Friday, 9 February 2018

Defending Disney - Part 5: Walt the Supposed Racist & Conclusion

[<- Index]
[<- Part 4: Walt, the Supposed Gender Bigot]

The claim that walt was a notorious racist and antisemite is even more prevalent than that of him being a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer. The evidence being some unfortunate racially insensitive caricatures in a handful of Disney cartoons, the movie Song of the South (1946) and more general claims of his rampant antisemitism, usually as an extrapolation of him having met Leni Riefenstahl or because Walt was a founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. The MPAPAI certainly had its share of antisemitic members but was founded to combat fascist and communist influences, which was Walt's interest as he believed the 1941 cartoonist strike to be a communist plot to gain influence in Hollywood.
It could certainly be said that Walt Disney wasn't especially ahead of his generation when it came to racial sensitivity, especially in the 1920's and 30's, hence some racial caricatures did occasionally pop up in Disney cartoons since as far as he was aware society at large thought they were just funny. However actual hateful racism is practically impossible to find in Walt Disney. Even in the late 30's Disney had started to catch on that some caricatures might be hurtful, as a document dated February 12, 1937 reads:

"Because our cartoons have a world-wide release, we cannot use racial gags that might ridicule or belittle any nation."
Tips to Remember when Submitting Gags

Racist Caricatures

In regards to instances of racist caricatures in early Disney cartoons, there are only two main points I want to make, neither of which will be that the depiction of racial stereotypes in these old cartoons isn't racist. Mainly because I don't belong to the ethnic groups that are being depicted and as such I don't feel like I should make that argument, nor do I have to (although I would point out that I'm a Flemish Belgian, a group which also has a long documented history of being treated as undesirables and lower class citizens by French bourgeoisie. A status that only really improved after World War II).

Firstly, there's the point that just because someone is racist or harbors racist prejudices, that doesn't mean that person automatically aligns with the Nazis or the ideas of Adolf Hitler. This feels like one of the most obvious points I could possibly make surrounding this entire thing but nevertheless people keep conflating 'was Walt a Nazi' with 'was Walt a racist', as evidenced by baseless Nazi claims often being backed up by scenes from cartoons early in the lifetime of Walt Disney Studios, most of which conjured up long before World War II (once someone even tried to convince me of Walt's Nazism by showing me the notorious watermelon scene from Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat (1941), which isn't even a Walt Disney production).

The second point is that a racist depiction in a cartoon doesn't automatically translate in their creators having hateful opinions of those ethnic groups. It's one thing to be unaware of the racial prejudices instilled by society that might result in a racist stereotype in a cartoon, but another entirely to extrapolate from that the person is also actively hateful towards the group depicted by that stereotype. Let's not pretend some unfortunate depictions of ethnic groups in a cartoon during a time when people didn't know any better is in any way in the same ballpark as genocide or its advocacy.

Mickey Mouse - The Opry House (1929)
Heck, it seems people even forget it was not Walt Disney who personally created all these cartoons by himself, even if he had final authority (Disney hardly drew anything himself after 1926). For example, one of the prominent caricatures that gets brought up as evidence of Walt Disney's antisemitism is Mickey elongating his nose and shortening his body to perform a traditional Hasidic folk dance in The Opry House (1929). However this cartoon's preliminary work was being done by Ub Iwerks while Walt Disney himself was on the other side of the continent in New York for three months overseeing sound recording on The Gallopin' Gaucho (1928) Plane Crazy (1929), and The Barn Dance (1929). Certainly all the animation at the time was done by Iwerks as Disney had lost his other animators to Charles Mintz. I mean it's a possibility the idea for the dance was solely Disney's, and he certainly had to approve it before its production concluded, but in all these expert analyses of usually minor details I miss the nuance that the Walt Disney Studio wasn't exclusively staffed by Walt Disney.

For the point regarding racism through ignorance vs hateful racism, my perspective is also colored by me having read a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories somewhat recently. While Lovecraft was a visionary when it comes to the horror genre, it also can't be denied that he in fact was an actual racist and the horror in his writing (fear of the unknown) was inspired by that.
In Herbert West: Reanimator (1922) for example, the narrator-protagonist and the titular Herbert West are constantly on the lookout for fresh corpses on which to test their reanimation solution. In Part III they come across an African-American boxer named Buck Robinson, "The Harlem Smoke", who has been permanently knocked out. The narrator goes on to describe him as follows: "He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon. The body must have looked even worse in life - but the world holds many ugly things[Source: HP Lovecraft - Herbert West: Reanimator].
That part was genuinely disturbing to me and reads as actual hatred towards African-Americans as an ethnic group (and it is far from the only or even the worst example). On the other hand we have only a select few Disney cartoons over a period of about 15 years where occasionally an ethnic stereotype appears, usually even sympathetically and often edited out when found to be hurtful. I don't see the level of hateful racism that I found in Lovecraft in for example the Big Bad Wolf trying to gain access to the house of the three little pigs by disguising himself as a Jewish peddler (which was later edited) and I especially don't see it in Song of the South (1946). Racially insensitive through the ignorance of the times, yes, but not hatefully racist to warrant accusing Walt of racism.

"I think Dr. Lehman is correct when he says that many of the people who made the cartoons probably had no idea how hurtful racial images could be. I read thousands of pages of Disney studio documents when I was writing Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, including all the surviving story meeting notes from Walt's lifetime, and I found exactly one instance where someone on the Disney staff, a writer named Harold Helvenston, evidenced hostility and contempt toward black people, [...] The idea was that snapdragons would be presented as what Helvenston called "negro flowers"; Walt, to his credit, was uncomfortable with that idea"
Reply to Feedback to a Review of Dr. Lehman's 'The Colored Cartoon' - Michael Barrier

Floyd Norman

As for Walt Disney's treatment of minorities, I think it best to let people who actually worked with him take the proverbial microphone. Floyd Norman was employed to work on Sleeping Beauty (released in 1959), worked with Walt and became the first African-American artist to remain at the studio long-term. You can find his statement regarding the rumors of Walt Disney's racism and antisemitism on his blogpost entitled Sophie's Poor Choice [Here]. To learn more about Floyd Norman himself and his amazing contributions to the field of animation, you can also check out the biographical movie Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (2016).

"Not once did I observe a hint of the racist behavior Walt Disney was often accused of long after his death. His treatment of people - and by this I mean all people - can only be called exemplary."
-Foreword by Floyd Norman of Who's Afraid of the Song of the South? - Jim Korkis

Walt Disney with Louis Armstrong, who Walt invited
in 1966 to record an album of Disney songs:
"Disney Songs the Satchmo Way"

What's the Deal with Song of the South?

The FactFile video simply refers to Song of the South (1946), Disney's adaptation of Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus stories, in turn based on African-American folktalkes, as a movie "so offensive that the Disney Company isn't going to let it be shown in public anymore", which struck me as a description so vague that the video's writer probably just included the reference without looking further into it, likely never having seen the movie and certainly never having read up on it. Song of the South is indeed considered a controversial movie but the reason why Disney is trying to bury it is primarily because they don't even want to deal with the debate whether it really is that offensive. 

