An Era of Rebranding


Chris Thomas, Staff Writer

Disneyland has officially been closed for more than 300 days. The Anaheim theme park began this historic shutdown in mid-March due to COVID-19 and has only recently lightened the initial restrictions. Despite a lack of visitors, the park is not exactly dormant. This past week, The Walt Disney Company announced that its Jungle Cruise ride would undergo alterations. The safari-like boat ride opened in 1955, but it was not until recently that critics have taken aim at its depictions of non-western people. These critics believe that the natives are depicted as “savages” and “cannibals”. However, it seems that fans of this classic ride should not be saying their last goodbyes. According to Disney Executive Chris Beatty, “this [will not be] a re-envisioning of the entire attraction. It’s still the Jungle Cruise you know and love.”


This massive corporation is not unfamiliar with social change. Last June, Disney removed black stereotypes from Splash Mountain in order to distance the ride from associations with “song of the south.” The 1946 film about the reconstruction-era American South has been criticized for racial overtones, such as certain vernacular or behaviors. Last October, Disney implemented disclaimers on several films on its streaming platform, Disney Plus. These unskippable 12-second warnings tell viewers that, “These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.” 


The summer of 2020 seemed to be a flashpoint for imaging overhaul. Practically everyone had something to say about the racial unrest that occured that summer, preceded by the killing of George Floyd. Everyday citizens had varied reactions. In the weeks that followed there were protests and riots, debates and conversations, celebrations and mournings. On the contrary, large corporations seemed to respond in unison. This response came in the form of social media statements, advertisements and billboards showing support for various social causes. 


On top of these messages to the people, many companies took action in the form of rebranding. Aunt Jemima, a popular breakfast brand which you have probably seen on your pancake mix or syrup, decided to change its name and logo. While the current picture of an African American woman clad with pearl earrings and a lace collar may seem harmless, Quaker Oats, the parent company, acknowledges that the name and original image were “based on a racial stereotype.” Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworths have committed to similar measures. 


Somewhat surprisingly, these measures have bled into sports as well. The Atlanta Braves have long received criticism for their name, and are still holding out on that issue, but it wasn’t until this past summer that they decided to evaluate their tomahawk chop celebration. The Cleveland Indians have decided to axe their name years after removing the term “Indians” from official jerseys and nearly a decade after Chief Wahoo was replaced with a simple C. Most notably, the Washington Redskins, ditched their name and logo. The depiction of an Indian American with reddish-brown skin has been replaced with a W. The owner Daniel Snyder had been standing his ground on the team’s name for years. In fact, Snyder was quoted as saying, “We’ll never change the name…NEVER- you can use caps”. Pressure from sponsors such as Nike, FedEx and Pepsi were likely the killing blow to the age old trademark. 


For just a moment, the fact that they changed their name to ‘Football Team’ captured the spotlight. Despite this comedic relief, the Football Team was not able to stay out of the dog house as sexual allegation suits were brought against the team by its own cheerleaders. On top of that, Snyder has accused Football Team minority owners of extortion. Both of these events took place in the second half of 2020. This was not a picturesque ending for a team looking to improve its image.


Across the country, statues are coming down and confederate flags are being removed from certain venues. On another scope, logos and brand names have followed suit. Some would call this an erasure of history, but others believe it is social progress. The American landscape of imagery is changing; whether that is for better or worse is for you to decide.