Mary Poppins Attacked For Black Face
Mary Poppins Attacked For Black Face
In the latest edition of “How the People of the United States Have Lost Their Ever-Loving, Freaking Minds”, Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner has accused “Mary Poppins” of being racist. Yes, the Disney version of Mary Poppins is a racist for this Linfield College Professor of Shakespeare. Methinks his wits have begun to turn. And, I apologize to the very late William Shakespeare for butchering that quote.
Just what has Professor Pollack-Pelzner’s breeches in a twist? Mary Poppins, Bert and the kids in their blackface performance. From the article:
Part of the new film’s nostalgia, however, is bound up in a blackface performance tradition that persists throughout the Mary Poppins canon, from P. L. Travers’s books to Disney’s 1964 adaptation, with disturbing echoes in the studio’s newest take on the material, “Mary Poppins Returns.”
One of the more indelible images from the 1964 film is of Mary Poppins blacking up. When the magical nanny (played by Julie Andrews) accompanies her young charges, Michael and Jane Banks, up their chimney, her face gets covered in soot, but instead of wiping it off, she gamely powders her nose and cheeks even blacker. Then she leads the children on a dancing exploration of London rooftops with Dick Van Dyke’s sooty chimney sweep, Bert.
Clearly, when I have watched the film, I was so unwoke that I was fascinated by Mary Poppins powder compact. It was magic too, for me. Dancing on rooftops with chimney sweeps? Epic. I can’t remember if that was before or after the tea scene, “I love to laugh” where they had tea in the air. Here is the offensive blackface scene aka “Step in Time”:
Gosh, I so enjoyed that inventive loose-limbed dance, but then I am both white and unwoke. Here is what the Professor saw:
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), as a sweep reaches out his darkened hand. When he tries to approach the cook, she threatens to quit: “If that Hottentot goes into the chimney, I shall go out the door,” she says, using an archaic slur for black South Africans that recurs on page and screen.
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, 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. And it’s not only fools like the Admiral who invoke this language. In the 1952 novel “Mary Poppins in the Park,” the nanny herself tells an upset young Michael, “I understand that you’re behaving like a Hottentot.”
First of all, let’s stop this nonsense right now. None of the dancers in the “Step in Time” scene is in blackface. Blackface is not black or brown smeared on your face. If you want to see blackface, click here. True confession time. I smeared white greasepaint on my face to play a ghost gangster in a dance scene years and years ago. Just in case there is a picture out there, I am confessing now.
Secondly, the Hottentots or Khoikhoi were peoples who would have been well-known at the time the book of “Mary Poppins” was written. Until doing research for this article, I thought the Hottentots were Germans. I don’t know why, so don’t ask. I think anyone who has the time and energy to work himself up into a tizzy over chimney sweeps dancing in Disney movie from the early sixties from a book written in the 1930’s needs to get a hobby. Like maybe Shakespearean ruff making.
The college where the Yale educated professor teaches, Linfield College is in Oregon, which explains a lot. The Pacific Northwest has devolved into the loony land of liberalism. Way too much time on his hands and no new Shakespeare plays are coming out anytime soon means our little professor is mentally chewing on things that don’t have the depth he thinks they have.
Look Professor Pollack-Pelzner, you have gone around the bend. There is no method in your madness. Get outside. Get a hobby. There are probably small children in your area that need to be read to, or puppies who need house training. In other words, the world outside your door has bigger problems than Mary Poppins.
I do need to thank you. I had forgotten how much I loved the music from Mary Poppins. I just spent a good hour listening to the songs. Two of my favorites are “Feed the Birds” with Jane Darwell, Mrs. Merriweather from “Gone with the Wind” and “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank” with Dick Van Dyke in a second role.