Disney’s Mary Poppins has been branded ‘racist’ due to a ‘blackface’ scene

Disney’s Mary Poppins has been branded ‘racist’ due to a ‘blackface’ scene

For many people, the 1964 movie Mary Poppins is an absolute masterpiece, a movie that warms the heart, fires the imagination, and features plenty of catchy tunes. However, this week an academic has denounced the movie as racist due to one of its iconic scenes, and now social media users are divided on the subject of whether or not the movie really is politically correct or not.

The controversy began when Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, an English and gender studies professor at Oregon’s Linfield College, drew attention to the scene in the original movie where  Mary and Bert take Jane and Michael on a tour of London's rooftops with Bert’s chimney sweep friends. The four characters are soon covered in soot. Mary Poppins tries to wipe it off but only makes it worse, and so leaves it on and adds more to her nose and cheeks. Pollack-Pelzner believes that the scene is attempting to draw a humorous comparison between the chimney sweeps’ blackened faces and racial caricatures, such as those seen in black minstrel shows.

In an article published in the New York Times entitled "Mary Poppins and a Nanny’s Shameful Flirting With Blackface", Pollack-Pelzner argues: "The 1964 film replays this racial panic in a farcical key. When the dark figures of the chimney sweeps step in time on a roof, a naval buffoon, Admiral Boom, shouts, 'We’re being attacked by Hottentots!' and orders his cannon to be fired at the 'cheeky devils.'"

"We’re in on the joke, such as it is: These aren’t really black Africans; they’re grinning white dancers in blackface. It’s a parody of black menace; it’s even posted on a white nationalist website as evidence of the film’s racial hierarchy. And it’s not only fools like the Admiral who invoke this language. "

He added: "Blackface minstrelsy, in fact, could be said to be part of Disney’s origin story ... Disney has long evoked minstrelsy for its topsy-turvy entertainments — a nanny blacking up, chimney sweeps mocking the upper classes, grinning lamplighters turning work into song."

A number of Disney fans were left outraged by the piece. After the article proved controversial, Pollack-Pelzner took to social media to state: "The chief reason I wrote this article was the hope that a Disney exec would read it, take another look at the forthcoming Dumbo remake, and ask if there was anything just a little bit racist they might want to rethink before it hits the big screen. Here’s one thing I’ve learned about the alt-right, after I wrote this article and received a zillion hate messages in response: they sure like Mary Poppins!"

So, is Mary Poppins really racist? That all depends on your point of view. But one thing is certain: Pollack-Pelzner's article hs really riled people up.