similar problem with its Tom and Jerry cartoons available for streaming. Some of the cartoons now carry a disclaimer as well, but goes further than Disney's statement, but going a step further.
Rather than refer to vague "cultural depictions," the Warner Bros. statement calls its own cartoons out for "ethnic and racial prejudices."
"While these cartoons do not represent today's society, they are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed," the statement reads.
At times, Disney has disavowed a movie entirely.
Song of the South, from 1946, which won an Oscar for the song Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, was never released for home video and hasn't been shown theatrically for decades, due to its racist representation of the plantation worker Uncle Remus and other characters in the film. It isn't included in Disney Plus, either.
Disney and Warner Bros. did not respond to requests for comment.