The very first Disney short, Steamboat Willie, was released all the way back in 1928, and it’s safe to say that in the last 92 years, cultural norms and the acceptance of other cultures has changed quite a bit.
And because of those shifting norms, some old Disney films haven’t aged so well.
Instead of ignoring or erasing its culturally insensitive past, Disney is now adding a new advisory to certain titles that they are hoping will help to encourage a dialog about hurtful stereotypes.
A panel of experts from outside of the Walt Disney Company will consult on which films will get the new advisory. Organizations on the advisory council include the African-American Film Critics Association, Define American, GLAAD Media Institure, The National Association of Latino Independent Producers, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and more.
The note reads: “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together. Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe. To learn more about how stories have impacted society, please visit www.disney.com/StoriesMatter”
The message will appear in front of movies such as Aristocats, Dumbo, Peter Pan, and Swiss Family Robinson. The Stories Matter website then elaborates on why the particular scene depicted is harmful. For instance, it states that the Siamese cat in Aristocats “reinforces the ‘perpetual foreigner’ stereotype, while the film also features lyrics that mock the Chinese language and culture such as ‘Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg Foo Young. Fortune cookie always wrong.'”
The hope is to represent communities accurately and admit when, in the past, Disney hasn’t. While we have seen this message listed on the films on Disney+ in the past, this will now put the message front and center prior to each of the movies.