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Is Disney’s “Jungle Book” On the Hot Seat for Alleged Racism? Or is Disney Trying to Get Out in Front of this Issue?

Legend of Tarzan (Movie)

A flurry of articles have appeared in the last day allegedly reporting that questions are being raised about whether or not Disney’s Jungle Book, to be released on April 15, will embody racist stereotypes. This is of interest to those with a rooting interest in Legend of Tarzan for obvious reasons, since this is one area where LOT and JB share a similar heritage, or at least context.   Please note that I say this as a friend of the Tarzan franchise who believes that Tarzan and ERB get a bad rap on this subject — see the John Carter Files Resource File on this topic. (Actually if you click on this link, which contains a rational discussion with useful links to meaningful articles, you’ll help ensure that when someone googles “Edgar Rice Burroughs” and “racism”, this link which is supportive of ERB’s legacy will go to the top of the result. It’s currently number two when I google those terms. Help it get to number one. But I digress.)

Interestingly, all the articles have almost the same wording, and the “warning” that they cite is an article that appeared in Yahoo Movie News two years ago when the film was first announced. That article was actually a generally “friendly” one with the title: How Disney’s New ‘Jungle Book’ Can Overcome the Books’ Racist Baggage.”   The new articles cite the old article as if it is “new” news, and then focus on the Disney and Favreau (director) side of the story.  None of the articles really draws any blood, and  there does not seem to be an “real” attack. So neither the new articles nor the old ones do much more than pay lip service to the racism issue, then concentrate on positive things Disney can do or has done.

So what gives?  Is there really a groundswell of concern about “racism”?

Or is something else in play here?

One possibility is that what we’re seeing with this rather tame exploration of the issue is Disney trying to get out in front of this issue now and control the way it breaks, two weeks before the film comes out.  Under this theory, Disney might be “inoculating against” a potential problem — like being inoculated with alive flu virus that will make you a little sick, but avoid serious illness later on.  Under this theory, by raising the issue on its own terms an in a controlled fashion, Disney will lessen the likelihood that this becomes a big issue when the film comes out.

But it also puts the issue on the menu prior to the release, which is risky.

Another possibility is that this is organic and real — i.e. that there really is a groundswell of concern on this topic.  Is there evidence of that? Reviews are starting to appear.  The Hollywood Reporter has no racism beef, nor does Mike Ryan bring this up in his review.

Anyway … it’s interesting and meaningful for us to pay attention to this here.  The signs are that Legend of Tarzan has avoided egregious pitfalls in this area — but it’s still a potential threat to the success of the film and it will be interesting to see whether WB waits for the organic attacks to materialize, or attempts to seize the initiative by bringing it up in a controlled way.

Here are three examples of what’s out there about Jungle Book.

Racism warning on remake of Jungle Book film

The Guardian – ‎18 hours ago‎
Disney is bringing back The Jungle Book in a live-action remake, but worries over racial stereotyping that plagued the 1967 cartoon original are already making critics fret. The film, which premieres in Los Angeles tomorrow, has a stellar cast

Disney’s Jungle Book remake provokes concerns over racism

i24news – ‎10 hours ago‎
A live-action remake of Disney’s The Jungle Book has prompted warnings over repeating theracism that featured in the 1967 animated original and the Rudyard Kipling book that inspired it, according to the Guardian. The new version, also from Disney, is

Jungle Book Film Remake to be Racist?

Australia Network News – ‎8 hours ago‎
“The first Disney Jungle Book was based on Kipling; the next one will be based on the movie, so it’ll be another generation removed from Kipling, which will help,” Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University


  • Just as I am confident that a racist perspective will be removed from The Legend of Tarzan,so it will with the Jungle Book. The object of both films is to make as much money as possible which means they can’t afford to anger any minorities with colonial type think. So, although the backdrop for both films is during colonial expansion, more than likely that’s all it will be- a backdrop. Both films are fantasy adventure stories and don’t need to dwell on historical accuracies as they would if they were historical pieces. They can update characters,diologue etc to avoid the pitfalls of racism. Of course, for those who want to cry racism just because a fight occurs between Tarzan and Mbongo,which obviously Tarzan will win,no doubt with the aid of his ape friends, there is just no pleasing those who insist on making everything about race. But they are not the majority of viewers and I think most will be pleased by how this pitfall will be avoided.

  • I have to admit I’m a bit surprised by the really positive critical reception for this film so far because I really thought it looked bad from the trailers and I think Jon Favreau is a rubbish director in general.

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