Like many other classic Disney films, Mary Poppins has been popular among children and adults alike since its release back in 1964.
The movie musical brought whimsy and magic to our childhoods, taught us the longest word in the English language (Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), and has us all wishing that we had a flying nanny like Julie Andrews' Poppins and a friend like Dick Van Dyke's Bert the chimney sweep.
The heartwarming story transcended generations, and even saw a revival in 2018 that earned multiple Oscar nominations.
The release of Mary Poppins Returns inspired many fans to rediscover the original, but for some, re-watching the film left them feeling like they've been given a spoonful of salt in their mouth instead of sugar.
In a recent article published in the New York Times, professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner accuses the film of racism, pointing out one of its most iconic scenes where Poppins and Bert dance on the rooftop to the tune of "Step in Time."
Pollack-Pelzner found the chimney scene problematic because when the beloved nanny, the Banks children, Michael and Jane, and Bert go up the chimney, she fails to wipe the soot off her face. Instead, she "gamely powders her nose and cheeks even blacker," which the writer likened to blackface.
"This might seem like an innocuous comic scene if Travers’s novels didn’t associate chimney sweeps’ blackened faces with racial caricature. “Don’t touch me, you black heathen,” a housemaid screams in 'Mary Poppins Opens the Door” (1943),'" he explained.
He continued," When the dark figures of the chimney sweeps" Step in Time" on a roof, a naval buffoon, Admiral Boom shouts, “We’re being attacked by Hottentots!” and orders his cannon to be fired at the “cheeky devils”.
"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," he added.
As expected, Pollack-Pelzner's piece divided the internet, with many people taking to social media to defend the film.
Come on now. Leave Mary Poppins out of this! Chimney sweeps in London DID have coal dust on their faces. Didn't make them (or Mary, for that matter) racist... (No, I do NOT defend *blackface* otherwise)— Headlong (@Headlong42) February 1, 2019
For those of you who are saying that the original Mary Poppins is racist and has a scene with blackface, let me tell you something. The scene in particular isn’t racist nor does it depict the characters in blackface. They were doing a job called chimney sweeping.— Christopher J Willington-St Pierre (@testmonkey006) February 4, 2019
Are people really saying Mary poppins did black face when she flew out the chimney?😒 umm smoke is black I don’t see how that’s blackface— Vanessa (@nachosaregood19) February 3, 2019
Despite the outrage, there were a few people who took the time to think about Pollack-Pelzner's points and agreed with some of them.
That Mary Poppins blackface piece everyone's ragging on, actually makes a reasonable point. Scenes in the movie were based on scenes from the book, in which readers were clearly meant to laugh at racial stereotype humour.https://t.co/RUBDlbtReZ pic.twitter.com/UWA4mKmFTM— (((Christian JB))) 🐌 (@christianjbdev) January 30, 2019
Following the backlash, Pollack-Pelzner revealed why he made the choice to write such a controversial article.
"The chief reason I wrote this article was the hope that a Disney exec would read it, take another look at the forthcoming Dumbo remake, and ask if there was anything just a little bit racist they might want to rethink before it hits the big screen," he wrote.
The claims against Mary Poppins comes just a few months after other classic film and songs like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, "Baby Its Cold Outside," and The Little Mermaid's "Kiss the Girl" were called out for being problematic in different ways.
Sure, it can be argued that times have changed and these pieces of entertainment, which were released decades ago, no longer fit our current values, but that doesn't always mean we have to watch them just to dissect them and ruin many people's childhoods.