Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Meryl Streep Calls Walt Disney Racist and Sexist
Meryl Streep Calls Walt Disney Racist and Sexist
As you can most likely tell by my past blog posts I read a lot about Disney History. Not only about the Disney Company but Walt the man. I see Walt as an Uncle figure in my life even though I never got to meet him. The knowledge I have is from reading what those that knew him have said and listening to them speak about him.
Walt Disney was no saint. He could be mean, nasty and an unforgiving boss. He demanded perfection from those that worked with him and expected it. Now this is not to say he was always ranting and raving but he could. He also knew how to drive his employees to greater accomplishments with equal amounts of praise and critique. He was so demanding he caused one of his top animators to have a heart attack! Everybody wanted please Walt. They wanted to please him because it was fun to make the impossible happen for him. They also did not want him to see them fail.
That said Meryl Streep taking the time she had to praise a fellow actress to deliver a speech saying a man over 40 years dead was a bigot, sexist and anti-Semite was ridiculous and insulting to Emma Thompson, who Streep was there to present an award too.
Read it for yourself here:
Let’s start off with the comment Bigot. Walt did pay his black employees less for the same job. That was the norm back in the 1950’s! According to Floyd Norman, first black animator hired by the Disney Studio in the 1950’s the Disney Studio and Walt Disney did not care about race or religion. They cared about what you could do! Could you do the job you were hired to do. Floyd Norman said, “I can attest to the fact that Walt Disney was not racist or anti-Semitic!”
Here Floyd Norman’s reply to the question, “Was Walt and/or the company racist.”
Some use the movie “Song of the South” to say Walt and the Disney Studio were racist. I will disagree! Uncle Remus was the most intelligent, gentle, kind and caring person in the movie! He focused on the children’s safety and moral direction when others were not paying attention to them. Uncle Remus was played by James Baskett. Baskett was nominated for an Academy Award and received an Honorary Academy Award in 1948 for his performance as Uncle Remus. James Baskett died a few months after receiving the Academy Award. According to James’ widow Walt personally checked in on them before he died offering help when he found out James was ill. After he died Walt continued to assist the family. Walt said that Baskett was the best actor he had ever seen. He did not say best black actor, it was best actor period.
Was Walt anti-Semitic? Marty Sklar told a story at D23 when asked that question. Marty is Jewish by birth and practices his faith. On one Saturday Walt called one of his assistance and asked him to get Marty to come into do some work. The assistant told Walt it was a Jewish High Holy Day and Marty was at Temple with his family. The assistant asked Walt if he still wanted him to call Marty. Walt responded without hesitation according to Marty, “No! He is exactly where he should be, at temple with his family. It can wait until Monday.”
Marty Sklar also said, “If anybody had a reason to be anti-Semitic it was Walt. Most of the other studio heads were Jews. It was a Jew that stole Oswald from Walt in 1927. Jewish heads of other studios often grouped together and did not treat Walt fairly.”
I suggest you read Marty’s book “Dream It! Do It!” for further incite and/or check out my blog post from D23 “Working With Walt”. Get the information straight from people that knew and worked with Walt.
Now to tackle the Sexist comment. What about Mary Blare, Alice Davis and Harriet Burns and others that worked side by side with men to make the movies and magic at the parks. These women were leaders in the Disney Studios and some of the first employees of Disney Imagineering back in the 1950’s when many women were still at home being wives and mothers.
Sure blacks and women did not get paid the same amount as the “white” employees but that was what it was like at that time! It was a time when things were changing, I know because I was grew up in the 60’s. I saw the changes in society happen. I saw the fight it took to make the changes and even though I’m white I stood up for others and demanded fairness.
Walt Disney had hundreds if not thousands of employees at a time. He did not know the pay of each and every one of them. He did not babysit his payroll department and make sure they paid equal pay for equal jobs. That was unheard of back then. When it was brought to his attention I heard he set policy in place to stop the practice and make things fair.
An example of Walt not knowing what his employees were paid or if the salary offered was what was paid is Rolly Crump. Rolly is white but it shows Walt was unaware of payroll. In his book, “It’s Kind of a Cute Story” Rolly talks about how he was promised one salary and when he took the job he was told it was actually substantially less. A long time later Walt was talking to Rolly and the subject of salary came up and Walt was made aware of the pay cut. Walt corrected the pay from that day forward.
So when thinking about calling Walt a bigot, racist, sexist or anti-Semitic consider the source of your information. Is it coming from someone who knew him or second hand? Is it coming from your or someone else's view of the movies? Well, many movies (Disney and non-Disney) made in the 1920s-1950’s had gags, characters or scenes that we would now consider racist, sexist and inappropriate, truly politically incorrect. Look at what was social acceptable at the time the movies were made. What was in other movies, animated and live action at that time? What was the point of the movie? Was the, now thought of as inappropriate sequence pivotal to the story or just a gag to get a laugh? Is "Gone with the Wind" any less a classic if you consider the racist, sexist overtones in it? I think not! It is and will always be a classic. It is the same with Disney.
Back in the early days of the Disney Studio separate but equal was beginning to be the norm in American society. Walt still haired by ability not race or religion. Listen again to Floyd Norman. He was told that Disney did not hire Jew’s or Blacks and yet when he was hired he found plenty of Latino and Jewish animators already working there. Floyd was the first black animator hired at the studio and was treated like everybody else!
Walt is dead and gone. He cannot be hurt by this silly talk. Those that should be and are most likely offended by Meryl’s tirade are, Emma Thompson, the Disney Family and those that personally knew Walt and called him friend. I hope Meryl Streep will reconsider her words and think twice before speaking again. While I think Meryl is a wonderful actor I think she needs to do so research before speaking.