Racism, ah! Disney has the Jungle Cruise movie and fans are not happy to see a known racist face. It’s a daunting addition in light of Disneyland’s bold move to remove overt racism from their theme parks.
The Jungle Cruise film follows the mystical adventures of Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) & Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson). As they traverse the Amazon in a derelict boat, they encounter all sorts of eccentric characters, such as Trader Sam.
Therein lies the problem. The Jungle Cruise film attempts to rename the iconic racist character. Has it reinvented a character previously steeped in caricature? Or did it give the problematic character a wider audience?
The back of water
The Jungle Cruise movie is action packed and fun for the whole family. Houghton & Wolff are on a journey to find a legendary ancient tree with healing powers to improve modern medicine.
Trader Sam (Veronica Falcón) is initially introduced as very similar to the original Disneyland character. A gender reassignment aside, Trader Sam is still a caricature of a native person.
However, this image of Trader Sam is undermined with a plot twist. Trader Sam is not actually a caricature. Instead, she uses people’s racist expectations against them to deter them. But how can a character who still leans into a racist caricature really undermine it?
Get rid of the old
Disneyland has recently undergone several changes — virtual and otherwise — in light of shifting public ideals. They removed the crows from dumbo on Disney Plus. They also removed Trader Sam from the Jungle Cruise attraction.
The racist depiction of an Indigenous person has raised eyebrows for years. Still, Disneyland has moved to address the problem while it was under public scrutiny. The Jungle Cruise film was a catalyst, but the move was a long time coming.
Disneyland is rebranding itself as socially aware. The Jungle Cruise movie has seemingly tried to do the same. Still, you wonder how socially aware a movie can be towards a character it barely uses.
As a character on the Jungle Cruise ride, trader Sam quietly offered shrunken heads to passing riders. Like the native characters in King KongThe presence of trader Sam fulfilled racist ideas of specifically Amazonian indigenous people.
As a character in the Jungle Cruise movie, Trader Sam was an attempt to subvert a caricature. She was a reflection of the increasingly progressive ideals adopted by the Disneyland brand.
Still, Trader Sam arguably doesn’t do much more than not be a stereotype. On the one hand, she is intelligent, independent and has a keen sense of humor. On the other hand, however, she is not part of the main plot nor is she more complex than she is not a caricature.
Why does trader Sam lean on indigenous stereotypes to scare tourists? What led her to take on this task? The Jungle Cruise film never reveals its motive or backstory. The ride was recently revamped, but it seems the racist legacy remains.
Disneyland isn’t alone in trying to renew its brand. We live in the golden age of social media callouts. Companies that do not exhibit socially conscious behavior are quickly subjected to public scrutiny.
There is, however, a difference between being performatively progressive and practicing progressive ideals. Disneyland & the Jungle Cruise claimed to do the latter, but it looks like they were actually performing.
The image of Trader Sam in the Jungle Cruise movie might not be as racist as Disneyland’s attraction character. This is a low bar, especially when you consider that the original character only offered smiles and shrunken heads rather than a real personality.
What do you think of Trader Sam in the Jungle Cruise movie? Is she as racist as the original? Or is she an improvement? Let us know in the comments below!