Disney Plus has been a welcomed gift during this time of social distancing, and my family has taken advantage of its extensive library. My kids have discovered some of the older, or “classic” Disney films such as “Pinnochio,” Alice In Wonderland,” and “Peter Pan,” to name a few.
While I adore “Alice In Wonderland,” I never felt the same love for “Pinnochio” or “Peter Pan.” “Pinnochio was always just to creepy for me (yes, creepier than Alice, because Alice is awesome weird, not like weird weird), and Disney’s version of “Peter Pan,” for me never held up to the televised live stage version featuring Mary Martin.
Yet, there I was the other day, sitting with my two boys viewing the animated tale of the boy who never grows up.
For the few of you who aren’t familiar, like all versions of the classic story, Peter Pan creeps up on the home of the Darling family, and persuades children Wendy, Michael and John to fly away with him across the Londo sky to a place called, “Neverland.”
Neverland is a fantastical world filled with all sorts of characters from mischievous mermaids to nasty pirates, and of course the Lost Boys. Among the characters the Darling children encounter in Neverland are the “Indians.”
Caricatured as indigenous people of the Americas often were at the time (and often still are), the Indians in the Peter Pan story are depicted as unintelligent, cruel and savage.
My oldest son noticed the “Indians” in the film had red skin, and exaggerated facial features.
He was also quick to point out how the Indian princess Tiger Lily, who is seen as one of the “good” Indians and an object of affection of Peter and the Lost Boys, had lighter skin.
In that moment, I had some choices to make:
- Ignore my son’s comments and keep watching the movie.
- Fast forward past those “uncomfortable” parts.
- Use this time as an opportunity to teach about the inhumane treatment and depiction of indigenous peoples.
I chose to teach.