Mary Poppins Branded Racist For Use Of Blackface

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Mary Poppins accused of blackfaceDisney

The original Mary Poppins film is being branded racist for a scene which is reminiscent of blackface.  

The 1964 film starring Dame Julie Andrews is under scrutiny by an American academic for the well-known scene which sees Andrews’ character join Dick Van Dyke’s Bert and his fellow chimney sweeps on a rooftop for the song Step In Time. 

In order to make it up on to the rooftop, the nanny ventured through a chimney with Michael and Jane Banks, the children in her care. After popping out of the top, the three characters were covered in soot, which is understandable given the route they’d taken.

However, Professor Pollack-Pelzner criticised the scene for what happened next in a New York Times article where he writes ‘one of the more indelible images from the 1964 film is of Mary Poppins blacking up’.

Mary Poppins accused of blackfaceDisney

He continues:

Her face gets covered with soot, but instead of wiping it off, she gamely powders her nose and cheeks and gets even blacker.

The academic goes on to link the film with racism in the 1943 novel Mary Poppins Opens The Door, in which housemaid screams ‘Don’t touch me, you black heathen’ to a chimney sweep.

Pollack-Pelzner continues:

The 1964 film replays this racial panic in a farcical key. 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.

Mary Poppins accused of blackfaceDisney

Fans of the 1964 film were quick to argue against the professor’s views, however, with many taking to social media to share their opinions.

One person wrote:

So some so-called academic had branded the Mary Poppins movie racist, over a scene where they get covered in soot (implying they’re blacking up?!).

For crying out loud! You call yourself an academic? Not much education has gone on with you has there? Enjoy your 5 seconds of fame.

While another simply tweeted:

It was soot from the chimney she’d just flown up, you nitwit.

Speaking to MailOnline, Professor Pollack-Pelzner spoke about his opinions and the reaction he’d had, saying:

I don’t like hearing that something I loved and that something that was important to me in my childhood might be more troubling than I assumed. So I appreciate the strength of the reaction.

I just hope some of that energy can go to Disney as well and ask them to think a little bit more about how their new movies connect with the past.

What do you think about the scene?

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.