Disney’s 100th anniversary: Not a celebration but a wake-up call


Midway Staff

Assistant editor Chloe Alexander argues that as Disney turns 100 years old, we must recognize how some of its movies perpetuate racist stereotypes.

Chloe Alexander, Assistant Editor

100 years of Disney. 100 years of children growing up watching Disney movies, essential to a child’s life. The princesses, surrounded by love and magic, are adored by all. I always treasured watching Rapunzel running away with Flynn Rider, Belle having a passion for knowledge and reading, and Tiana following her dream by opening a restaurant. But underneath the true-love kisses and happily-ever-afters, there are moments and truths of Disney that people should be aware of. 

With Disney’s centennial approaching, we must not only remember the happily ever after, but the long years of caricatures and stereotypes.

As someone who has always loved watching Disney movies and will probably continue to watch them, I cannot ignore aspects of the movies that are painfully racist. There can be lists and lists of racist and problematic movies, characters and situations that Disney has created, one of which Insider has put together.

To name of few: the stereotypical depiction and cultural appropriation of Native Americans in “Peter Pan,” the romanticization of colonialism in “Pocahontas,” the crows from “Dumbo” that reference Jim Crow laws and convey anti-Black stereotypes, the Siamese cats in both “Lady and the Tramp” and “The Aristocats” which portray racist caricatures of Asian people, anti-Arab lyrics in the opening song of “Aladdin,” and the lead characters of color being transformed into animals in multiple films, including “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Emperor’s New Groove.” (And don’t forget the nonconsensual kisses in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Sleeping Beauty.”)

One of Disney’s biggest theatrical mistakes was the 1946 movie “Song of the South,” which shows a clear image of Disney’s problematic behavior. The movie — set in post-Civil War, Reconstruction era — depicts an unrealistic and historically inaccurate slave-to-master relationship, according to NAACP’s statement on the movie: “Regrets, however, that in an effort neither to offend audiences in the North or South, the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery… [the film] unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship, which is a distortion of the facts.” There are plenty of other aspects of the movie that would make you understand why Disney refuses to make it available on Disney+. Although Disney has openly stated that “Song of the South” will not be shown, we must recognize that it was made.

Although Walt Disney himself might’ve not been racist, the movies he allowed to be created, characters he thought of and movies created in the Disney legacy have racist aspects. This isn’t to say boycott Disney, but be aware of the racist past that Disney hasn’t addressed. Some of the movies are still streaming. Be aware there are problematic characters in their movies that don’t reflect real life. 

Being able to address the realities in Disney’s questionable past doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a Disney movie. But choosing to watch today’s more diverse Disney movies is a step in righting the wrongs of Disney’s past.