By my estimation, Song of the South isn't offensive by being explicitly racist in a hateful way, but rather unfortunately racist through naïveté because it gives the Disney treatment to a subject that is still considered inflammatory even today, namely race relations during the Reconstruction Era following the American Civil War. Its main setting is a plantation in, as the name implies, the American South, which by itself raises quite a few eyebrows. The framing device for the animated stories about Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear is that they are being told by Uncle Remus to help the kid protagonists (primarily a boy played by Bobby Driscoll, who would later become both the voice and model for Peter Pan (1953)) with their problems and teach them life lessons. Its prominent black community is portrayed very sympathetically, but they are also uniformly portrayed as happy with their lot in life and well respected by the movie's white cast. Essentially the movie is considered racist because it doesn't actually address racism at a time and place when and where it should have been impossible to get away from it, resulting in a 'racism is over' impression.

After the film's release, Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP (who according to Neal Gabler (p.435) was earlier invited to work on script revisions but declined) telegraphed major newspapers with the following statement, albeit based on memos he had received from two staff members and not having seen the movie himself, also erroneously believing the film to be set in the Antebellum era (1783-1861) rather than the Reconstruction in the 1870's:

"The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recognizes in "Song of the South" remarkable artistic merit in the music and in the combination of living actors and the cartoon technique. It regrets, however, that in an effort neither to offend audiences in the north or south, the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery. Making use of the beautiful Uncle Remus folklore, "Song of the South" unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts."

However if you just take the Internet's description of it, you would think Disney is trying to hide Song of the South because they are ashamed their founder made his own version of The Birth of a Nation or something equally offensive. In reality they simply want to forgo the debate of whether the movie is racist, over a movie that forgoes the debate about racism. Likely the primary reason why Song of the South did get a European release on VHS during the '90s was because without the historical context of slavery and the American Civil War, it really does look like just a regular wholesome Disney family film with at worst a prominent class difference. (1)

Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin (1975) (2)
While not without controversy itself (a lot of it also because of being judged by people who never bothered to actually see it), Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin (1975), a movie which is also based on the characters of Uncle Remus, actually went completely the other way and made the movie entirely about racism with even the character designs as a scathing satire of 1930's and 1940's racial stereotypes, with plenty of jabs at Disney's Song of the South thrown in. It was also better received for it by African-American audiences and even got an endorsement by the NAACP as being "difficult satire". Rabbit, here intentionally portrayed as a blackface stereotype with rabbit ears, goes with his trickster persona against the American Mafia. A recurring theme is that the movie's various black characters are either in an abusive relationship with, manipulated by or outright murdered by Miss America, a curvaceous woman seemingly dressed only in body paint in the colors of the American flag, an obvious metaphor for America's treatment of the black community. Of course Ralph Bakshi is decidedly not of the Disney school of animation or storytelling (as demonstrated by the film opening on the words 'Fuck You' followed by a joke on the suicide of 350 white people), which afforded him the ability to do hard social satire while Walt Disney cornered himself in family values. Disney accidentally created the impression race relations were fine during the Reconstruction Era, Bakshi however showed contemporary America its warts.

Yet Song of the South's more questionable aspects should also be put into context of Walt Disney's intentions with it. As I said, it is no Birth of a Nation and it was never supposed to be. On the contrary, Disney intended for it to be a gesture of goodwill that promoted tolerance. This was after all a mainstream movie that in 1946 featured a prominent African-American cast with James Baskett as Uncle Remus at the center of it. A role for which Baskett in 1948 received an honorary Academy Award, which Walt himself campaigned for, becoming the first male African-American performer to receive an Oscar for a movie he himself couldn't attend the premiere of due to Atlanta being racially segregated. After Baskett's passing, his widow wrote a thankful letter to Walt that he had been a "friend in deed and [we] certainly have been in need". Disney had even attempted to do away with the biases of the film's crew (and himself) by recruiting Maurice Rapf as a counterweight during the writing process.

"One of the reasons Walt had hired Rapf to work with Reymond was to temper what he feared would be Reymond's white southern slant. Rapf was a minority, a Jew, and an outspoken left-winger, and he himself feared that the film would inevitably be Uncle Tomish. "That's exactly why I want you to work on it," Walt told him, "because I know that you don't think I should make the movie. You're against Uncle Tomism, and you're a radical.""
Walt Disney: The Biography - Neal Gabler p.434

I guess this is a sword that cuts both ways. By suppressing Song of the South, The Walt Disney Company is shielding itself from possible controversy arising from even the discussion of just how racist it is, which in the current hellscape of never-ending Internet outrage would no doubt result in the worst possible interpretation. However, by suppressing the movie they are also hiding away James Baskett's undeniable acting talent and historical achievement, as well as fueling the rumors of it being a massively racist movie by the fact that they even chose to hide it. The Disney Company's handling of the movie can ironically be best summarized with a quote from Uncle Remus himself: "You can't run away from trouble. There's no place that far."

In the context of Walt Disney's personal supposed racism however, I would disagree that Song of the South is a convincing argument. From the perspective of the ethnic groups historically segregated, oppressed, and even enslaved, the portrayal of them as happy with their lot in life and living in perfect harmony with their affluent oppressor can undoubtedly be considered offensive. However from the perspective of groups largely unaware of those struggles, which Walt Disney himself belonged to and which helped inform his bias, Song of the South is instead just a heartwarming story of acceptance meant to spread the wisdom of the Uncle Remus stories to a larger audience. It is obvious that Disney intended the latter. 

"Walt Disney was no racist. He never, either publicly or privately, made disparaging remarks about blacks or asserted white superiority. Like most white Americans of his generation, however, he was racially insensitive."
- Walt Disney: The Biography - Neal Gabler p.433


"Our children, who are all enthusiastic Mickey Mouse fans, join with me in assuring you of our deep appreciation and we do hope that when you next come to New York, you will drop in and pay us a visit." [Source]

The above quote is from a personal thank you letter to Walt Disney for his gift of a dozen watches (surprisingly expensive Mickey Mouse merchandise) to The Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York in December 1935. Walt frequently contributed to Jewish charities: the orphanage mentioned above, the Jewish Home for the Aged, Yeshiva College, the Jewish Home for the Aged and the American League for a Free Palestine. 

Early years of Walt Disney Studios 1927,
including Friz Freleng (Bottom row, left)
It is speculated the rumors of Walt Disney's antisemitism (outside of his association with the MPAPAI, which did have antisemitic members and his meeting with Leni Riefenstahl) arose from disgruntled former employees who themselves speculated their Jewish heritage might have contributed to their firing. However several Jewish employees (including Art Babbitt, who hated Walt) disagreed that Walt was antisemitic. The list of influential Jewish artists and executives is so lengthy in fact that it would be extremely unlikely for Walt to not have noticed that he had staffed his studio with people he supposedly hated. This included some of his primary writers and artists (Joe Grant, Marc Davis, Maurice Rapf, Otto Englander...), production managers (Harry Tytle), even the heads of merchandising (Kay Kamen, George Kamen) and many more.

