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Disneyland Will Redesign Splash Mountain to Overhaul “Song of the South” Ties

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  • On Thursday, Disney Parks announced it would be re-theming its Splash Mountain rides at Disneyland and Disney World to center around the 2009 film “The Princess and the Frog.”
  • The ride is currently based upon the 1946 film “Song of the South,” which has been criticized for its oversimplified and idyllic depiction of the Antebellum South, as well as for its racial stereotypes of Black people.
  • Disney Parks did not directly reference Splash Mountain’s ties to “Song of the South” in its announcement but did call the plan to refocus on “Princess and the Frog” a concept rooted in inclusivity. 
  • Disney Imagineer President Bob Weis said the concept to retrofit the ride has been in the works for more than a year.

Disney To Re-invent Splash Mountain

After years of complaints to scrap racist connections to a long condemned movie, Disneyland and Disney World have finally announced that they will re-theme Splash Mountain.

In a statement on Thursday, Disney Parks said the longstanding ride will “soon” be retrofitted into a ride based on “The Princess and the Frog.” That film, released in 2009, tells the story of Disney’s first Black princess, Tiana. 

“Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important,” Disney Parks said on its official blog. “It’s a great story with a strong lead character, set against the backdrop of New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou. 

“In 1966, Walt himself opened New Orleans Square when it became the first new “land” added to Disneyland park, so it feels natural to link the story and the incredible music of “The Princess and the Frog” to our parks.”

Disney stopped short of directly referencing Splash Mountain’s current inspiration—“Song of the South.” Despite that, Disney Parks did vaguely allude to the ongoing and increased calls for racial justice that have rocked the country since the death of George Floyd in late May.

“With this longstanding history of updating attractions and adding new magic, the retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today,” Disney Parks said. “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.”

In recent weeks, many have made calls for the removal of objects and forms of entertainment that have—up to this point in history—evaded widespread condemnation.

Now, Confederate statues are being removed and in some cases, toppled. Streaming services have removed full episodes and even some whole TV shows for depictions of blackface. Even Rhode Island is moving forward to change its official (if surprising) name of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

Splash Mountain will remain a log flume ride, though Disney did not indicate how long it would take to implement the change. Disney has also not announced any plans to re-imagine a third version of the ride at Disneyland Japan.

Disney’s Controversial History with “Song of the South”

If “Song of the South’s” intention when it was released in 1946 was to capture the “song” of the Antebellum South immediately following the Civil War, it was pretty tone-deaf in its delivery.

Set on a plantation home in Georgia, the film follows a young white boy who befriends a Black plantation worker, Uncle Remus. The film makes no mention of slavery, and within the context of the film, it’s unclear in what time period the events are taking place. It was only after the film’s release that Disney revealed the story takes place after the Civil War. 

Throughout the film, Uncle Remus tells the boy a number of stories that are depicted in animated format—including one story featuring the infamous character Tar Baby. While in the movie, Tar Baby is nothing more than a doll literally constructed from a lump of tar, its imagery evokes stereotypical depictions of Black people. The phrase “tar baby” has also been considered a slur for African Americans.

Source: The Disney Company

Upon the film’s release, the NAACP strongly denounced the film, saying that “in an effort neither to offend audiences in the North or South, the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery….[the film] unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.”

Disney’s approach has proven to be the catalyst for intense criticism that has persisted for nearly 70 years, with many saying the film overly simplifies struggles Black people faced in the Reconstruction Era. In addition to that, many have condemned the depiction of the film’s Black characters as stereotypical and racist. 

Because of that controversy, Disney has never fully released “Song of the South” to home video in the United States; however, it has been released in European and Asian countries, and some clips from animated portions of the film have found themselves released as part of the Disney Sing-Along Series.

In March, Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed that the film would not appear within the Disney+ catalog, saying that such a film “is not appropriate in today’s world.” Prior to that, some had wondered whether the film would make its way onto Disney+ and if the streaming platform would include an “outdated cultural warning” before the film.

Still, in 1989, Splash Mountain was first opened to the public at Disneyland. Three years later, another version of the ride was opened at Disney World. While both rides replace Uncle Remus as the narrator, quotes from Uncle Remus are carved along the wall of the ride. 

This is not the first controversy for a Disney ride. In 2017, Disney Parks removed a misogynist skit of a bridal auction from its Pirates of the Caribbean ride. 

Disneyland Delays Reopening

According to Disney Imagineer President Bob Weis, designers have been working on the Splash Mountain redesign for more than a year. 

Weis said conceptual design work is still in progress and will be followed by preliminary reviews that will help develop a timeline for the transformation. 

