For many, Mary Poppins was a big part of their childhood. Whether they saw it when it first debuted in 1964 or watched it as a child later (like many 90s kids have), there is a bit of magic in it for everyone. There are reasons that the magical nanny is evergreen! From the special effects to the memorable tunes, Mary Poppins stands out as one of the best Disney movies of all time. But a classic scene has saddened a US academic. He branded Mary Poppins as racist in a New York Times article under the headline, Mary Poppins, and a Nanny’s Shameful Flirting With Blackface. Mary Poppins Challenge Taking Over Kiki & Momo!
It is the scene from the hit film which features Julie Andrews as Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert on the rooftops of London and includes the song Step in Time. The magical nanny’s face was covered in soot as she innocently dances with Bert and his fellow chimney sweeps; one of the best-loved scenes in the Disney classic. But Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, an English and Gender Studies Professor at Oregon’s Linfield College, did not like that section and argued it to be racist. Although, he acknowledges that Poppins face is covered with soot, in the New York Times article, he further argued, “Her face gets covered with soot, but instead of wiping it off, she gamely powders her nose and cheeks and gets even blacker.”
He even refers to passages from P.L. Travers’ original books that were racist, including a line, where a housemaid says, “Don't touch me, you black heathen,” to a chimney sweep. Daniel writes, “The 1964 film replays this racial panic in a farcical key. When the dark figures of the chimney sweeps Step in Time on a roof and a naval buffoon, Admiral Boom shouts, we're in on the joke, such as it is: These aren't really black Africans; they're grinning white dancers in blackface. It's a parody of black menace; it's even posted on a white nationalist website as evidence of the film's racial hierarchy.”
Mary Poppins' fans online have reacted with fury to his views and slammed the professor. They took to Twitter, defending the scene and calling the article as one of the stupidest of all time.
Coal Miners & Mary Poppins Are Not Racist!
— Glenn Stanton (@GlennStanton) January 31, 2019
Because Liberals Said So.
— The Liberty Eagle (@TheLibertyEagle) January 31, 2019
Fumed With Anger!
People who are so ignorant as to be offended by such scenes should never watch TV or movies. They are obviously incapable of rational thought or discernment. https://t.co/NGEGnLyhoh
— Carl Bearden (@Carl_Bearden) February 3, 2019
After coming across the reactions, the US academic was interviewed with Daily Mail. Defending his article, he was quoted as saying, “I don't like hearing that something I loved and that something that was important to me in my childhood might be more troubling than I assumed. So I appreciate the strength of the reaction. I just hope some of that energy can go to Disney as well and ask them to think a little bit more about how their new movies connect with the past.”
Pollack-Pelzner has even found flaws with the recently released sequel Mary Poppins Returns starring Emily Blunt. He was surprised by the song A Cover Is Not The Book because it referred to a wealthy widow, Hyacinth Macaw, who wears “only a smile” including “two feathers and a leaf.” The sequel remains as one of the most successful ever made and picked up five Oscars including Best Actress for Dame Julie.