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After Insensitive Disney World Parade Performance Goes Viral, The Company Releases Statement About What Happened

Partners Statue at Magic Kingdom
(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

Disney has had a rough go of it the last few weeks. Controversy surrounding the “don’t say gay” bill in Florida and Disney’s delayed response to it, despite being the largest employer in the state thanks to Walt Disney World, was a political nightmare for CEO Bob Chapek. And while that controversy isn’t even over yet, there a brand new headache at the most Magical Place on Earth. A high school parade performance at the Magic Kingdom is being criticized for its cultural appropriation, but that’s only where this story starts. 

The video shows cheerleaders from Port Neches-Groves High School performing a routine on Main Street USA that includes the use of some Native American stereotypes, as well as a chant that includes the phrase “scalp ‘em.” Initially it seemed that Disney World had made a serious error in judgement in letting this performance go through. But now Disney claims the performance that took place at Magic Kingdom earlier this week was not part of what the school submitted in its audition or practice performance. In a statement, (via Scott Gustin) Disney Spokesperson Jacquee Wahler said…

We regret this performance took place as it did not reflect the audition tape that was submitted. We have immediately put measures in place to ensure performances reflect the auditions.

There are procedures in place to make sure that when school bands perform at Disney World, everything is going to meet Disney's expectations. School’s submit a tape as an audition, and there is a rehearsal performance before everybody starts marching through the theme park. According to Disney, what was caught on video was not what the school said they were going to do which, if true, is certainly concerning.

Depictions of Native Americans in media and popular culture have been an issue for decades but they have been an even more serious issue in recent years. Two different major professional sports teams in the U.S. have only recently decided to change their names from Native American references following years of calls asking them to do so.

If we take the Disney World statement at face value and the school really gave Disney one performance behind-the-scenes and then did another on Main Street USA, then there are a lot of questions about why. None of the answers to those questions would seem to be good.

And Disney World did reportedly put a stop to some of what the school wanted to do in the performance. Apparently, these cheerleaders regularly perform wearing war bonnets, but Disney told them they could not wear them during their performance.

Of course, not everybody is taking Disney’s statement at face value. The cheerleader uniforms, even without the war bonnets, are potentially concerning. Some with the knowledge of how this process works say that Disney usually has cast members marching with the bands specifically to deal with any issues during the performance. This would mean that either the performance was approved, or the person assigned to deal with this dropped the ball.

 Thus far the Port Neches-Groves Independent School District has not responded to the controversy. If they do, it will certainly be interesting to see what is said. Will somebody at the school take responsibility, or will they claim that Disney approved the performance as we saw it?  

Dirk Libbey
Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.