Disney is re-imagining Splash Mountain… And many fans aren’t pleased.
Splash Mountain — one of Walt Disney World’s most beloved and classic rides — is getting a long-overdue makeover. Disney announced on Thursday that the attraction will “soon be completely reimagined with a new story” inspired by the 2009 animated film The Princess and the Frog. And several fans aren’t thrilled.
This decision was issued amid the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement and ongoing protests. Nonetheless, the desire to cling onto the ride’s nostalgia paired with the current political climate is the perfect recipe for public outcry.
Dedicated fans and frequent Disney goers disdain for this change doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Splash Mountain was opened in 1992 and has remained as a staple attraction at the park. However, Splash Mountain is an antithesis of the urgent need for black representation and progressivism in the media.
Splash Mountain is based on the characters, music, and stories from Song of the South, a live action/animated film released in 1946. Inspired by the collection of Uncle Remus stories during the southern Reconstruction era, the film relies on offensive portrayals of African Americans steeped in racist imagery. It also romanticizes the post-slavery era in the United States.
Despite the film’s problematic depictions, several fans are appalled by Disney’s commitment to rebranding the attraction. One Twitter user writes, “Disney just trashed my family’s laughing place.” Another states, “Why are they doing this? The ride has zero racism. In fact, there are no people depicted so it’s literally impossible to racially offended by it.”
Splash Mountain might be viewed as a harmless children’s ride, but nothing changes the fact that it is inspired by a racist narrative written decades ago. Another Twitter user points out that the ride has “racist overtones and [an] overall psychotic and menacing vibe.”
Perhaps, this controversy sparks an ongoing conversation regarding the rebranding of companies amid a nationwide battle against systemic racism and police brutality. Quaker Oats recently announced the intention to retire Aunt Jemima, a 131-year-old brand built on racist stereotypes.
According to the New York Times, the founders of the brand hired a former slave to portray Aunt Jemima. In the 1930s, “the character was played by a white actress on a radio series who had performed in blackface on Broadway.” A 1954 magazine ad additionally showed Aunt Jemima “superimposed over an image of a plantation and a riverboat.”
Other brands soon followed suit, including Uncle Ben’s, Mrs. Butterworth’s, and Cream of Wheat. It’s no secret that these corporations’ logos are steeped in a racist history. But why did these changes take so long? And why is there blatant opposition?
Like the backlash over Disney’s plans to rebrand, Quaker Oat’s decision to retire Aunt Jemima also sparked criticism on social media. To make matters worse, young Trump rally speaker Reagan Escudé referred to Aunt Jemima as a depiction of the so-called American dream: “She was a freed slave who went on to be the face of the pancake syrup.”
Her romanticized views of this character reflect the toxic and unfortunately common mindset of many Americans. The ‘American dream’ does not exist. It is rather propaganda to blind us from the deeply-rooted issues in this country, including systemic racism and wealth inequality.
Critics argue that the woman who inspired the Aunt Jemima character made millions of dollars in royalties. While this is true, we cannot blatantly ignore that she was used as a prop to perpetuate the myth that slaves and black servants were treated equally.
The presence of criticism on social media has a lot to do with a distaste for political correctness. None of this is political. Instead, businesses change to keep up with what the general public wants. Branding that is saturated with racist rhetoric will inevitably be altered to avoid a decline in profits. These changes are also made to foster a collective awareness that the exploitation of black stereotypes is still an issue.
Although rebranding won’t save black lives or reverse institutionalized racism, it nonetheless encourages other companies to create inclusive relationships between consumers. As someone who grew up in New Orleans, I’m thrilled that Disney is making the first African American princess a focal point of Splash Mountain’s re-imagination. This is a necessary step for the mouse house and other influential brands.