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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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JoJo Siwa Swatted After Coming Out as Member of LGBTQ+ Community

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  • In an Instagram live on Saturday, YouTube star JoJo Siwa confirmed that police were called to her house on a false report, a dangerous trend commonly referred to as swatting. 
  • The incident happened hours after Siwa publicly confirmed that she is a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Siwa believes members of the media may have called the police in an effort to force her out of her home so they could photograph her amid the excitement surrounding her announcement. 

JoJo Siwa’s House Gets Swatted

JoJo Siwa, the 17-year old YouTube star who is massively popular among kids, was swatted at her home on Saturday, hours after coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

During an Instagram Live with her videographer Nate Javier, Siwa confirmed that officers from the Los Angeles Police Department were called to her house on a false report.

Everyone inside had to step out with their hands up. As this happened, Siwa says paparazzi came out from around the corner.

She believes the media called the police to force her outside so they could photograph her while there was so much excitement surrounding her coming out. 

She called the incident “really scary” but said that she is safe and fine. 

“For me it was no big deal to walk outside my house. I’m okay,” she said. “But I feel bad because there was about 50 police at our house and those police could have had much better time spent somewhere else actually helping somebody instead of dealing with a fake claim from paparazzi.” 

Siwa Comes Out

Siwa made headlines over the weekend as fans began to speculate that she might be coming out. They were first tipped off by a handful of TikToks she appeared in, including one where she lip-synched to “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. Then on Friday, Siwa shared a photo of herself wearing a shirt from her cousin that said “Best. Gay. Cousin. Ever.”

Many took this photo as her coming out and began to celebrate her for sharing this. On Saturday the star went live on Instagram confirming that she is part of the LGTBQ community. She thanked her fans for their support. 

“I have never ever ever been this happy before and it feels awesome,” she said.  

Siwa said she is not yet ready to specifically label herself and that right now she is just happy to be open and sharing this part of her life with the public. 

“The reason I’m not ready to say this answer is because I don’t really know this answer,” she explained. 

“I wanna share everything with the world. I really do. But I also want to keep things in my life private until they are ready to be public,” Siwa continued. “Right now what matters is that you guys know that no matter who you love, that it’s okay.”

Praise for Siwa Rolls In 

Many stars have applauded Siwa online, including actress Kerry Washington, singer Lil Nas X, and YouTubers Liza Koshy and Colleen Ballinger. 

“You’ve got our love,” Koshy wrote. “Shine on as always!”

“This is the happiest I’ve ever seen you,” Ballinger said. “You’re absolutely glowing and I’m so proud of the woman you are becoming. 

Many were also quick to point out the potential impact her coming out could have considering her large following of young people. 

“JoJo Siwa’s decision to share her truth with the world is a powerful moment,” wrote Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of GLAAD. 

“As one of the most influential young role models today, Jojo’s story is a reminder for LGBTQ youth to love who they are and to find safe and welcoming environments to speak out.”

See what others are saying: (BuzzFeed News) (Newsweek) (Seventeen)

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Joe Rogan Says Grimes Did Not Give Dave Chappelle COVID-19

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  • Comedian Dave Chappelle is under quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. He is asymptomatic and his remaining shows in Austin, Texas have been canceled.
  • The news comes just days after Chappelle was photographed with Joe Rogan, Elon Musk, Grimes, and several others backstage at one of his Austin performances.
  • “Because people are asking, I was not exposed to the person who had covid and I have tested negative every day this week,” Rogan wrote on Instagram Friday. “Also, the person that gave covid to Dave was NOT Elon’s partner @grimes.”

Chappelle Tests Positive

Comedian Dave Chappelle has tested positive for coronavirus and is currently under quarantine, according to one of his representatives.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, that rep also confirmed that he is currently asymptomatic and has canceled all of his remaining shows at Stubbs Waller Creek Amphitheater in Austin, Texas.

“Chappelle has safely conducted socially-distanced shows in Ohio since June 2020 and he moved those shows to Austin during the winter,” the statement read.

“Chappelle implemented COVID-19 protocols which included rapid testing for the audience and daily testing for himself and his team. His diligent testing enabled him to immediately respond by quarantining, thus mitigating the spread of the virus,” it continued.