"Some of the most influential people at the studio were Jewish."
- Joe Grant, himself of Jewish heritage

Composer Richard M. Sherman, a man of Jewish heritage who with his brother Robert B. Sherman worked on Mary Poppins (1964) (as well as The Sword in the Stone (1963), The Jungle Book (1967) and various other Disney movies), gave an interview in 2013 in the context of Saving Mr. Banks (2013), the movie about the development of the Mary Poppins movie. In the interview, he responds to accusations of Walt's antisemitism with the following:

"Let me tell you something, a lot of people talk about Walt in negative ways. There was nothing negative about Walt Disney", he says. "He was dedicated to doing great things. He reached for the stars all the time. He was a wonderful, wonderful boss."
- Richard M. Sherman [Source]

According to the Disney History Institute, there was also an incident where Walt fired one of his lawyers, who didn't like minorities, for saying something denigrating about the Sherman brothers.
Walt Disney, prior to being presented "Man of the Year" by
the Beverly Hills B'nai B'rith auxiliary, 12-9-1955. [Source]

To end this section, I would like to draw your attention to a picture discovered by animation historian Jim Korkis. B'nai B'rith International is the oldest Jewish service organization in the world, dedicated to fighting antisemitism and bigotry. Who did the Beverly Hills chapter of the organization have as their 1955 Man of the Year? None other than Walt Disney himself.
He further received the Distinguished Service Citation from the Kansas City B'nai B'rith Chapter and the Hadassah Recognition of Achievement, both in 1958 and both can be seen in the Lobby of the Walt Disney Museum. So while Walt is regularly accused of antisemitism, it seems the people who disagreed with that accusation were contemporary organizations that were founded explicitly with the purpose of combating antisemitism. Odd how the "fact" that gets spread is an unsubstantiated rumor of Walt attending Bund meetings, but we never hear of his contributions to Jewish causes even though the awards are there and the thank you notes for his charitable actions have occasionally turned up.

"So let me just say this: no respected Disney historian has ever uncovered evidence that Walt Disney was racist. And goodness knows, we've digged in every corner."
Cartoon Brew: Fact-Checking Meryl Streep's Disney-Bashing Speech - Amid Amidi


To sum it up: Paste Magazine has it right when the author says labeling Walt a National Socialist without proof is a stretch, but following it with Walt being 'at best' a Nazi sympathizer is hardly any better when the article goes on with trying to make that accusation stick anyway, especially with a title such as 'Walt the Quasi-Nazi'. The article is nothing more than a sensationalist attempt to paint a fallible perfectionist into a fascist propagandist based on post-hoc rationalizations, with much of the article dedicated to portions of The Disney Company's history Walt wasn't even alive for. Problems with corporate overreach are certainly deeply rooted and should be addressed. You don't do that by writing sensationalist clickbait articles where your focus is on singling out an individual deceased for 51 years and painting him as a fascist Nazi somehow responsible for it. 
To put Walt Disney in the same category as people who tried to wipe out an entire ethnic group is not only wrong and offensive to a person who can't defend himself anymore, it is downright irresponsible. We live at a time when white supremacists brandishing actual Nazi symbology (and somehow Tiki torches) are holding rallies in the streets. What better way to normalize their behavior than to claim the inoffensive cartoon movies and theme parks that billions of people grew up on were actually made by someone holding their values?
Furthermore this attitude of harshly judging even relatively progressive historical figures from the comfortable position of modernity is frankly off-putting and only an exercise in mental masturbation. It reduces the genuine struggles civil rights movements had to go through to acquire a semblance of equality. Historical figures who held the prejudices of their time shouldn't be cast as evil because they just happened to be born in a time period when those prejudices were still rampant, they should be held up as examples to us of how even good people can be flawed so we in turn can examine the faults in ourselves.

The truth is that Walt Disney was not a Nazi, a Nazi sympathizer or a fan of Adolf Hitler. Those claims are blatantly ridiculous. At absolute worst it could be argued he was largely indifferent (as he was to most political questions) to politics in Europe in general prior to World War II, and staunchly against the Nazis from that point on. It's hard to even make the case that he was especially racist or sexist outside of the general racial insensitivity of his time. The US Government evidently didn't think he was a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer when they screened him and hired him. Jewish foundations with the explicit purpose of combating antisemitism screened him and honored him. The worst I have found of him is that his perfectionism was often very trying for the people he worked with, and he could be very volatile with his employees while under stress. Nothing I found indicates there's any merit to the popular image of him as a horrible racist, sexist of Nazi sympathizer.


1. Nevertheless I've seen people upset that Disney is still selling this racist movie on DVD, when to my knowledge it has never even had a DVD release even though there's demand for it.
2. The reason why I'm using an image of the seemingly-nude Miss America from Coonskin is because I fear an image of just the main protagonists, who appear to be blackface caricatures, would be more likely to be mistaken for an old Disney production by the casual visitor scrolling through this article, whereas I think an image of a woman with detailed breasts wouldn't be mistaken as such. Internet consensus is that Disney is more subliminal with its references to sex after all. Also a reference to boobs is the tits in terms of SEO. 

Friday, 2 February 2018

Defending Disney - Part 4: Walt the Supposed Gender Bigot

[<- Index]
[<-Part 3: Walt, the Anti-Nazi Propagandist]

A letter warning a potential female applicant of stiff competition for a job at Walt Disney Studios was discovered a few years ago and has been repeatedly brought up as proof that Walt Disney hated women. While certainly containing evidence of changing times and a reminder of sexist segregation in the workplace in the 1930's, once again Walt Disney has to be bizarrely blamed personally for somehow not having sensibilities 80 years ahead of his time. 
First of, the letter is clearly signed Mary Cleave, so everyone claiming that Walt was sending these letters personally just to shatter the dreams of young women is simply wrong. At the high point following the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938), Walt Disney Studios had grown so large that it is inconceivable he was still screening every potential applicant personally.
Secondly, I think this letter is being misread as a rejection letter when it clearly is not that. Yes, it mentions women were not currently considered for creative work at the time, however it merely warns Miss Ford that there is some stiff competition for openings because, as you can see, she lives in Searcy, Arkansas, and as such traveling all the way to Hollywood for a job with very few openings and a lot of competition might simply not make the trip worth the risk. Nowhere in the letter does it state she is being rejected as she is even being asked to bring samples if she were to apply (A similar letter also signed by Mary Cleave comes without the advise and simply mentions to apply a Tuesday morning between 9:30 and 11:30, but that applicant already lived in California at the time).
So yes, a harsh reminder of what workplace conditions looked like before the second World War pushed women into them? Certainly. The smoking gun that Walt Disney hated women? Please. The entire American corporate landscape was male-dominated. To come to that conclusion you have to strip away all historical context (as well as misread half the letter) and hold Walt to an impossible modern standard. Once again we are down to conspiracy theories regarding a man Internet sensationalism is intent on making a bad guy.

