22:10 GMT04 March 2021
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    Amid a renewed debate on racism in everyday life, including the portrayal of black people in popular culture, Disney Plus last year tagged warnings on some of the older films in its archive as containing “outdated cultural depictions”, with some much-loved animated classics flagged.

    A spate of classic animated favourites of more than one generation of children have been taken off the proverbial kid's shelf of Disney’s streaming service after an update to its content advisories.

    Disney+, the company's subscription-based video on-demand service, blocked anyone under the age of seven from watching Peter Pan, The Aristocrats, Swiss Family Robinson and Dumbo for breaching ‘content advisories’ that were recently put in place, reported the Daily Mail.

    ​Peter Pan was believed to have been blocked for featuring a Native American tribe whose members were referred to as ‘redskins’. Peter and the Lost Boys are also shown dancing in traditional headdresses, which, according to Disney, is a "form of mockery and appropriation of Native peoples' culture and imagery".

    Swiss Family Robinson, dating back to 1960, was slammed for its ‘yellow face’ and ‘brown face’ pirates.

    ​The Aristocats, produced in 1970, fell afoul by featuring a Siamese cat character called Shun Gon playing the piano with chopsticks. The kitty’s slanted eyes and prominent teeth were perceived as a caricature of East Asian people, made in poor taste.

    The 1941 cartoon featuring the lovable flying elephant Dumbo found itself in hot water for ‘ridiculing enslaved African-Americans on Southern plantations’.

    A group of crows that help Dumbo learn how to fly in the cartoon are seen as having exaggerated stereotypical black voices, while the lead crow is called Jim Crow.

    ​The name is a reference to a set of laws put in place in the states of the former Confederacy following the South's capitulation in the Civil War to maintain the racist status quo following the abolition of slavery. 

    A musical interlude in the animation shows black workers toiling to lyrics such as, ‘When we get our pay, we throw our money all away’.

    Users were quick to offer their take on the move by Disney, with some commenting the decision was ‘over the top’.

    ​Others, however, applauded the decision.

    Family Favourites in the Crosshairs

    Back in October 2020, Disney had implemented a revised content advisory to flag racial stereotype-linked concerns. The above-mentioned classics had all found themselves in the crosshairs.

    The recent decision by Disney to ban the films from children’s accounts was taken by a group of external experts brought in to assess if the content ‘represented global audiences’.

    The films will still be available on adult accounts, accompanied by a disclaimer that says:

    “This programme includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”

    Disney went on to say that rather than remove the ‘offensive’ content, they sought to ‘acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.’

    The company wrote on its website that it was committed to creating stories with ‘inspirational and aspirational themes’, seeking to embrace the global diversity of the human experience.

    There has not been any official comment on the developments from a Disney spokesperson.

    Disney is not the first studio to add an advisory on old titles citing racist concerns. For example, Warner Bros., which is owned by CNN's parent company, WarnerMedia, used a cautionary advisory on an old "Tom and Jerry" release:

    "The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society.”

    The recent renewed debate on racism and the portrayal of black people in popular culture falls in line with an increasingly prominent trend in the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and racism in the aftermath of the death of African-American former convict George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minnesota police in the US.

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