Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner recently accused the classic 1964 film Mary Poppins of being racist. Pollack-Pelzner, a professor from Linfield College in Oregon, made the accusations on the basis of the main character being seen “blacking up” her face with soot as she danced in the “Chim Chim Cher-ee” scene.
Pollack-Pelzner publicized his remarks on January 28, in his New York Times Op-ed proceeding the release of “Mary Poppins Returns,” the 4-time Oscar nominated derivative film to the original 1964 iteration.
“Part of the new film’s nostalgia, however, is bound up in a blackface performance tradition that persists throughout the Mary Poppins canon,” said the professor. “With disturbing echoes in the studio’s newest take on the material, ‘Mary Poppins Returns.'”
Pollack-Pelzner then went on to condemn the character Mary Poppins herself for having soot (that was intended to characterize the chimney scene) on her face. “Instead of wiping it off, she gamely powders her nose and cheeks even blacker,” he asserted. “This might seem like an innocuous comic scene if Travers’s novels didn’t associate chimney sweeps’ blackened faces with racial caricature.”
Pollack-Pelzner finalized his argument by going as far as to relate blackface minstrelsy to Disney’s origin, referencing classics like Micky Mouse and the 1942 children’s musical about a flying elephant, “Dumbo.” He concluded, “Disney has long evoked minstrelsy for its topsy-turvy entertainments — a nanny blacking up, chimney sweeps mocking the upper classes, grinning lamplighters turning work into song.”
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