After the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, many people called for the changing of brands from originally racist (or perceived racist) names to ones that could stand in today’s society.
Many people thought that the brands were getting cancelled and while they technically were not, they were still forced to change due to public outcry against it. After the outcry, these brands began to announce that they would be changing their names and many bands, sports teams, and even some schools followed suit. This “canceling” continues today and is the subject of many controversies.
In June 2020 the Walt Disney company announced that it would be changing Splash Mountain’s theme due to the (at the time) recent public outcry. It was decided by the public that Splash Mountain’s theme was unacceptable because it was based on the movie Song of the South, which had many racist stereotypes about African Americans. The ride’s theme will now be based on the Disney movie Princess and the Frog. Although many called Disney out for the ride, others thought it was stupid to change it. It was thought that cancel culture had gone too far again, because it was not even canceling a person, but an amusement park ride.
Disney+ has also been facing backlash over their decisions to put restrictions on movies such as Dumbo, Peter Pan, and The Aristocats. These restrictions mean that children under the age of seven will not be able to view these movies on their account, only on an older persons account. The movies now come with a warning that the film contains racist depictions of people and cultures. This decision was met with the public deeming that cancel culture had once again gone too far. However, these things were not canceled but a decision made by a company that had nothing to do with cancel culture. Disney made a decision to address their previously racist stereotypes in movies and explain why they were wrong. In Dumbo, there are a group of singing crows who are supposed to represent white actors that would dress in torn clothes and blackface and perform racist shows. These shows were meant to portray and make fun of enslaved African Americans. The leader of the crows was Jim Crow, which is the name of a racist set of laws that enforced segregation in the south. Peter Pan was also restricted, and in a statement released by Disney they explained why, “the film portrays Native people in a stereotypical manner that reflects neither the diversity of Native peoples nor their authentic cultural traditions” (newsweek.com). This is a perfect example of others taking cancel culture too far. Disney was not canceling the films but addressing why they were bad and the public claimed cancel culture of something that again, was not even canceled.
Syrup brand Aunt Jemima, and Rice brand Uncle Ben, are among the many brands that announced the changing of their names in 2020. Quaker Oats announced that it would be rebranding the Aunt Jemima syrup brand due to plea’s from the public. And while the family of the woman who represented Aunt Jemima agrees with the change, they also do not want the brand to erase her from their history. Lillian Richard portrayed Aunt Jemima for years, and rebranding will leave her off the box and forgotten. However, it is not Richard they are trying to replace, but the character that they created for her and the name they gave the character. “Aunt Jemima portrays the white, romanticized notion of an Antebellum “mammy,” detached from the cruel reality of enslavement during the late 19th century” (www.wbur.org). Uncle Ben’s also faced backlash for basing their brand on a racist stereotype. Mars announced that the Uncle Ben’s box will be changing from a picture of a bow tie-wearing African-American rice farmer with the words “Uncle Ben’s” below it, to no picture with the words “Ben’s Original.” In a page posted to their website and published by the Mars company, they said, “The name Uncle Ben was borrowed from a well-known Texas rice farmer of the same name…The man who posed for an image that has appeared on the packaging for decades was Frank Brown, the head waiter of an exclusive Chicago restaurant…We understand the inequities that were associated with the name and face of the Uncle Ben’s brand, we have committed to change (www.npr.org)”.
In all of the canceling and backlash, the story of those who represented these brands are forgotten. And although these brands are changing for the better, in order to get rid of their racist past and start a new future, they are forgetting the people who represented their brands for so long.
But who even has the authority to deem these things inappropriate and who has the right to “cancel” them?
The brands, shows, bands, and movies that are canceled are obviously prominent in society, but the people who cancel them are unknown figures behind screens. All “canceling” of things takes place online through social media posts, news stories, or YouTube videos. When something is deemed inappropriate for society, the online community bands together and decides if that thing is cancelled or not. Most people follow their decision, because if they speak against it, it is probable that they will be canceled too. However, when the canceling of people went to the canceling of brands, many people had a problem with it. They believed it was crazy to change a brand’s name when it had been fine for many years, or that changing a brand to be more inclusive was being overly sensitive. There is a fine line between canceling things, being too sensitive, and being inclusive, and those in society have not found that balance yet.