On Jan. 23, 2023, Splash Mountain, a popular ride at Florida’s Disney World, had its final ride after backlash about the ride’s racist past. The ride is based on “Song of the South,” a 1946 film released by Disney that portrayed plantation life during the Reconstruction era.
Some of the key criticisms of the movie stemmed from the depictions of archaic stereotypes of Black people, offensive caricatures and its glorification of slavery in post-Civil War America. We, on the Editorial Board of the Technique, believe that Disney made the right choice by choosing to shut down Splash Mountain and replace it with a ride based on “The Princess and the Frog.” The actual ride will remain the same, with only the theme being changed.
This is very similar to the conversion of the Tower of Terror ride at several Disney parks to be based on the “Guardians of the Galaxy” rather than its initial “Twilight Zone” storyline. This is indicative of how Disney has successfully managed to change rides to fit modern times.
One of the primary arguments against the conversion of Splash Mountain cited in a counter-petition garnering over 99,000 signatures was that it would ruin the ride’s nostalgia. However, we believe that nostalgia is not a valid argument against change because it often upholds a harmful status quo. An example of this on Tech’s campus is the Spring 2021 referendum to change the fight song to address gender equality by replacing the word “cheer” with the word “join” in the line “Oh! If I had a daughter, sir, I’d dress her in White and Gold / And put her on the campus, sir, to cheer on the brave and bold.”
Similar to Splash Mountain, one of the arguments made by some alumni who did not support the proposed change was that they believed it would ruin the nostalgia of the song. However, we believe that like Splash Mountain, the nostalgia the song held is not as important as the harmful status quo it upholds and the people it hurts.
Another argument that was brought up in the conversation about Splash Mountain was whether removing it would be a detriment to the awareness the ride could bring. We believe that this is also not a valid argument because the ride portrays this portion of history as a form of entertainment rather than educationally.
In addition, we believe that the portrayal of certain portions of history, such as slavery, as entertainment normalizes them.
Moreover, we feel that the issues such as slavery or prejudice against Indigenous peoples cannot be simply relegated to entertainment topics after a certain amount of time has passed because these issues are not defined by the time that has passed, but rather the magnitude of atrocities. These issues still have systemic impacts to this day, so we believe that it is not appropriate to portray these issues in a manner of entertainment.
Taking all this into consideration, we want to acknowledge that we agree with Disney’s choice to shut down Splash Mountain, but in the future, we encourage them to be more proactive, rather than reactive.
The way Disney responded to the situation made the action seem like it was performative activism. Moreover, some felt that Disney only made the change after public backlash, meaning that they were making the change to not discourage potential customers from coming to the park.
Finally, we feel that Disney is lacking in creating real, meaningful change in other aspects of their company. We would also like to see more and better representation of people of color in Disney products.
This includes a break from Disney’s pattern of having characters of color turn into non-human entities. A few examples of this are “Turning Red,” where the character turns into a red panda, or the aforementioned “The Princess and the Frog,” where the main character is turned into a frog for a majority of the movie.
While we appreciate what Disney has done, we encourage them and other corporations to take better steps toward equality without public outcry as the only motivating force.