Disney Plus is chock full of content people of all ages can love. But in a bid to share its entire library in its original form, Disney is finding itself in the uncomfortable position of needing to address decidedly outdated and offensive content from the vault on its streaming video service.
Disney Plus users who watch old films, including Dumbo, Peter Pan, and others, will now see a disclaimer displayed when they want to stream those movies. The disclaimer says the "program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions."
It's a potentially major problem for a service that has old content with very real and troubling stereotypes. Depending on the film users watch, they might find racist depictions of characters and cultures.
The disclaimer isn't new. Warner Bros., which also owns older content, has used similar language for people watching old Tom and Jerry cartoons, according to the Associated Press. In those cases, Warner Bros. says the content contains "ethnic and racial prejudices," according to the AP.
The content puts companies like Disney Plus and Warner Bros. into a difficult position. On one hand, they could delete the troubling content from their platforms. On the other, they can opt to keep the content on the service and alert people to it. Some advocates for the latter have said that streaming the content gives people--and especially parents--the opportunity to discuss important topics with their children.
But it also highlights a broader problem for entertainment companies, content creators, and streaming service providers who want to provide a vast library of content both now and in the future.
Film and entertainment has always been a reflection on society. And over time, thoughts and opinions on certain topics change. As streaming services mature, they'll not only need to deal with content created decades ago, but also content created not so long ago that may no longer have a place in society. Even some films and television series today can be deemed offensive. If and when they come to streaming services, providers need to decide how they're going to handle them.
The stakes for handling the situation correctly are high for Disney Plus. The $7-a-month service only launched on November 12, but has already attracted more than 10 million users. All will have strong feelings about the content, and Disney needs to be aware of that.