Disney’s Haunted Mansion Torn To Shreds For Cultural Appropriation

By Robert Scucci | Updated

Haunted Mansion (2023)

Disney’s Haunted Mansion is making headlines, and they’re certainly not the good kind that one would typically see for a movie promotion. Tongva comic book artist and illustrator Weshoyot Alvitre is scrutinizing the upcoming supernatural horror comedy film for its insensitive misuse and misappropriation of the white sage plant.

In her Tweet, Alvitre calls Disney out for exploiting the medicinal herb by using it in the promotional poster for Haunted Mansion and urges Disney Studios to do something about the problematic imagery.

Disney’s Haunted Mansion is being accused of misusing a traditional Native American plant to promote the upcoming horror film.

The Haunted Mansion poster shows us a number of occult artifacts, including a crystal ball, a book of incantations, and, mistakenly, a bundle of white sage smoldering in an abalone shell known as a smudge stick.

Alvitre takes issue with Disney’s decision to use white sage in the Haunted Mansion poster because the medicinal herb has been over-harvested and poached for commercial use at brick-and-mortar stores and online markets.

White sage has seen a rise in popularity for its healing properties, but a common criticism of its modern use is that consumers don’t follow the proper Native use, which leads to overconsumption and the resulting decimation of sage patches at the hands of poachers who want to turn a quick profit under the guise of New Age healing.

Danny DeVito in Haunted Mansion (2023)

Disney’s History Of Cultural Appropriation

By now, Disney is no stranger to being called out for harmfully misappropriating indigenous cultures, and Haunted Mansion is just one recent example of the media giant facing backlash in light of such an egregious creative misstep.

In fact, Disney has added content advisory notices to a number of their classics for their problematic portrayal of Native Americans in films like Peter Pan (1953) for their controversial depictions of Native languages and mannerisms.

Though these notices state that Disney wants to learn from past mistakes and continue to “spark conversation to create a more inclusive future,” they’re probably going to have to address their use of white sage in the Haunted Mansion promotion sooner rather than later.

Disney has added content advisory notices to a number of their classics for their problematic portrayal of Native Americans.

Though Disney’s misrepresentation of white sage for the upcoming Haunted Mansion film may seem inconsequential, it’s not necessarily the portrayal of Native imagery and practices that is problematic, but rather the encouragement of its use for non-traditional purposes.

Sage has a long history of being used to purify and disinfect and has been used by indigenous tribes to combat the common cold and fevers. In other words, using white sage for matters of the occult comes off as misguided and insensitive, especially in the context of a horror comedy film.

Given the negative press that Disney is receiving for having a bundle of white sage on the Haunted Mansion poster, we can only hope that the film itself doesn’t lean into this type of imagery too much.

If it’s just the movie poster that is causing the issue, then a simple apology and the clever use of Photoshop could rectify the matter. But if white sage is misused throughout the film, which premieres on July 28, 2023, we can only anticipate more backlash upon its release.