Mary Poppins Deemed Racist Because of Movie’s ‘Blackface’ Scene

A professor’s analysis has sparked backlash from fans.

A professor’s claim that the original “Mary Poppins” movie was racist has not been well-received by many fans of the classic family film.

In a New York Times op-ed titled “‘Mary Poppins,’ and a Nanny’s Shameful Flirting With Blackface,” Daniel Pollack-Pelzner lambasted the iconic scene in which Poppins joins Bert on a rooftop for the song “Step In Time.” He accuses Julie Andrews of “blacking up” her face with soot while dancing with chimney sweeps.

“When the magical nanny 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,” Pollack-Pelzner wrote.

The Linfield College literature professor connected the scene to P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins books, which he claims “associate chimney sweeps’ blackened faces with racial caricatures.”

“‘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,” Pollack-Pelzner noted. “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.”

“These aren’t really black Africans; they’re grinning white dancers in blackface,” he explained. “It’s a parody of black menace; it’s even posted on a white nationalist website as evidence of the film’s racial hierarchy,” Pollack-Pelzner adds.

Not surprisingly, the Internet heaved a collective sigh, with many grumbling that the claims are absurd.

On the other hand, others argued that it’s imperative to learn the real history of films — even beloved ones.

Pollack-Pelzner’s critique comes one week after “Mary Poppins Returns” was nominated for four Academy Award awards, including Best Original Song for “The Place Where Lost Things Go.”

He describes the 2018 version of Mary Poppins “an enjoyably derivative film that seeks to inspire our nostalgia for the innocent fantasies of childhood, as well as the jolly holidays that the first ‘Mary Poppins’ film conjured for many adult viewers.”

He concludes, however, the new movie is “bound up in a blackface performance tradition” that persists throughout the ‘Mary Poppins’ genre.”


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