Peter Pan is one of many Disney films that feature harmful interpretations of different racial groups. The company has a long history of including these kinds of interpretations in their films. When Disney+ launched, there was the question of how the Mouse House was going to deal with these problematic elements now that they were being made more accessible than ever. Now, we have an answer.
Peter Pan and some other specific films on Disney+ will now begin with an unskippable content warning that plays at the start of the movie when you select it. The content warning says:
As of now, this content warning will appear in front of Peter Pan, Dumbo, The Aristocats, and Swiss Family Robinson. It would not be surprising to see other films in the Disney+ library get preempted by this content warning as well. There are arguably problematic elements in a large swath of the Disney film canon, and it is going to be interesting to see which films the company decides to preempt with the content warning.
But that is not the only facet to this content warning. If you start up Peter Pan and see the unskippable content warning, you will also see a link to a section of the site called “Stories Matter”, and clicking the link will take you to this video of Geena Davis talking about the potential negative effects of watching these kinds of depictions without discussing them.
It is worth noting that this approach is not new. Like Peter Pan, Warner Bros. has had to acknowledge certain cartoons in their library that depict racist stereotypes and harmful images. Instead of censoring the cartoons on home video releases, Warner Bros. decided to preempt them with their own content warning. However, the language Warner Bros. used was significantly stronger than what you will see on Disney+, going so far as to acknowledge that these depictions are representative of racial prejudices.
This entire approach is certainly a step in the right direction, but movies like Peter Pan have been available on home release for many, many years. Disney’s decision to put up this content warning but continue their total erasure of the 1946 feature Song of the South calls into question the veracity of their messaging. As the Warner Bros. content warning clearly stated, removing these depictions is the same as pretending that they never existed. Until Disney releases Song of the South, their approach to these other titles can’t help but be tinged with some bit of hypocrisy.
It’s a good thing that Disney is doing something to contextualize the harmful depictions seen in Peter Pan and other movies, and it is very good they aren’t censoring these depictions outright. Still, this is almost certainly a more calculated PR move than it is anything deeply wholesome. Image is king when it comes to a company that sells the kind of experience Disney does. If Disney is truly committed to acknowledging their troublesome past depictions, they should be even more pointed with their language in this new content warning. Plus, they should finally release Song of the South in a wide capacity and use it as a teachable moment for a new generation of media consumers. With the company deciding to focus on streaming content, this is a line they are going to have to decide whether or not to cross.