After Fantasia (1940) failed to live up to expectations, partially because the onset of World War II prevented a release in Europe, Disney decided to solve a financial crisis by making a cheaper film primarily for profit rather than artistry, by which he could finance the pictures he refused to cut back on. The result was The Reluctant Dragon (1941), a live-action film with animated segments in which American humorist Robert Benchley is forced by his wife (played by Nana Bryant) to present Walt Disney with an idea for a new cartoon (the titular Reluctant Dragon). The hesitant Benchley however keeps dodging his escort by wandering through the new Walt Disney Studios Burbank location to get a look at how Disney cartoons are created (while actors were employed, most people shown were the actual staff). One of the departments Benchley finds himself in is the Ink & Paint Department that's mentioned in the letter above.
The Reluctant Dragon (1941)
The immediate sense you get is that the Ink & Paint Department wasn't some condescending position reserved for a few token women at the company (unlike what those who diminish their contribution just for another stab at Walt Disney would have you believe), but an involved organization staffed by highly-technical pioneer women who added life to the animators' sketches. Remember, color cartoons were still less than a decade old and at Disney it was a frontier overwhelmingly staffed by women. They didn't just painstakingly paint the drawings, they were also involved in the chemical lab making the actual paint. The process of transforming black and white sketches into the colorful images you end up seeing was thus the work of women, and Walt Disney himself wanted to show that by including them and their work in his behind-the-scenes tour.
Furthermore, Mindy Johnson in her book Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation (2017) notes that the segregation of men and women served a practical purpose, which unfortunately rings familiar for anyone having kept up with certain horrific revelations about Hollywood in the last few months: "This restriction served a dual purpose, as Walt Disney consciously sought to provide a comfortable place for women to work without unwanted harassments, which was sadly not the case at many other studios of the day" (restriction meaning men and visitors were discouraged from the department).

The Reluctant Dragon (1941)
However earlier in the movie (before the movie converts itself to Technicolor, which Robert Benchley notices and points out), Benchley stops by the art class where artists are learning to caricature an elephant (Mabel, I believe) for the upcoming movie Dumbo (1941). There several women are seen sketching, including one Chinese women played by actress Bo Ling. While by itself not very impressive considering this particular women appears to have been an actress and not an active sketch artist at the Disney Company, the significance is that putting her in there was an obvious attempt at promoting the idea of a non-white female artist working on mainstream animation and that such people would be welcome at the Disney studio. A minute later a different female artist sketches Robert Benchley's caricatured as an elephant to set up a joke of him making a fool out of himself while he blissfully ignorant uses the sketch to describe how dumb elephants look. Evidently Walt Disney didn't scoff at the idea of female artists.

It also wasn't that much of a stretch to depict an Asian woman doing creative work at Disney anyway. The elaborate Fantasia (1940) theater program during its original run was designed by the female Japanese American artist Gyo Fujikawa, known primarily as an illustrator and author for children's books. Her obituary in the Los Angeles Times also names Walt Disney as her inspiration for how she handled bigots during World War II. Since she lived in New York she escaped the internment of Japanese Americans, however since she was at this time understandably anxious about her heritage, she would claim she was really the Chinese American actress Anna May Wong.

"But when she told Disney that she often lied about her heritage, he exploded. "Damn it! Why should you say that? You're an American citizen," he said."

"From that moment on," Fujikawa recounted recently, "that's exactly what I did tell them."

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The thing with company policy as it came to gender segregation is that Walt himself regularly ignored it when he found the women's skillsets merited it. Even in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) we can see that Dorothy Ann Blank is given on-screen credit for her part in adapting the story. Later under Art Directors we find another woman: Hazel Sewell, who was the sister of Walt Disney's wife Lilian and was appointed the head of the Ink & Paint Department through recognition of her technical skill, diligence and keen eye. Snow White's production notes also cite Hazel Sewell's opinion a number of times which was noted to be clearly valued by her colleagues. So while women obviously still had a long way to go in animation, they were already a huge, unfortunately unsung, part of it when Walt Disney amazed the world with his first feature-length animated film.

From the horse's mouth we even have two speeches Walt Disney held five'o clock on February 10 and 11, 1941, in which he affirmed that there should be no differences in opportunities between men and women.

"If a woman can do the work as well, she is worth as much as a man," and "The girl artists have the right to expect the same chances for advancement as men, and I honestly believe they may eventually contribute something to this business that men never would or could."
- Walt Disney

It's common knowledge that Walt Disney owed his success largely thanks to Mickey Mouse. Lesser common knowledge is that Mickey Mouse started out primarily as a replacement for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, of which the rights belonged to Universal rather than Disney himself. Even before that though he got his studio off the ground with a series known as the Alice Comedies, a series of 57 cartoons (many of whom lost) featuring a live-action girl interacting with a cartoon environment.
The first cartoon was made while Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks were still at Laugh-O-Gram, Walt's original and ultimately failed studio. Without even a studio yet to produce more cartoons, Walt managed to arrange a distributing deal with Margaret J. Winkler, the first woman to produce and distributed animated films (she also edited the Alice Comedies). The partnership only turned sour once Winkler got married and turned her company over to her husband Charles B. Mintz, who would eventually hire away all of Walt's animators except of Ub Iwerks. From the very start Walt had been working with women.

But let's return (... forward in time) to Walt Disney's eventual masterpiece. The impossible project the Hollywood movie industry derided as "Disney's Folly", on which Disney had gambled everything and which would show that not only are animated movies possible, but also viable. This movie was to be the story of a girl.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

A big negative I found regarding Snow White was how Walt Disney didn't want Adriana Caselotti, Snow White's voice actress, to use her voice for other movies as he wanted to preserve the illusion that Snow White was a real person, which would obviously have been a real problem if Caselotti ever wanted a career in Hollywood. However that's indeed an issue with Walt's overzealousness over protecting his movie's illusion of life rather than a problem with women, and even with that Caselotti continued to speak fondly of Walt and her role (which she embodied all her life) well into the 1990's, actively participating in publicity events and specials celebrating the movie.

Even today we have complaints about the lack of female representation in Hollywood movies (or video games), yet here was Disney kickstarting animated movies with Snow White. Does this really sound like a guy who hated women?

Defending Disney - Part 3: Walt the Anti-Nazi Propagandist

[<- Index]
[<- Part 2: Walt, the Supposed Nazi]

Looking at the actual evidence makes it nothing short of madness to claim Walt Disney was a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer. As we have seen, the pro-argument consists of assuming a meeting with a German filmmaker (who herself was actually taken in by Hitler) was maliciously motivated rather than just being a meeting between filmmakers (and which Walt later disavowed), and a dubious claim from Disney's enemy of him attending open German American Bund meetings that is corroborated by nothing else. Such underwhelming evidence hardly even requires counter-evidence since it is all based on rumor and fallacious extrapolation anyway. However it truly becomes ridiculous once you start looking into Walt Disney's actual contributions to the war effort. The most famous anti-Nazi propaganda cartoon Disney made is no doubt Der Fuehrer's Face (1943), which I covered in the previous section. There are several more cartoons that mock Hitler and the Nazi's. I'll go over some of the more well interesting ones, for a list of many others (but not nearly complete) there's a list over on Wikipedia.

