There have been instrumental efforts to stand and fight alongside the Black Lives Matter movement. Sure, we have had the erratic protesting and looting that occurred with them, but efforts so meaningful and symbolic in a less physical way have come forward. The nation has woken up and continues to. This is unimaginably beautiful but work still needs to be done. The notion that hate speech and racism is ingrained in American history is not wrong, but we are a nation that progresses and evolves every day, despite hate being circulated by people in power or people not in power. Whether the gestures of standing on solidarity with necessitated movements of positive origins, like Black Lives Matter, are political or not, they certainly are commendable. It can safely be said that Disney is the largest media conglomerate, not to mention that its parks are literally the ‘happiest place in the world.’
Disney has had a tumultuous relationship with racism and criticism over it. In fact, I took a course on Disney at my undergraduate institution that dealt with Disney’s racist reputation, which was the part of the class I didn’t enjoy. Now is Disney racist? Is it complicit in perpetuating racism? Both of those are loaded questions, but my answer to the second one would be no. Walter Elias Disney (Walt Disney) was a visionary and with an evergreen mind. He wanted to stop time and for the world to stop and think. He inadvertently made us ask questions like how long is forever? And where and who is my inner kid? Can you answer these questions?
Disney’s latest venture in standing with the Black Lives Matter movement has been re-theming its classic Splash Mountain ride at Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland Resort in California. The ride is based on the beloved characters like Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Bear, Br’er Fox, and Uncle Remus from the 1948 film Song of the South. Although it went on to win the Academy Honorary Award, it has always faced (and continues to face) vehement backlash for its portrayal of African Americans as subservient members of society. The main song from the movie is “Zip-e-dee-doo-Dah” and is sung by Hank Baskett, who plays Uncle Remus. The song makes its appearance in the ride that also features the movies menacing, thorny briar patch.
The ride is to be re-themed officially. It will change to a Disney film, 2009’s Princess and the Frog, that has a very positive rendition of a Black woman in New Orleans. The princess and main character of the movie, Tiana, is a young African American woman who wants to own a restaurant. Spoiler alert: she opens her restaurant with Prince Naveen and her friends from the bayou. She works hard to get there. The questions that immediately flooded my mind are what song will they employ? What characters will appear? In the current Splash Mountain ride, in the scene where you enter the cave before the plunge, characters are singing. I wonder who will appear here. Will it be Ray the firefly? Louis the alligator? Mama Odie? Naveen or Tiana or the two as frogs? What role will the villain of the movie, Dr. Facilier, have in the movie? Lastly, will Charlotte (Tiana’s best friend) or Tiana’s late father or her mother be featured?
Lastly, I want to mention that this news was not unanimously taken by Disney fans. Some felt nostalgia and liked the original. As it will can promote a less stereotypically reductive and racist image of Disney, I think re-theming the ride is an utterly amazing idea on all fronts. I have no doubts about it. Disney, to me, ultimately represents euphoria and resonates wholly with my inner child and always will. This pursuit will prove to be a great business move and an efficient way to redefine Disney in the eyes of skeptics.