One of Disney’s most beloved classics has become engulfed in controversy thanks to a provocative article in The New York Times.
In the article, Linfield College professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner shares his opinion that “Mary Poppins” is racist due to a scene in which the magical nanny (Julie Andrews) and her chimney-sweep pal Bert (Dick Van Dyke) have soot smeared on their faces after exiting a chimney.
While it’s clearly coal dust darkening their faces, Pollack-Pelzner argues that the end result is the same as a white person wearing blackface.
“One of the more indelible images from the 1964 film is of Mary Poppins blacking up,” he writes. “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. Then she leads the children on a dancing exploration of London rooftops with Dick Van Dyke’s sooty chimney sweep, Bert.”
Beyond the movie itself, Pollack-Pelzner also asserts that the novels on which the film is based include troubling racism throughout, and “associate chimney sweeps’ blackened faces with racial caricature.”
The professor’s opinion, however, is being widely disputed on social media, where fans of the 1964 film and its 2018 sequel think describing “Mary Poppins” as racist is a huge stretch.
As the Evening Standard reports, Pollack-Pelzner responded to the criticism in an online post.
“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,” he wrote.
“Here’s one thing I’ve learned about the alt-right,” he added, “after I wrote this article and received a zillion hate messages in response: they sure like ‘Mary Poppins’!”