As mentioned earlier, Education for Death (1943) is an animated short based on Gregory Ziemer's book of the same name, based on his experiences as an educator in Germany. It shows a young boy named Hans who from birth is being indoctrinated into worshiping Adolf Hitler with all his compassion and sentimentality stomped out so he can grow up as a good soldier and die trampling on the rights of others. It starts with children being indoctrinated with a fairy tale in which Adolf Hitler is shown as a knight scaring away the witch (democracy) so he can save the princess (Germany). However in the version we see on the screen Hitler is portrayed as a raving lunatic who reflexively keeps saluting himself and briefly grows devil horns while doing so. German officials in the short are invariably portrayed as an extension of the oppressive government who don't care about the well-being of Hans or his family outside of the boy's utility as a soldier for the war machine.

The New Spirit (1942) shows a radio program instructing Donald Duck on how and why to do his taxes to help America win the war against the Axis forces. Yes, it's a cartoon about Donald Duck doing his taxes, then it explains why they are necessary to fight against the aggressor. "Taxes to beat the Axis" and variations being a recurring phrase. The film was requested by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. to cast the tax increase for the war effort in a positive light and ensure they were paid timely, which it succeeded in doing as income taxes were more prompt in 1942.
This film received a sequel in The Spirit of '43 (1943), which is, yes, another cartoon about the necessity of Donald Duck doing his taxes for the fight against Hitler and Hirohito (much of the animation was reused from the previous short however). This particular film is also noteworthy for containing what looks like a prototype for Scrooge McDuck.

Six other Donald Duck cartoons were created where he served in the army during World War II. However some of these (Donald Gets Drafted (1942)) show a more anti-military sentiment because one of the writers, Carl Barks (best known for his extensive comic run of Donald Duck), was a pacifist against America being involved in the war (It also reveals Donald's full name is Donald Fauntleroy Duck). The last one, Commando Duck (1944), actually features Donald Duck engaging in military action against the Japanese.

Walt Disney was heavily involved with creating confidential military training films for the United States government, which as Disney historian Jim Korkis notes required the highest security clearance and previous or current sympathy with the Nazis or Adolf Hitler would have likely disqualified him to do so instantly. The importance of Disney's contribution to the war effort is probably best demonstrated by his studio being the only one in Hollywood to have the U.S. Army deploy troops to protect it. Clearly the United States government, while they were actively at war with Nazis, didn't think Walt Disney was a Nazi.

The opening cartoon of Stop That Tank! (1942), a training film on the use of anti-tank rifles, a ridiculous laughing stock caricature of Adolf Hitler is shot literally to hell after pathetically whining how oppressed he is by a peaceful village he is in the process of attacking. He then continues his whining until it annoys the devil. The rest of the film demonstrates the use of an Anti-Tank Rifle.

After Walt Disney had read Alexander P. de Seversky's 1942 book Victory Through Air Power, he felt that its message was important enough that he personally financed its production into a documentary feature film to catch the attention of both government officials and the public in general. Among those convinced by Seversky's theories after seeing the film were Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Personally I find it rather difficult to entertain the belief that Walt Disney was a Nazi or a fan of Hitler when he wasn't just continuously producing cartoons mocking him, but also producing training films and promoting strategies to defeat him. According to Neal Gabler, the Treasury Department credited Walt Disney with helping to sell more than $50 million worth of saving bonds (however I found no alternate sources to back this up).

"Even before the U.S. entry into the war, Disney was doing war bond work for the National Film Board of Canada."
- War and American Popular Culture - Kalman Goldstein (edited by M. Paul Holsinger) p.327

The most baffling part of the previous Paste Magazine article follows when the author attempts to use Walt Disney's anti-Nazi propaganda films as somehow not anti-Nazi enough since they didn't explicitly address antisemitism enough for the author's sensibilities. Somehow the fact that the wolf in Three Little Pigs (1933) disguised himself as a Jewish stereotype is enough to reduce Walt's many contributions to the war effort, explicitly to stop the Nazis from trampling on other people's rights, to nothing. Evidently producing 68 hours of educational war films, as well as many films to promote war bonds, propaganda films to vilify the Nazis and their allies (Der Fuehrer's Face (1943)Education for Death - The Making of a Nazi (1943)Reason and Emotion (1943) and Commando Duck (1944)) and a feature film Walt himself sponsored (Victory Through Air Power (1943)) all to promote winning a war against the Nazis doesn't matter because an old cartoon had an offensive stereotype.

However even that was not the extend of it. In early 1941, before the United States had even entered World War II, Walt Disney became an ambassador of a goodwill tour under Nelson Rockefeller through South America as part of the Good Neighbor policy in an effort to counter Latin American ties with Nazi Germany. The end results were the package films Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944) (with one segment Blame It On the Samba being conceived but only later used in Melody Time (1948)). Film historian Alfred Charles Richard Jr. notes in Censorship and Hollywood's Hispanic (1993) that Saludos "did more to cement a community of interest between peoples of the Americas in a few months than the State Department had in fifty years". Saludos Amigos (1943) Trailer

So again, the belief that Walt Disney was a Nazi or a Nazi supporter hinges on him meeting German film maker Leni Riefenstahl (who was in fact a Nazi sympathizer, but not classified as an actual Nazi or convicted of war crimes) once but the fact that he went on to denounce her later on (and was hesitant while he was meeting her in the first place), only to then go on to become the propaganda arm for the American anti-Nazi sentiment, a proponent of new methods to defeat the Nazis and an international ambassador to pry away foreign support from the Nazis is soundly ignored.


Apologies if this section is rather disjointed and less in-depth than I'd like it to be. I might expand on it later but I was not interested enough in outdated military training films (Behold, Four Methods of Flush Riveting (1942), an almost 10-minute cartoon on riveting techniques) to sit through the majority of the films Walt Disney produced during World War II.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Defending Disney - Part 2: Walt, the Supposed Nazi

[<- Index]
[<- Part 1: A Sampling of Recent Accusations]

The two most substantive pieces of evidence to support the idea of Walt's supposed Nazism (in general, not just from the sources in the previous section) are a claim by animator Art Babbitt that he saw Walt Disney and his lawyer Gunther Lessing at a meeting of the German American Bund (an American pro-Nazi organization) which Babbitt himself attended out of curiosity in the late 1930's, and that German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl visited the Walt Disney Studios on December 8, 1938 when she was in America to promote her movie Olympia (1938), having to do with the 1936 Summer Olympics which had been held in Berlin.

