SALT LAKE CITY — An English and gender studies professor has made the case that the original 1964 “Mary Poppins” film is racist, USA Today reports.
The professor, Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times titled, “‘Mary Poppins,’ and a Nanny’s Shameful Flirting With Blackface” in which he slammed dance scenes from the film, specifically one where Poppins and Bert (Dick Van Dyke) dance on the rooftop while covered in ash.
"When the magical nanny … 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," Pollack-Pelzner wrote.
Here’s that scene:
Context: The column arrives as questions over Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam faces a blackface scandal after a photo of two men, one dressed in blackface and the other in white Ku Klux Klan robes, on his yearbook photo went viral, according to CNN.
Pollack-Pelzner says several pop culture entities have used blackface in the past. He said the “Mary Poppins” scene reminded him of P.L. Travers’ novels, which, he says, "associate chimney sweeps’ blackened faces with racial caricatures."
He goes even farther. He wrote that the naval officer Admiral Boom asked for the cannons to fire at the “cheeky devils” on the roof after mistaking them for “Hottentots” — a racial slur.
- "These aren’t really black Africans; they’re grinning white dancers in blackface," he wrote. "It’s a parody of black menace; it’s even posted on a white nationalist website as evidence of the film’s racial hierarchy."
- Pollack-Pelzner said, “blackface … could be said to be part of Disney’s origin story.” He points to a parody called “Mickey’s Mellerdrammer,” which is a parody of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” he says.
- “Mickey blacks his face with dynamite to play Topsy, a crazy-haired, raggedy-dressed, comically unruly black child from the book whose name had become synonymous with the pickaninny stereotype,” he writes.
Flashback: As I wrote about in December, the popular Christmas cartoon “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was called racist and bigoted by some critics for how Santa Claus and those in the North Pole slammed Rudolph.