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Professor Calls 'Mary Poppins' Racist Because Of One Its Popular Scenes

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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.

Mary Poppins
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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.

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As expected, Pollack-Pelzner's piece divided the internet, with many people taking to social media to defend the film.

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.

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.

What do you think of the Mary Poppins chimney scene?

Blair isn't a bestselling author, but she has a knack for beautiful prose. When she isn't writing for Shared, she enjoys listening to podcasts.