"While the Fuehrer brags and lies and rants and raves,
we heil! Heil! and work into our graves

Walt Being Seen at a German American Bund Meeting

The thing with the claim of Walt attending Bund meetings is that it simply isn't sufficiently substantiated to accept that it even happened. The only evidence for it comes from a claim by Art Babbitt, which in this instance is a questionable source to say the least. Art Babbitt was one of Disney's top animators who nevertheless became his bitter enemy over union disagreements (to the point where there would have been an actual fistfight between the two in the studio parking lot had they not been restrained). The result was that these two men held a life-long grudge against each other and either one would gladly have taking the other down. As such a claim like this should really be taken with a grain of salt.

Even in the late thirties Walt Disney had already established himself and was a well-known celebrity. How odd is it then that the only source who saw Walt and conveniently his lawyer at these meetings was a person who both hated him and who would gain (if only vengeance) from having Walt's reputation tarnished? So while I in no way wish to sully Art Babbitt's name instead, it seems much more likely that in this case Babbitt was either mistaken or simply lied. Without any counter-statement from Walt himself, if he even did attend those meetings, it is also impossible to determine his motives for attending. It is speculated that if he did attend these meetings, it would more likely be to facilitate the distribution of Disney movies in Germany rather than any admiration for Adolf Hitler. Disney historian Jim Korkis further notes that there was no indication of him attending such meetings in his office appointment book.
Ron Miller, Mel Milton, Gunther Lessing, Harry Tytle
Lessing's retirement party (1964) (source) (1)

The issue is even further complicated by speculation that Gunther Lessing, Walt Disney's lawyer who he supposedly attended these meetings with, was himself Jewish as suggested by Disney animator Ward Kimball in a 1986 interview with Michael Barrier. Which, if true, would not only raise even more doubts about their attendance of Bund meetings, but would also further complicate attempts to accuse Walt of being antisemitic.

The previously mentioned article from Paste Magazine that brought up these claims links the Babbitt quote to Peter Fotis Kapnistos' Hitler's Doubles. A quick glance at the source reveals that this book (or at the very least this Disney-specific chapter) is just another amalgamation of more speculation and wild conspiracy theories. It includes a claim that Der Fuehrer's Face (1943), an anti-Nazi propaganda cartoon sponsored by the US government which mocks Nazi Germany by reducing it to a hellish-yet-ridiculous slapstick comedy, actually is about Donald Duck as a "good-natured trusty Nazi" (p.253) (rather than an impoverished worker drone going insane from having to work 48 hours a day) and him waking up from losing his mind in Hitler's factory to hug the Statue of Liberty is actually subliminal messaging of a loyal Nazi being committed to America. Most telling of all is that this book actually proposes the possibility that Walt Disney was really the alter ego of Adolf Hitler himself! (2) That's an impressive double life to say the least and just another example of how eager conspiracy theories surrounding the man are concocted.

Since Hitler's Doubles was first released in 2015, it is impossible for it to be the original source however. Neal Gabler's 2006 biography of Walt Disney (which is even quote-mined in Kapnistos' book, conveniently reprinting the accusations but not the refutations that followed them) already mentioned the Art Babbitt quote and concluded Walt's attendance at Bund meetings was unlikely because at the time he was both too busy with his studio (this was when he had gained increased prominence with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), which prompted him to make even better feature films to maintain his status as the number one in animation while he was also overseeing construction of the new Burbank studio) as well as his reputation for being politically uninterested at that time.

"[...] Art Babbitt in later years claimed to have actually seen Walt and Gunter Lessing at Bund Meetings of Nazi sympathizers that Babbitt himself had attended out of curiosity; that was highly unlikely, not only because Walt had little enough time for his family, much less political meetings, but because he had no real political leanings at the time."
Walt Disney: The Biography - Neal Gabler p. 448

Unfortunately as of writing I haven't yet been able to find the original source for Art Babbitt's accusations. This section might thus be updated if I ever manage to track it down. However I very much doubt it would change the conclusion that Walt's attendance of these meetings was highly unlikely.

Walt Meeting Leni Riefenstahl

We once again turn to the Paste Magazine article. This time its source for Leni Riefenstahl's visit is the introduction of a 2011 New York Times article about Lars von Trier announcing himself to be a Nazi which for some reasons draws a comparison to the meeting of Walt Disney and Leni Riefenstahl, which the Paste Magazine author then reworded for his own article. Unlike Paste Magazine, The New York Times article at least had the decency to mention Walt turned down a showing of Riefenstahl's movie due to his apprehensions of playing host to her in the first place. Neither article mentions Walt later did disavow the visit, claiming ignorance of who she was (I haven't found whether this was feigned ignorance to her as a person or actual ignorance as to her political leanings). Instead the articles cite Steven Bach's biography "Leni" where she praises Walt hosting her as not having been taken in by Jew smear campaigns, which is hardly relevant to Walt's feelings or intentions regarding the meeting. Paste Magazine, with the benefit of 80 years worth of hindsight vs Walt Disney's pre-World War II political naïvité, just calls the visit "inexcusable".

Olympia (1938)
Leni Riefenstahl did visit the Walt Disney Studios on December 8, 1938 according to Gabler through an invitation from mutual acquaintance Jay Stowitts, who wrote Walt that Riefenstahl was interested in meeting who she considered "the greatest personage in American films". Of course the truth is that the visit is not at all a barometer for Walt Disney's own political leanings or which dictatorial regime he was supposedly involved with. Leni Riefenstahl was an influential and innovative filmmaker who receives worldwide acclaim even today, despite the now obvious fact that she had lent her talents to further the ambitions of an undeniably evil man with for example her Nazi propaganda movie Triumph of the Will (1935). Walt Disney had just enhanced his own status as a filmmaker with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and wanted to remain at the top of his field by making even more and better animated feature films. Thus Walt's interest in meeting her (publicly at his studio even. According to Gabler, Walt's desk diary indicated they watched a sweatbox session of a Fantasia sequence) would be much more likely fueled by her reputation as a film director rather than any sort of conspiratorial association with Adolf Hitler. Walt Disney was known for meeting artists of any kind at his studio and it seems much more likely he just didn't much care about Riefenstahl's politics because he was interested in the artist.

"Leni Riefenstahl did visit the Disney studio, I gather, but so did Sergei Eisenstein, and no one has ever suggested that Walt was a Communist."

So the most substantive fact that even remotely links Walt Disney to Adolf Hitler is nothing more malicious than two celebrated filmmakers having once met each other publicly. Everything beyond that is conspiracy theory based on unwarranted conclusions fueled with guilt by association.

Der Fuehrer's Face: Nazi Donald Duck reading Mein Kampf

Twitter often doesn't require a lot of 'evidence' to get the rumor mill running. Occasionally someone just posts the following picture of Donald Duck apparently reading Mein Kampf, or a similar scene in which Donald is dressed in a Nazi uniform, to prove Walt Disney had pro-Nazi leanings.
Der Fuehrer's Face (1943)
Originally titled: Donald Duck in Nutzi Land
The context that is removed, and that anyone evidently hardly bothers to find out, is that this is a still image from the aforementioned Der Fuehrer's Face (1943), an explicitly anti-Nazi propaganda film and scathing satire of Nazi Germany meant to help sell savings bonds for the war effort.

