The recent movement of protests against police brutality and white supremacy in the United States have enabled many American institutions to rethink their contributions to a culture that systematically disenfranchises Black Americans. One such company is Disney, which committed to changing the theme of one of their parks’ most iconic attractions.
Splash Mountain, which appears at Disneyland in California, Walt Disney World in Florida, and Tokyo Disneyland, has long been critiqued for drawing its theme from the outrageously racist 1946 film Song of the South. The maligned movie, which revels in despicable stereotypes of freed African-American slaves in the antebellum south, was and is sufficiently offensive to provoke outrage upon its release and is considered a visible stain on Disney’s legacy — Song of the South has never been released on home video and was excluded from the company’s 2019 launch of Disney+.
A Change.org petition with over 20,000 signatures called for Disney to “Re-theme Splash Mountain to Princess and the Frog” and suggested that the stereotypes perpetuated by having Song of the South‘s characters, music, and plot referenced in the ride be replaced by the positive representation of Disney’s first Black princess, Tiana. Tiana’s story is currently underserved in the parks, with no attractions or restaurants themed around her movie despite The Princess and the Frog revolving around the character’s ambition to be a restaurant owner and chef.
Disney apparently responded to the petition by announcing on the Disney Parks Blog that Splash Mountain will be “re-imagined” at Disneyland and Walt Disney World to feature a new, post-film story starring Tiana and other characters from Princess and the Frog (the Tokyo Disneyland attraction is not mentioned in the post). From the announcement:
“Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important. It’s a great story with a strong lead character, set against the backdrop of New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou…The new concept is inclusive – one that all of our guests can connect with and be inspired by, and it speaks to the diversity of the millions of people who visit our parks each year.”
The blog post did not mention the Change.org petition or acknowledge Splash Mountain’s previous Song of the South theme, nor did it provide a timeline for the attraction’s described changes. Disneyland and Walt Disney World are still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, with Disneyland recently announcing that their announced July 17 opening will not proceed; Disney World still plans to open select parks starting July 11.