Joe Rogan Speaks Out After He Was Photographed With Chappelle

Two of the remaining Austin shows were supposed to include fellow comedian Joe Rogan. Rogan took to Instagram Friday morning to announce that they will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

Still, many fans had questions about Rogan’s current state of health. The news of Chappelle’s positive test comes just days after he was photographed maskless with Rogan, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, musician Grimes, and several others backstage at one of his Austin performances.

Since Grimes, who is also in a relationship with Musk, recently had COVID, many were concerned that she may have exposed the group. Others wondered if Chappelle may have spread it.

Rogan eventually updates his Instagram caption to dismiss the ideas.

“Because people are asking, I was not exposed to the person who had covid and I have tested negative every day this week,” he wrote.“Also, the person that gave covid to Dave was NOT Elon’s partner @grimes.”

See what others are saying: (The Hollywood Reporter) (CNN) (AP News)

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Netflix Passes 200M Subscribers as Other Streamers Struggle With Retention

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  • In a letter to shareholders, Netflix said it has hit over 200 million subscribers following a successful year of growth.
  • The pandemic gave Netflix a significant subscriber boost in March and April. The company continued to perform well even in its final quarter, gaining 8.5 million subscribers when it was only projected to add 6 million.
  • The data also highlights how relatively unaffected Netflix has been by new streaming services entering the market. While companies like Disney+, HBO Max, and Peacock continue to grow, they also struggle to retain the subscribers that sign up.

Netflix Passes 200 Million Subscribers

Netflix has topped 200 million subscribers following a year of strong growth in 2020.

In its Tuesday letter to shareholders, Netflix announced that it added 8.5 million subscribers in its fourth quarter. This exceeds projections, which estimated the streaming giant would only add around 6 million. In total, Netflix gained 37 million new memberships throughout 2020, bringing the company to 203.6 million subscribers.

Pandemic lockdowns gave Netflix a substantial boost in March in April. In the company’s first two quarters, it added a combined 25.7 million subscribers. According to data from the letter, Netflix had added over 10 million more subscribers by May of 2020 than it had by May of 2019.

When it comes to the success of their fourth quarter, Netflix pointed to shows like “Bridgerton” and “The Crown.” The fourth season of “The Crown” hit the platform in November, prompting many to return to older seasons of the show. Netflix claims the series has been viewed by 100 million households since it first aired in 2016.

Success Amid Growth of Competition

The year 2020 could have been a difficult one for Netflix as new streaming services entered the market. Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Peacock and more have all made waves with their original programming or by taking some of their brand’s content from Netflix to host on their own site. User-based content on YouTube and TikTok also became increasingly popular throughout the pandemic, further posing as a threat to Netflix. 

Still, it reached a massive milestone. 

“Our strategy is simple: if we can continue to improve Netflix every day to better delight our members, we can be their first choice for streaming entertainment,” Netflix said in the letter. “This past year is a testament to this approach.”

Netflix potentially sees Disney+ as the biggest competitor among new platforms. In its letter, the company noted that the streamer added 87 million subscribers in its first year. In a Q&A, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings seemed enthusiastic about this competition.

“It’s super impressive what Disney’s done,” he said. “It’s going to be great for the world that Disney and Netflix are competing show-by-show, movie-by-movie. We’re very fired up about catching them in family animation, maybe eventually passing them, we’ll see. It’s a long way to go just to catch them, and maintaining our lead in general entertainment that’s so stimulating like ‘Bridgerton,’ which I don’t think you’re going to see on Disney anytime soon.”

Streamers Struggle with Retaining Subscribers

Even as new streamers have had impressive years, there is one hurdle that many are still struggling to jump over: retaining the subscribers who sign up. The Los Angeles Times named Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, and Apple TV+ in particular, writing that people create accounts with these services, watch the TV shows or movies they are interested in, and cancel once they are done.

An October survey from Deloitte said that 46% of respondents canceled at least one streaming service in the last 6 months, which is up 20% from January of last year. Most who had canceled said they did so because they had finished watching whatever programming it was that brought them to that service. 

Places like Disney+ and HBO Max are really vulnerable to this because they have banked on drawing people in with exclusive marquis titles like “Hamilton” or “Wonder Woman 1984.” However, since they are newer, they are still building their original programming catalog, meaning that people can quickly burn through highlight titles. 

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (Wall Street Journal) (The Hollywood Reporter)

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