That process will likely be affected by the coronavirus pandemic—especially after Disneyland delayed its reopening this week. The park had been set to reopen on July 17. Notably, that date marks its 65th anniversary.

Now, the park said it will wait for state guidelines before determining a new target date to reopen. Part of the decision to extend its closure was due, in part, to California not planning to issue theme park reopening guidelines until after July 4. 

The company has said that timeline would not give it enough time to bring back its crew and prepare for a mind-July reopening.

California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) later expressed his support for the delay.

“The governor appreciates Disney’s responsiveness to his concerns about reopening amid the recent increases in COVID-19 infections across many Southern California counties,” spokesperson Nathan Click said in a statement. “The state and our public health experts continue to be in contact with the company and their workers—as well as other theme parks in the state—as we track and combat the spread of the virus.”

See what others are saying: (LAist) (CNN) (The Los Angeles Times)

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Zendaya, John David Washington, and “Euphoria” Creator Film Secret Movie During Coronavirus Pandemic

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  • “Malcolm & Marie,” a new picture starring Zendaya and John David Washington was completely written and shot during the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced most productions to halt in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
  • The film was written and directed by “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson, who began the project after Zendaya asked him if he could pull off a quarantine movie.
  • The cast was under strict safety precautions and underwent a two-week quarantine on location before filming. While filming, sanitation, social distancing, and other measures were also taken. 
  • This comes as Hollywood is working on its plans to open up again, a complicated task made even more difficult by growing coronavirus cases.

Film Shot in Secret

Zendaya, along with John David Washington and “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson, secretly filmed an entire movie during the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to a report from Deadline, the actress called Levinson after production for season 2 of “Euphoria,” which she also stars in, came to a halt over concerns regarding COVID-19. She asked if he could write and direct a movie during quarantine and just six days later, he churned out a script titled “Malcolm & Marie.”  Levinson then brought Golden Globe-nominated Washington on board to co-star in the feature alongside Zendaya. 

Shooting began on June 17 and wrapped up on July 2, according to Deadline’s exclusive. The film was shot at the Caterpillar House in Monterey County, California, where shooting on private property was allowed at the time. The house sits on 33 acres of land, providing plenty of space between the crew and the outside world. 

Safety Measures Taken

Levinson, Washington, Zendaya, and other producers on the project worked with lawyers, doctors and industry unions to make sure they were following COVID-19 safety precautions while on set. Deadline said that the cast and crew quarantined in Monterey for two weeks prior to shooting.

During that time, everyone wore masks, social distanced, had individual dwellings, rehearsed in the parking lot, and ate in designated spots with food only prepared by chefs who were also quarantining. No one was allowed off the property, no physical contact was allowed, and no more than one person was allowed in a room at the same time, unless those people had been quarantining together. 

Cast and crew were tested at the start and end of their quarantine, and the film kept to a relatively small crew. Only 12 people were allowed on set at a time, and had to wear personal protection equipment when in contact with actors. Physical distancing was required as much as possible. 

Production offices worked remotely and there were increased sanitation measures for those on set. Surfaces were cleaned, frequent hand washing was required, and people were not allowed to share things like keys or phones. 

Hollywood and Coronavirus

This comes as production fell last quarter by 98%, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Because of this, Hollywood is anxious to find a path forward with filming. Some bigger productions, like “Jurassic World: Dominion,” which is set to resume filming this month, will have large budgets devoted to sanitation. 

However, that picture is filming in the United Kingdom. Movies filming in the United States have to battle growing coronavirus cases, which could severely delay reopening plans.

Christopher Miller, a writer and producer behind hits like “The Lego Movie” and “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” warned that these increased cases could throw the industry further behind.  

Right now, Hollywood could look to “Malcolm & Marie” as an example of how to shoot a film while in quarantine. While it was completed in secrecy and details are still scant, projects designed to be completed in some form of isolation could be the answer. 

See what others are saying: (Deadline) (The Hollywood Reporter) (IndieWire)

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Lady A, Formerly Lady Antebellum, Sues Black Blues Singer Lady A Over Rights to Use Name

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  • In June, the country group Lady Antebellum renamed itself Lady A, dropping the word “antebellum” due to its association with slavery. However, a Black blues singer named Anita White noted that she had been using “Lady A” professionally for more than 20 years.
  • After a Zoom call between all parties, it appeared that they agreed to coexist, but White later said she felt the band’s camp was trying to erase her after seeing their draft agreement. 
  • On Wednesday, the band sued White for the right to use the name after claiming she demanded $10 million dollars as part of a draft settlement agreement. 
  • The band claims they trademarked the name in 2010 without opposition and are not seeking monetary damages or asking for White to stop using the name, but want all parties to coexist.