The short depicts Donald Duck as a factory worker in Nazi Germany (or Nutzi Land), where his clothes are made from paper and his breakfast consists of 'Scent of Bacon and Eggs', a piece of wooden bread so hard he has to cut it with a saw and water dipped with a single coffee bean (a luxury considering he attempts to keep it secret). His breakfast is interrupted by a copy of Mein Kampf being bayoneted in front of him. He is then escorted to the factory where it is his glorious privilege to work 48 hours a day into insanity making shells for the war. The task is being made even more annoying by random picture frames of Adolf Hitler being put in front of him, which he has to salute every time or risk getting a bayonet up his tail. Meanwhile the overly optimistic soundtrack consists of lyrics superficially praising Hitler while the feigned optimism often breaks and reveals the singer's desire to get out of there, even dreaming of one of their artillery shells blowing Hitler to hell. The plentiful use of 'HEIL!' is also mocked by equating it to blowing a raspberry in Hitler's face (back then it was considered an extremely obscene gesture rather than merely crude). After Donald has a complete breakdown it is revealed he was merely having a nightmare and he wakes up in his bed in the United States of America, being glad he's a citizen. The short ends with a caricature of Adolf Hitler getting a tomato in his face, as he has in the promotional posters.

So essentially whenever someone tries to assert Disney's Nazi allegiances by asking if they need to show you the Donald-Duck-is-a-Nazi cartoon, the appropriate response is to ask them if they themselves have actually watched it (it's not too hard to find on YouTube). However we're not done with World War II. Walt Disney Productions had a much larger contribution to the war effort than just a single anti-Hitler propaganda cartoon, which I'll cover in the next section.

To sum this part up: Walt Disney is considered a Nazi sympathizer because of a rumor spread by an enemy (and backed up by nobody else), him once having met another influential filmmaker who happened to be a Nazi sympathizer (but never having been convicted for war crimes or even as a Nazi herself) but later having denounced the meeting anyway, and his own anti-Nazi propaganda getting taken horribly out of context. There's no record of him promoting Nazism, no record of him subscribing to their ideas. The only statements he made on Adolf Hitler before the war at worst reveal him not taking the threat of Hitler's regime all that seriously yet (I'm also not sure why he should have, he was a filmmaker, not an army general), on which pinning him down is an extremely low and petty blow, especially coming from people judging him with the privilege of perfect hindsight. Furthermore the US military would have screened him during his time as their own anti-Nazi propagandist and evidently they didn't think he was a Nazi sympathizer either. So there simply isn't evidence to suggest he was a Nazi, a Nazi sympathizer or a fan of Adolf Hitler. 


1. The FactFile video shows this picture while talking about Walt Disney and Gunther Lessing supposedly attending these German American Bund meetings, which might intentionally or not implant the idea it is a picture from one of these meetings. However the source indicates it was taken at Gunther Lessing's retirement party in 1964, which is consistent with Lessing's advanced age in the picture.
2. Someone really needs to combine this theory with Marc Eliot's Hollywood's Dark Prince because that would make Adolf Hitler an illegitimate Spanish boy named José Guirao who was also a decades-long domestic spy for J. Edgar Hoover.

Defending Disney - Part 1: A Sampling of Recent Accusations

Before we go onto the debunking, let's first take a look at why a debunking is needed. There's always a couple of conspiracy theories surrounding any given popular topic so a popular historical figure like Walt Disney should be no exception. However it's the sheer prevalence of the "Walt Disney was a Nazi and raging racist" claims that I feel makes adding an extra voice to the counterargument a worthwhile effort. So here's the part where I point fingers.

"He sees no more than the party wants him to.
He says nothing but what the party wants him to say,
and he does nothing but what the party wants him to do.
And so he marches on with his millions of comrades
trampling on the rights of others.

The above is a screen and quote from Education for Death (1943), in our time probably the second most famous of Disney's anti-Nazi cartoons after Der Fuehrer's Face (1943) about a boy that throughout his life is being indoctrinated by the hateful ideology of the Nazis to persecute others and eventually march to his own death in Adolf Hitler's war machine. The short was inspired by Gregory Ziemer's book of the same name, which he wrote to highlight how the youth of Germany were being indoctrinated after he escaped Germany before World War II.
I will cover Walt Disney's many contributions to helping the fight against the Nazis in a later section, but I think it's valuable to have some snippets from Walt's actual output during World War II in between Internet accusations that he was "by all accounts" a Nazi. Doing a Twitter search for "Disney Nazi" or something similar reveals at a daily basis a startling amount of people who either spread or are utterly convinced by these rumors. The question also regularly pops up on sites such as Yahoo Answers, as documented by Cartoon Brew's Amid Amidi in his post Why Kids Today Think Disney was a Jew-Hating, Hitler-Loving Racist, who says Walt Disney's supposed hatred of Jews and Blacks is "one of the most vile mistruths tossed around about the old man". However it were primarily the videos and articles that follow which gave me the impetus to actually look into the history of Walt Disney.

One article responsible for a recent flare-up in rumor-mill accusations against Walt Disney is Paste Magazine's Walt the Quasi-Nazi: The Fascist History of Disney is Still Influencing American Life by Ryan Beitler. As the title's "Quasi-Nazi" would suggest, it is filled with soft-rejections of accusations, namely the fact that Walt Disney once met with German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and the rumor by Art Babbitt that Walt was seen at a German American Bund meeting, while somehow still attempting to smear Walt with them. The author admits that there is no actual evidence for calling Walt Disney a Nazi, but then proceeds regardless of that admittance, refuses to actually look at the claims critically and still take them at face value, which seems like a transparent attempt to nevertheless instill that image into the readers' minds (effective, as Twitter's response to the article suggests). His personal accusations then follow in how Walt's anti-Nazi propaganda somehow wasn't anti-Nazi enough for the author's tastes, because the 2 cartoons he looked at didn't cover antisemitism while there was a Jewish "swindler" (really just the Big Bad Wolf disguised as a peddler) in Three Little Pigs (1933).
In the end he skips over all that and instead focuses his attention on Walt Disney's unfulfilled ideas for EPCOT (which never came to fruition during Walt's life and after his death got converted to Walt Disney World) and then judges Walt based on that. While practices at this Disney World can certainly raise some ethical questions (as one of the articles which Beitler sources does), the author instead uses it as another cheap method of throwing the words "Nazi" and "fascism" around, thus turning a more nuanced question over American corporate overreach into kneejerk outrage because your kids are watching propaganda from a fascist! In short: Quasi-Nazi accusations for clickbait.

I'm personally not particularly interested in the goings on regarding Disney World (I have never been there but I assume it is much easier to escape Disney World than it was Nazi-occupied Europe). It is however a rather famous quote that "fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power" (misattributed to Mussolini), so this article seems to have it backwards anyway to attribute Disney with introducing fascism into corporatism. I will however rip into the Nazi accusations that this article helped spread since its main points have been echoing around the sensationalist press for a while. 

