With streaming services counting on their movie libraries, businesses need to consider providing advice on content that hasn’t aged well.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
With streaming services hogging their corporate parents’ huge movie and television libraries, it becomes clear that some of this material has not aged well. How the streamers deal with it says a lot about the companies responsible, according to NPR television critic Eric Deggans, who is now joining us. Welcome back, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hello.
CORNISH: We’re starting with Disney and its streaming service Disney +. Disney has a number of movies and old cartoons with lots of harrowing stereotypes. Here is a scene from the Disney movie “Dumbo” with a flock of black crows.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “DUMBO”)
CLIFF EDWARDS: (as Jim Crow) What’s cooking here? What is the good news? What’s frying, boy?
NICODEMUS STEWART: (as bacon) Just look down here, brother.
JAMES BASKETT: (as Fette) And prepare for a shock.
CORNISH: How did Disney + deal with something like that?
DEGGANS: Well, I would say it was in fits and starts. You know, when Disney + first debuted in 2019, they gave some movies a very simple, two-sentence recommendation that wasn’t particularly obvious when you called up the movie to watch. And now they have a bigger content recommendation, which is several paragraphs long and is displayed on the screen for about 12 seconds before the movie begins. And it says in part, quote: “This program contains negative portrayals and / or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and now.”
So this recommendation directs you to a place on disney.com whose website is called Stories Matter. And there they explain how they put this group of experts together to advise them on which films to advise. And they list some of them like “The Aristocats” and “Swiss Family Robinson”. And movies that receive this advice are also being pulled out of the Disney + kids profile section when some people noticed the change.
CORNISH: And what is the answer? Are there any alternative ways Disney could have dealt with this?
DEGGANS: Well, I think so. I think the content notes about the film should be specific to each film. Let viewers know exactly which scenes in “Dumbo” are problematic and why and how those scenes differ from those in “Peter Pan”. Give us a comprehensive list of all the films that have received this advice and speak publicly about why they do. I mean, I’ve been trying to get someone from Disney to talk to us about this topic for a while and so far they have refused. Perhaps they are concerned about damaging their brand. But honestly, I think they can learn a bit from what a competitor like HBO Max did.
CORNISH: Explain how you handled things.
DEGGANS: Well, HBO Max had a challenge on Gone With The Wind that was criticized for many, many years for glorifying the Old South in the pre-Civil War era when blacks were enslaved. And they pulled the film out of the library for a while and developed three videos explaining the problematic legacy. They also created this video suggestion which will air for about four and a half minutes before the film begins explaining the issues in detail. And while they were putting it all together, some executives talked about what they were doing.
CORNISH: You know, there will be a lot of white people in particular who will consider these beloved childhood works of art and criticize these moves by these big brands. How do you feel about all of this
DEGGANS: Well, you know, people might say it’s about demolition culture, but these films are not being canceled. You will not be eliminated from Disney +. But people should know exactly what is inside them so that they are more aware of the stereotyping and less affected by it. And some people might think this comes out of nowhere, but HBO Max’s recommendation for “Gone With The Wind” indicated that the NAACP was complaining about this movie when it was made in 1938. People have talked about these stereotypes for many, for many years. It only took a while for media companies to listen. And now that they are, let’s have these discussions transparently so the audience can learn.
CORNISH: This is NPR television critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thank you.
DEGGANS: Thank you for having me.
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