“Pirates of the Caribean” has always teetered on either side of the ‘family-friendly’ debate. The problem is spelled out in song lyrics: “We pillage and plunder, we rifle and loot/ Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho/ We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot/ Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho”. And yet, the Pirate is a classic figure in storytelling. A classic figure for Boys Only.
Pirates of the Orange Groves
Disney Imagineers, along with Walt Disney himself, designed the “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction pretty realistically–and that meant women were immediately put into victim roles. Pirates chased women around their villas, stole their clothes, and offered to “share” them once they were conquered. Many of these instances were removed in the 1990s when public outcry finally became too much for Disney to ignore.The ride was changed in small ways. If you’d never seen the original, you’d probably never know. Now house maids chase pirates out of their homes weilding rolling pins. The naked girl in the barrel was eventually replaced by Jack Sparrow. Though most of the original ride remained, one original script writer was thoroughly displeased with the changes. X Atencio, an Imagineer from the 60s who worked on the original “Pirates” attraction, called the updated version “Boy Scouts of the Caribbean“. He wasn’t alone.
Important to note: no cannons, guns, or nooses were removed. Everyone kept their swords. All the rum stayed. Men still slept in pig styes. Skeletons steer ghostly ships into the dark unknown before the track drops out from under you in a pitch black room, and you float on to the middle of a battle on the high seas.
Havin’ a Lady Aboard is Bad Luck, it is
As the ride was edited over the years, the only element removed was the ravaging of women–mostly. One scene remained, and while it remains problematic on several levels (human trafficking, fat shaming, HUMAN TRAFFICKING, sexism, and the SELLING OF HUMANS), it’s a hallmark of the ride and difficult to change quietly. The auction scene is so popular that “The Redhead” has her own merchandise. She’s the only female character depicted in the ride’s Tsum Tsum collection. “We Want’s The Redhead” has rung from animatronic mouths for almost 50 years. A young girl tearfully bemoans her fate in the background, and another woman is overlooked for her size. The upcoming changes to the ride, however, shift the redhead’s fate forever.
Pehaps the auction scene remains because the redhead is so popular. Perhaps she evades criticism because she takes part in the auction just as actively as the pirates themselves. Whatever the reason, the redhead’s days on the auction block are coming to an end.After a lengthy refurbishment period, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride in Disneyland Paris will get the first “new” redhead early next year. Instead of being sold, the redhead now does the selling, as she leads an auction of plundered booty. Once more, the redesign changes nothing about the scene except the way women are treated. There’s still stealing, and profiting off stolen goods. There’s still gunplay, and she stands on a barrel assumedly filled with alcohol. So okay, less kidnapping and ravaging, but the rest of the song lyrics still stand, and we get to keep the redhead. Problem solved, right?
Whiners of the Caribbean
Problem never solved, because as soon as women are given a fair shake, people everywhere seem to think things are getting “too Politically Correct”. Here’s why this is not the right battle to pick, if that’s your conclusion: DISNEY IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR HISTORY LESSONS.
Girls in pirate stories often have to pretend to be a man, or fight like one to prove their worth. Otherwise, they become a pirate’s prisoner, and subject to all types of horrors. Even the “Disney-fied” pirate tales fall into this trap–Elizabeth Swan isn’t taken seriously until she trades in her corset for less feminine garb.
Changing the role of women in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride isn’t historical erasure, or denial about the horrible things pirates did. It’s telling a new story about fictional archetypes. A story that doesn’t involve rape.
That’s it. That’s all that was changed about the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride–they took out all the rape. They gave women weapons. They didn’t let us be sold, or have our clothes taken, and have our bodies shared. They let us join the fight on the offense. That’s the ONLY thing that was removed from the attraction. Rape. Is rape REALLY the thing you want depicted “accurately” on a ride in a children’s park?
If there’s an attraction in the parks that should be held responsible for historical accuracy, it certainly isn’t the one about the same characters who fly away from Peter Pan on a boat in the sky. Fifty feet away, you’re expected to believe that all of the world’s giant rivers connect. In the other direction, there’s a mansion with singing ghosts. If “accuracy” is the problem, then I have bad news for fans of Space Mountain.
Girls with Swords in “Pirates of the Caribbean”
What Disney is doing with the new auction scene is levelling the playing field. In the past few years, the entertainment juggernaut has recieved the same message over and over again: Not all Girls Are Princesses. Let us fight your Star Wars. Let us be an Avenger. Let us swashbuckle and haunt. We don’t want the redhead anymore, we want to be her, and that’s a very different message to send young girls.