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Disney announced last week it would rebrand its popular log flume ride, Splash Mountain, following public outcry that its current imagery is racist. The theme of the log flume—featured in California, Florida, and Tokyo amusement parks—is based on Disney’s controversial 1946 film Song of the South, which critics and civil rights activists have long opposed as racist.
The ride will be rebranded in California and Florida to feature characters from Disney’s 2009 animated film The Princess and the Frog instead. In Tokyo, however—the only Disney-branded theme park in which Burbank, California-based Walt Disney Company has no ownership stake—Splash Mountain’s future remains up for debate.
Disneyland Tokyo is wholly owned and operated by Japan’s Oriental Land Company (OLC), which opened the theme park in 1983. When OLC initially pitched Disney the idea of building a resort on a plot of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, Disney was reluctant. The studio had never opened a resort outside of the U.S. before, and executives questioned whether the brand’s international appeal could support a multi-billion-dollar park.
Negotiations between Disney and OLC stretched on for five years. Ultimately, OLC raised the money for building the park itself and agreed to pay a licensing fee and royalties to Disney for the use of its characters and design. Skift reports OLC paid Disney an annual royalty fee equal to roughly 6% of the park’s revenue between 2006 and 2016. In fiscal 2020, Disneyland Tokyo earned JPY384 billion or $3.59 billion.
Since OLC licenses characters from Disney, it’s possible The Walt Disney Company could compel OLC to rebrand the log flume, depending on the terms of the current licensing agreement.
On June 26, OLC executives reportedly said discussions on what to do with Splash Mountain at Disneyland Tokyo were ongoing. Disney did not immediately return Fortune‘s request for comment.
The reckoning over corporate racism currently sweeping the U.S. and the EU has barely made a ripple in Asia; an exception was a massive Black Lives Matter fundraiser by K-pop fans. Few major Asian corporations have spoken out in support of the BLM movement, and some Western brands have long deployed a double-standard over racial prejudice while operating in Asia.
Colgate, for instance, co-owns a toothpaste brand in Asia that, until 1989, was called “Darkie” in English and featured a man in blackface as its logo. The toothpaste, now known as Darlie and bearing a less obtuse logo, is sold under the brand name Heiren Yagao, or “Blackperson Toothpaste,” in Chinese. Under pressure from activists in the U.S., Colgate announced it would rebrand the Chinese packaging just this month.
Meanwhile, Disney, which views Song of the South as too controversial to show in the U.S.—the studio has never released the movie on video or DVD in the U.S. market—released the film as a home movie in the EU and Asia, including in Japan, in the early 1990s.
The movie is based on author Joel Chandler Harris’s collection of Uncle Remus stories and is accused of glossing over the reality of slavery in the U.S. In the Disney adaptation, Uncle Remus—a Black man living on a Georgian plantation—regales a young white boy with stories of a trickster hare, Br’er Rabbit, and his dimwitted nemesis, Br’er Fox. The scenery surrounding Splash Mountain features characters and music from Song of the South.
More must-read international coverage from Fortune:
- Corporate Germany has a race problem—and a lack of data is not helping
- George Floyd protests force Britain to reckon with its role in slavery, leading some companies to pay reparations
- The insurance case that helped end the slave trade
- George Floyd protests, coronavirus face masks pose challenges for facial recognition
- From beekeepers to giant pension funds, activist shareholders are being silenced by the coronavirus
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