Let me start this off by saying that racism is a very real and pressing issue that shouldn’t be tolerated in any society.
However, seeking it out in films and TV shows from decades ago in the hope of calling it out and receiving some form of recognition for your virtues only serves to diminish and trivialize real racism and those that are still affected by it.
With that said, let me introduce you to US Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner who has criticised one of Mary Poppins’ most iconic moments when Mary joins Dick Van Dyke’s Bert to dance on a rooftop – covered in soot – for the classic song Step in Time.
Writing for The New York Times, the gender studies professor writes:
“When the magical nanny (played by Julie Andrews) accompanies her young charges, Michael and Jane Banks, up their chimney, her face gets covered in soot, but instead of wiping it off, she gamely powders her nose and cheeks even blacker.”
This might seem like an innocuous comic scene if Travers’s novels didn’t associate chimney sweeps’ blackened faces with racial caricature. “Don’t touch me, you black heathen,” a housemaid screams in “Mary Poppins Opens the Door” (1943).”
“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.”
Well, the professor has come under serious heat for his comments, with most people reacting with a mixture of disbelief and mockery.
What fresh hell is this? Seriously it’s not racist they were sweeping chimneys I’d be more surprised if they came out looking pristine and squeaky clean
— Sophiealicem95 (@sophiealicem95) 3 February 2019
They’re Chimney Sweeps for god sake !! Theyre covered with SOOT!!😠😠😠😠😠😠 pic.twitter.com/CLCRRqnXVs
— @MEL.TOFFEE &FUDGE (@3d2e78519eb042d) 3 February 2019
Mary Poppins wasn’t flirting with black face! It was soot in their faces from being a chimney!!! Stopped spreading racism claims on non racist things like this!!!
— Jennifer Conway (@jencon1978) 31 January 2019
Author Mr Pollack-Pelzner posted online after his article was published:
“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!”
Honestly, sometimes I wonder where we’re going as a society.
Are we going to keep dragging us nonsense like this in order to fulfil some kind of agenda that everyone’s inherently bad or are we going to get over it and look to address contemporary issues?
Besides, by far the most offensive thing in Mary Poppins is Dick Van Dyke’s Cockney accent…
Images via Facebook/Twitter/Disney