Walt Disney’s grandniece backs up Meryl Streep’s racism claims: ‘Anti-Semite? Check. Misogynist? OF COURSE!!!’
Published 16/01/2014 | 16:25
Those who read about Meryl Streep’s explosive speech ahead of the National Board of Review last week, during which she blasted Walt Disney as a "gender bigot" and a racist member of an anti-Semitic lobby group, might have been wondering what the Disney family thought of her claims.
Turns out, they are fully ‘Team Streep’. Or, at least, his grandniece Abigail Disney is.
Disney took to Facebook to say she "loved" her remarks, and admitted that she herself had “mixed feelings” about her great uncle.
"You really need to be as honest as possible about those feelings, or else you are going to lead yourself into many a blind alley in life," she posted.
"Anti-Semite? Check. Misogynist? OF COURSE!! Racist? C'mon he made a film (Jungle Book) about how you should stay 'with your own kind' at the height of the fight over segregation! As if the 'King of the Jungle' number wasn't proof enough!! How much more information do you need?"
But, the 54-year-old film producer reminded her followers, "he was hella good at making films and his work has made billions of people happy. There's no denying it."
Abigail Disney is most noted for her work on two films: Hell and Back Again, which centres around the lives of soldiers who attempt to reintegrate with society in the US after they return back from Afghanistan, and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-nominated The Queen of Versailles, about a wealthy couple building a Versailles-inspired dream mansion amid the financial crisis.
Her statement comes after Streep shocked onlookers at a dinner to honour her peer Emma Thompson for her star turn as PL Travers in Disney film Saving Mr Banks.
The movie is based around Walt Disney’s courting of the rights to Travers’ classic Mary Poppins, and detailed the lengths the animator went to persuade her to adapt the novel for the big screen.
On the one hand, Streep labelled Thompson "a beautiful artist" who is "practically a saint", before reading out a heart-felt, self-penned poem about the British actress called "An Ode to Emma, Or What Emma is Owed".
On the other, Streep launched into a tirade about Disney, calling the late animator a "hideous anti-Semite"who "formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobby".
"And he was certainly, on the evidence of his company’s policies, a gender bigot," she added, before quoting a letter he wrote to an aspiring female animator in 1938.
"Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men," it read.
She went on to quote Disney's colleague Walter Kimball, who apparently said that his boss "didn't trust women or cats," Variety reported.
Disney was plagued by allegations of anti-Semitism during his life and after his death. Sure enough, ethnic stereotypes common to films of the 1930s were included in several of his early cartoons.
For example, Three Little Pigs featured the Big Bad Wolf sneaking up to the door dressed as a Jewish peddler. And The Opry House, during which Mickey Mouse dresses up and dances like a Hasidic Jew.
Other rumours centred around his acceptance of female German filmmaker (and notorious Nazi propagandist) Leni Riefenstahl to Hollywood to promote her film Olympia in 1938. He was criticised for not cancelling her invitation even after news of Kristallnacht broke.
Further still, Jewish animator Art Babbitt, who maintained a "difficult relationship" with Disney throughout his career, claimed to have seen Disney and his lawyer, Gunther Lessing, attending meetings of pro-Nazi organisation the German American Bund in the late 1930s.
However, Disney biographer Neal Gabler, who was the first writer to gain unrestricted access to the Disney archives in 2006, concluded based on the evidence available that he was not an anti-Semite. At least, not in the conventional sense.
In summary, he said: "He got the reputation because, in the 1940s, he got himself allied with a group called the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, which was an anti-Communist and antisemitic organization.
"And though Walt himself, in my estimation, was not antisemitic, nevertheless, he willingly allied himself with people who were antisemitic, and that reputation stuck. He was never really able to expunge it throughout his life."
According to The Walt Disney Family Museum, the company also gave money to several Jewish charities, including the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, Yeshiva College and The American League for a Free Palestine.