I keep having discussions about Disney films and how racist many of the classics are, but the subject that I most fall upon is the 1953 version of Peter Pan, which holds an absurd breadth of racial stereotypes that there are musical numbers and plot sequences directly the product of such racial stereotypes of Native Americans. Certainly, the film’s portrayal undoubtedly permeated into the pretend games of children and their perception of how Native Americans behaved - I know this movie influenced me to wear feathers in my hair, pretend to do Indian tribal dances, and say “how” over and over.
The defense I hear most often from people is that films like Peter Pan “were not racist at the time they were made.”
What they really mean is that white people didn’t think it was racist at the time they were made. The film is just as racist then just as it is now. The fact that people can say movies like Peter Pan were “products of their time” negate that actual Native Americans have been vocal about their objections to the homogenization and stereotypical portrayal of their cultures and their race for literally centuries, but white people just didn’t listen to them. The constant apologism that something “wasn’t racist back then” implies that it is white society that deems what is racist, rather than the people of color directly affected and portrayed. Again, if it is racist now, it was racist then.
Also, children buy into these stereotypes, but children didn’t make this film; grown men did. It was a grown man who wrote the original Peter Pan story and its stereotypical portrayals of Natives. People talk about white creators back then as if they were little kids who didn’t know better. We shouldn’t give them an easy reprieve because a bunch of grown men “didn’t know better” to consider that Native Americans were people and not caricatures. If you like Peter Pan, you can like it, but we shouldn’t downplay its racism nor make excuses.