Country Band Rebrands 

Lady A, the country band formerly known as Lady Antebellum, is now in a legal battle with a Black blues singer named Anita White, who is known professionally as Lady A. 

Discussions over the use of “Lady A” have been going on for about a month now, so let’s take a look at how the issue started.

After nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black people unjustly killed by police, people all across the country have been forced to confront systemic racism and their roles in perpetuating inequality. In response, there have been widespread changes, from TV shows removing scenes with blackface, to brands pulling logos that many deemed offensive.

The country band joined in on that movement, dropping “antebellum” from their name over its ties to slavery.

On June 11, bandmembers Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, and Dave Haywood said they would officially go by Lady A. At the time, the group said, “When we set out together almost 14 years ago we named our band after the southern “antebellum” style home where we took our first photos. As musicians, it reminded us of all the music born in the south that influenced us…southern rock, blues, R&B, gospel and of course country.”

“But we are regretful and embarrassed to say that we did not take into account the associations that weigh down this world referring to the period of history before the Civil War, which includes slavery. We are deeply sorry for the hurt this has caused and for anyone who has felt unsafe, unseen or unvalued. Causing pain was never our heart’s intention, but it doesn’t change the fact that indeed, it did just that.”

Anita White Blindsided 

But soon after, Anita White came forward to say she had been using Lady A as a stage name for over 20 years and was blindsided by the country band’s announcement. Her fans reportedly bombarded her with the news that her name has been solen, and in an interview with Rolling Stone, the 61-year-old singer said the band hadn’t reached out to her before making their decision. 

At the time, she called it ironic that they were changing their name in support of racial equality while at the same time taking another name from a Black performer. She said she would not stop using the name and called their failure to reach out “pure privilege.”

“They’re using the name because of a Black Lives Matter incident that, for them, is just a moment in time. If it mattered, it would have mattered to them before. It shouldn’t have taken George Floyd to die for them to realize that their name had a slave reference to it,” she added. 

“It’s an opportunity for them to pretend they’re not racist or pretend this means something to them.” 

Discussions Take Place 

After facing questions about White, the band admitted that they were not aware she was already using the name and planned to reach out. 

Then on June 15, they shared an image of a Zoom call with White that seemed to suggest they had reached an agreement. “We are excited to share we are moving forward with positive solutions and common ground. The hurt is turning into hope. More to come,” the band wrote at the time. 

White tweeted out a similar message, however, shortly after the chat, she told Newsday, “I received a draft agreement from the Antebellum camp. I’m not happy about [it] yet again after talking in good faith… Their camp is trying to erase me and I’ll have more to say tomorrow. Trust is important and I no longer trust them.”

Lawsuit 

Tensions escalated Wednesday when the band sued the singer for the rights to use the name. According to the lawsuit, the parties involved had agreed to coexist, with the band agreeing to support the singer’s musical career. It even says they had plans to collaborate on a song together. 

However, the band says talks fell apart when “White’s new counsel delivered a draft settlement agreement that included an exorbitant monetary demand.”

The group said in a statement, “Today we are sad to share that our sincere hope to join together with Anita White in unity and common purpose has ended. She and her team have demanded a $10 million payment, so reluctantly we have come to the conclusion that we need to ask a court to affirm our right to continue to use the name Lady A, a trademark we have held for many years.”

“We are sad to share that our sincere hope to join together with Anita White in unity and common purpose has ended. We can do so much more together than in this dispute.”

The suit outlines the band’s history with the name, saying they’ve used Lady Antebellum and “Lady A” interchangeable since around 2006 or 2007. The filing reportedly included documents of the band’s website and other reports demonstrating their use of the name. 

According to the suit, the group applied to register “Lady A’ as a trademark in 2010. It was officially registered in 2011 and reportedly received no opposition at the time.   

The suit says White never applied to trademark or register the name “Lady A.” The legal filing also doesn’t ask for White to stop using the name, or for any monetary damages. Instead, it says, “Plaintiffs simply wish that the parties continue to coexist.” 

Reactions 

Backlash against the group came swiftly following news of the suit, with people now questioning if the intentions behind their initial name change were genuine. 

One user wrote,  Lady Antebellum changing their name to Lady A to show solidarity with BLM only to SUE AN ACTUAL BLACK ARTIST who already has that name is performative wokeness at its BLEAKEST.”

Even though the group filed for a trademark, some think it’s still not a good look for them to file a lawsuit against a Black artist over the name. Some argued that they should just pick something else. 

Still, there are many who view White’s request for $10 million as extortion and believe the band was trying to come to a peaceful resolution. 