A 2017 Grunge video (1,440,275 views) entitled Respected Historical Figures Who Were Actually Terrible People has a bizarre section on Walt Disney. In Neal Gabler's Disney biography The Triumph of American Imagination (2006), plenty of time is spent debunking the myths of Walt's supposed racism and antisemitism with plenty of examples to back Gabler up, followed by elaboration for why Walt is mistakenly assumed to be these horrible things. However Gabler is gracious enough to admit Walt was racially insensitive just like the rest of his generation and also lists a couple examples of insensitive words Walt has been heard using. Grunge threw away everything positive but picked those two negative examples and declared Walt racist anyway and pretended Gabler's book was some sort of exposure. Then the video states Walt had issues with women by bringing up a letter Walt Disney wrote dismissing a female applicant. Unfortunately they should have actually read the entire letter and been more careful with cropping as it is advice rather than rejection and even their own video shows the letter is signed by a woman named Mary Cleave rather than Walt Disney.

There was also a relatively recent video (25,951 views) by the YouTube channel 'FactFile' who made his video on Walt Disney in the wake of The Walt Disney Company cuttings ties with YouTube Let's Player PewDiePie. In general it presents the same basic arguments as usual however it gets the facts very wrong (such as claiming German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl traveled to Hollywood in 1938 to get a job.(1)) and plays even more loosely with rationalizations of context-less clips from old cartoons. Somehow they think the fact that Meryl Streep at the National Board of Review in 2014 gave a speech chastising Walt Disney is the final confirmation they needed that he was in fact this horrible person. As if Meryl Streep of all people is the final authority on Disney history (the fact that she quoted Ward Kimball (2), only to be debunked by Ward Kimball's official biographer should tell you something). At least they admitted Der Fuehrer's Face was anti-Nazi propaganda. Needless to say, clickbait exposures that feature distorted facts about Walt Disney seem to have become an industry on itself, and rarely is anyone outside of animation historians actually brave enough to contradict the narrative by looking at history in context.

"Let me remind you, Disney, before you get on your fucking
high horse with your white powdered wig that Walt Disney
was a notorious racist and antisemite, okay."
Speaking of the 2017 PewDiePie controversy and Felix Kjellberg subsequently being dropped from Disney's Maker Studios network, in its wake several videos of people defending him popped up, some of which also tried to turn the situation around by calling hypocrisy on The Walt Disney Company by claiming they had no leg to stand on considering Walt Disney's own supposed Nazism, racism and antisemitism. Personally I think the following are less egregious since they were off-hand comments rather than videos or articles that actively had to distort facts, but I'm including them just to show how ingrained these myths are (also I only found out they made these comments because I like or at least watch some of these people, so this is more about me pointing out how widespread these myths are rather than me doing some big J'Accuse over it). One of the biggest channels to defend Felix with (at the time of writing) well over 5 million channel subscribers and 6,042,899 views on the video in question came from comedy channel h3h3Productions, in which Ethan Klein understandably jumped into the debate to defend his friend but then dropped in the jab at Walt Disney personally anyway, proclaiming him to be an actual notorious racist and antisemite, unlike Felix. 'Notorious' only because it's a myth that just won't die, of course.

"Disney taking a stand on antisemitism? Have you heard of
Walt Disney? This fucker used Zyklon B at his baby shower."

[Link] (4:12) (3)
There was a particularly cringe-worthy quote (see the caption on the left) from a video (95,775 views) by YouTube reviewer and commentator RazorFist. His presentation style is one that combines high verbosity with hyperbole so he's obviously not making a serious specific claim of Walt Disney's usage of Zyklon B at baby showers but the misguided belief of Walt's antisemitism is definitely there (with a context-less frame from Disney's Der Fuehrer's Face for emphasis). It is also something of a recurring pattern for RazorFist to mention anything to do with Disney by implying Nazi ties, such as referring to Mickey Mouse as Mickey Mensch (dressed as a Nazi) in his Cuphead review. The irony is that both these gentlemen are defending a person falsely accused by the sensationalist rumor mill of racism and antisemitism by falsely accusing someone else of racism and antisemitism based on the same sensationalist rumor mill. 

There was also an older video (297,592 views) by HBomberguy, mostly known for comedic response videos, where in response to fellow YouTuber Jordan Owen being distraught over having a bad encounter with one of his childhood heroes and comparing it to having Walt Disney calling you an asshole, he counters "Now personally if Walt Disney, noted racist and fan of Hitler, called me an asshole, I would think of that as a compliment".

Finally I also remembered a joke by stand-up comedian Bill Burr about Walt Disney's supposed racism from one of his shows (to which I currently don't have access), after which I found this episode of the Monday Morning Podcast where he speculates on Disney's antisemitism (also a rather weird bit about Walt having stolen the concept of an amusement park, which is kind of like stealing the concept of a store. Walt didn't set out to make the first ever amusement park, he just wanted to create the best one possible).

Finally, a small sampling I took December 1, 2017

As you can see, people believe this stuff. Others should know better since they actually spent time researching Walt Disney to make their articles and videos, but for whatever reason they would rather publish the salacious rumors for clickbait. Next I will dive into the claims of Disney's supposed Nazism, particularly his supposed attendance of German American Bund meetings, his meeting with Leni Riefenstahl and the cartoon that shows Donald Duck dressed as a Nazi.


1. I have found no sources listed for the FactFile video but the claim that Leni Riefenstahl was touring Hollywood for work, along with the set of cartoons that are referenced in both, seems to show they used an April 2005 The Straight Dope article Was Walt Disney a fascist? as its source, which itself uses Marc Eliot's Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince as a source with only mild scrutiny regarding its factuality. Hollywood's Dark Prince is something of a joke among animation historians and received sharp criticism from Walt Disney's widow Lilian Bounds Disney and eldest daughter Diane Disney Miller. Ward Kimball's official historian Amid Amini of Cartoon Brew called it "Marc Eliot's notorious hack job", Didier Ghez says it's "full of mistakes, guesses, intentional lies and non-intentional ignorances" and Disney biography The Animated Man author and cartoon historian Michael Barrier referred to it as "unparalleled for sheer awfulness" and "the worst Disney biography ever" (among other colorful descriptions). While Disney historians might have an understandable bias against works that harshly criticize Walt, having tracked down the book myself I can indeed confirm it isn't a reliable source when even applying mild skepticism. It is a highly speculative piece with an unabashedly conspiratorial and negative slant based on questionable evidence at best (an entire chapter where Eliot asserts Walt Disney was actually born 11 years earlier in Spain as José Guirao is sourced as him having talked to two guys in Mojàcar and him mistaking Raymond Arnold Disney's birth certificate as Walt's. He then asserts the evidence for this was either destroyed or planted by Walt Disney Studio secret agents).
2. Ward Kimball (March 4, 1914 - July 8, 2002): One of Disney's famous Nine Old Men. Known for animating, among others, Jiminy Cricket, Bacchus, the Dumbo crows, Lucifer, Jaq, Gus, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter.
3. I apologize to RazorFist for a picture that is kind of at an unfortunate facial expression but every other one I took was either blurry or worse.