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Disney fans call to change Splash Mountain theme due to racist inspiration

The popular ride is based on the 1946 movie "Song of the South," which has been criticized for its racist depictions of life in the antebellum South.
Guests ride on the Splash Mountain attraction at the Walt Di
Some Disney fans and employees are calling for its popular Splash Mountain ride to ditch its theme based on the 1946 movie "Song of the South."Bloomberg / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Disney fans and some employees are calling for the company to change the theme of its popular Splash Mountain ride, which is based on the 1946 movie "Song of the South" that critics say is one of Disney's most racist films.

An online petition calls for the Splash Mountain ride, which has been a longtime staple at Disney World and Disneyland, to be re-themed to the 2009 Disney movie "The Princess and the Frog," which features Tiana, Disney's first black princess.

"There is a huge need for diversity in the parks and this could help fill that need," the petition reads. "Princess and the Frog is a beloved princess movie but has very little representation in the parks. Tiana could be one of the first princesses with a thrill ride, as well as giving her a much deserved place in the parks.

"The framing of the ride is such that it could be easily changed to tell the story of Tiana while not compromising too much of the ride/costing a fortune in remodeling for Disney. This change could kill two birds with one stone, remove the offensive stereotypical theming the ride currently has and bring a much needed diversity to the parks."

The calls for change come as many depictions of black life have come under fire amid the worldwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd last month.

The HBO Max streaming service has temporarily pulled the classic 1939 movie "Gone with the Wind" for its depiction of slavery and the antebellum South, while the shows "Cops" and "Live PD" have been canceled by Paramount Network and A&E, respectively. Actress Hattie McDaniel, who became the first black woman to win an Oscar for her portrayal of Mammy in "Gone with the Wind," is also in "Song of the South" as a housekeeper named Aunt Tempy.

Monuments to Confederate figures as well as Christopher Columbus have also been torn down or removed by officials in multiple cities during the ongoing protests.

Splash Mountain was first opened in 1989 at Disneyland with the theme of "Song of the South," a live action/animation hybrid film that is set in the Reconstruction era after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.

"Song of the South" was re-released in theaters 1986 but is not part of the deep vault of Disney films on its Disney+ streaming service. The company did not respond to TODAY’s request for comment for this story.

Former Disney CEO Bob Iger said at the company's annual shareholder meeting in March that it was not included on Disney+ due to its "outdated cultural depictions."

The movie has been criticized by the NAACP for perpetuating "a dangerously glorified picture of slavery" and has been panned by movie critics for its depiction of the antebellum South.

"Song of the South" is narrated by Uncle Remus, a plantation worker considered by many critics to be a racist stereotype. He tells stories about the adventures of animals like Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Bear and Br'er Fox to a young white boy living on the plantation.

The Splash Mountain ride makes no mention of Uncle Remus but features the story of Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Bear and Br'er Fox as well as the famous song "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah."

Disneyland cast member Frederick Chambers gave a detailed explanation in a Twitter thread about how he would re-theme the ride into "The Princess and the Frog" from "Song of the South."

“The bones of the attraction are good, but I think it’s time for us to take a serious look at where our stories come from and how people of color are represented on screen and in the parks,” Chambers told TODAY.

"If, at the end of the day, a racist caricature is replaced by the first black Disney princess, I will feel like this was all worth it. I don’t believe Disney has ever had an attraction with black lead characters. It’s time to change that."

Disney has changed rides in the past. The company ditched its "wench auction" on the popular "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride in 2017 to instead feature men and women surrendering goods like art and clocks to the pirates.