Meanwhile, others believe it’s likely a defensive move on the band’s part to get legal approval for use of the name in case White decides to sue them. 

White, for her part, simply tweeted, “No Weapon formed against me shall prosper” following the news, but has not commented much further. 

Either way, it seems like the bands attempt to avoid controversy with their name has now brought along just that. 

See what others are saying: (CMT) (The Hollywood Reporter) (Entertainment Weekly) 

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Halle Berry Apologizes for Considering a Transgender Role in an Upcoming Film

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  • In an Instagram live interview Friday, Halle Berry mentioned that she was considering taking the role of a transgender man, while repeatedly misgendering him by using “she/her” pronouns. 
  • Some responded with anger, but many asked her to reconsider and educate herself on trans issues. 
  • People specifically asked her to watch Netflix’s “Disclosure,” a documentary that explores trans representation in Hollywood and the real-world implications trans depictions have on the trans community. 
  • Halle apologized Monday, promising to promote better representation both on and offscreen. Her apology was welcomed by fans, GLAAD, and “Disclosure,” which thanked her for listening and learning. 

Berry Considers Taking Transgender Role 

After a weekend of backlash, education, and conversations about transgender representation, actor Halle Berry announced Monday that she is no longer considering plans to play a transgender character.

The backlash against Berry first appeared Friday after she took part in an Instagram live interview with hairstylist Christin Brown. In that stream, Berry talked about possibly cutting her hair short again for a potential new film project, saying, “I’m thinking of playing a character where the woman is a trans character, so my hair is gonna have to be – she’s a woman that transitioned into a man, so my hair is going to be really shaved.” 

“I want to experience that world, I want to understand that world. I want to understand that character. I want to deep dive in that in the way I did ‘Bruised,’ Berry continued.

“This world, who this woman was is so interesting to me, and that will probably be my next acting role.”

“It’s really important to me to tell stories, and that’s a woman, that’s a female story actually– it changes to a man, but I want to understand the why and how of that,” she added.

Internet Asks Berry to Reconsider 

When people caught wind of this interview, people took issue with her remarks and the idea that a cisgender woman would be taking on such a role.

This isn’t exactly a new point of debate. For instance, Scarlett Johansson came under similar scrutiny in the past when she initially accepting the role of a transgender man for the film “Rub & Tug,” which she later walked away from after backlash. 

However, in Berry’s case, people were also upset by her lack of knowledge about the transgender community, noting that she repeatedly misgendered the character by using “she/her pronouns.”   

Still, while some people responded with anger, a lot of people took the approach of asking her to educate herself on trans issues and reconsider taking that role. Many actually asked her to watch Netflix’s new documentary “Disclosure,” which is executive produced by Laverne Cox. That film takes an in-depth look at Hollywood’s depiction of transgender people to help understand the real-world implications they have on the trans community. 

On Monday, the official Twitter account for the documentary even shared a clip from the project, writing, “Today is a good day to remind people that casting trans actors in trans roles is more than about opportunity.”

Then it directly addressed Berry in another post, asking her to watch the film “to understand how cis actors like yourself acting in trans roles has major cultural consequences offscreen.”

Others continued sharing similar messages, including the film’s director Sam Feder, who added, “Often people don’t know what they don’t know. And that’s ok!” 

Halley Berry Responds 

By Monday evening, Berry responded with a statement posted to her social media pages apologizing for her remarks and adding, “As a cisgender woman, I now understand that I should not have considered this role, and that the transgender community should undeniably have the opportunity to tell their own stories.”

She explained that she was grateful for the guidance and critical conversations that have taken place over the last few days, adding. “I will continue to listen, educate and learn from this mistake. I vow to be an ally in using my voice to promote better representation on-screen, both in front of and behind the camera.” 

Berry Thanked for Listening

Berry’s statement was received very well, with a lot of people thanking her for being willing to engage in dialogue with others and responding with a statement so quickly. 

Similar sentiments came from the documentary’s account, which thanked her for listening and learning. 

GLAAD also tweeted at Berry, saying it was pleased that she had listened to the concerns of transgender people, adding, “Other powerful people should do the same.” 

Still, Berry has faced some criticism from those angry with her for apologizing, as some believe there should more flexibility in Hollywood about who can play what roles. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro for instance called her statement “performative wokeness.” 

But that is a point the film’s Twitter account hit on Monday when it first addressed Berry’s initial comments. At the time, the account tweeted, “In preemptive response to the critique that all artists should be able to play any role.@Lavernecox “I think if all things were equal, then [yes]. But all things are not equal.”

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (Insider) (Vanity Fair

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