Industry News

Racist, sexist … classic? How Hollywood is dealing with its problematic content

3 March, 2021

Every month, Disney convenes an eclectic group of advisers via videoconference to tell the media conglomerate what it and the many entertainment companies it has acquired over its nearly 100-year history have gotten wrong. It's a long list. Song of the South. Jar Jar Binks. That episode of The Muppet Show where Johnny Cash sings a duet with Miss Piggy in front of a Confederate flag.

"We've had some very raw conversations on those Zooms," says Gil Robertson, president of the African American Film Critics Association, who sits on Disney's advisory council, part of its Stories Matter Initiative, alongside representatives from groups like the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media as well as representatives from various departments at Disney, including programming, public policy and diversity and inclusion. Disney asks Robertson and his colleagues to watch content that may contain stereotypes or insensitive imagery and offer their perspectives. Some shows and films, like certain episodes of The Muppet Show that Disney added to its streaming platform Feb. 19, have ended up with disclaimers cautioning viewers about "negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures," a kind of pop culture equivalent of a surgeon general's warning. "They want to make up for any offensive messaging they may have been a part of," Robertson says. "It feels sincere, and it's also good business."

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