We originally reported on Disney+’s decision to include a warning label about cultural stereotypes before certain titles in November 2019. Now, nearly one year later, Disney has upped the ante on their language used in this warning, and their emphasis on the importance of historical context, reckoning with past traumas, and using storytelling as a positive tool for the future. I find every new decision dealing with this to be a good one, and I’d love to explain why.
First, here’s the new, full text on the content warnings on Disney+:
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
I find this to be such a preferred way to deal with insensitive moments in past content libraries, rather than, say, literally removing them from the service itself and pretending like everything’s hunky-dory. “These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now,” a phrase also used on certain contemporary Warner Bros. presentations of old Looney Tunes cartoons, is the exactly correct, strongly-worded phrase to use, especially as it relates to the studio’s mission to “acknowledge its harmful impact” and “learn from it,” as opposed to merely whitewashing it over. However, if you are not in the mood for getting triggered by such depictions, the new warning page also features a countdown before the title starts, so you can decide if you’re in a good space to experience it or not; a subtle, but lovely and inclusive way to keep their viewers’ mental health in mind.
As for that website the warning implores you to visit? It’s full of deeper examinations of the cultural stereotypes included in past Disney titles, including The Aristocats, Peter Pan, and Dumbo, explaining plainly the historical context that produced such decisions, and why they are so wrong. The page also promises how Disney is changing their future: “Stories shape how we see ourselves and everyone around us. So as storytellers, we have the power and responsibility to not only uplift and inspire, but also consciously, purposefully and relentlessly champion the spectrum of voices and perspectives in our world… We can’t change the past, but we can acknowledge it, learn from it and move forward together to create a tomorrow that today can only dream of.” It also lists the social justice groups Disney is working with on this new initiative, including The AAFCA, CAPE, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, GLAAD Media Institute, IllumiNative, NALIP, RespectAbility, and more.
For me, this is the exact correct way to reckon with past sins, explain plainly to viewers why they occurred in the present (while offering an opting out for triggers), and make better stories for the future. Let’s just hope that this is more than savvy PR on Disney’s part; let’s hope demonstrable changes in their storytelling ranks comes soon. After all, many other cultural critics have pointed out some of the flaws and performative pieces of “woke activism” in contemporary Disney remakes like The Lady and the Tramp, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Mulan. Coats of paint and savvy pieces of copy are nice — and I do honestly think these pieces of copy are helpful and educational — but what’s even nicer are actions.
For more from the Mouse House, here’s the latest trailer for Soul, coming to Disney+ Christmas Day.