More Mary Poppins?

When Mary Poppins Returns ended, I left the theater hoping there would be a sequel. However, I made peace with the fact that there probably wouldn’t be another movie. The original is iconic, and the arc of the franchise felt complete. I didn’t see any storylines in Mary Poppins Returns that could be expanded into a sequel.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I found this article from The Daily Wire. Rob Marshall isn’t saying there will be a sequel, but he definitely seems to be thinking about it:

Should Mary Poppins return again, according to Marshall, she would be returning at a time of another great social movement: LGBTQ rights.
“Our movie takes place in the ’30s. But if it were to take place now, that’s exactly what it should be,” Marshall said. “I understand so deeply what it’s like to be on the outskirts and not feel like you are worthy. And I will say that kind of passion to explore acceptance in life is something that’s so important.”

Paul Bois, The Daily Wire

Like I said, I’m all for the idea of a sequel, but the theme of LGBTQ rights really threw me for a loop. Not that I think it’s a bad idea, I’m just wondering how Marshall would pull it off. Maybe he would have one of Michael Banks’s children come out as gay or something similar and Mary Poppins would help the family (and everyone else, for that matter) navigate the situation and understand what it means to be [insert identity here]? That doesn’t seem like it could turned into an adventure as magical as ones in the first two movies.  

But maybe I’m overthinking this. And anyway, what do I know? I’m sure someone somewhere will be able to come up with something. Obviously, that person won’t be me.


Where do we draw the line?


So, I came across this article by way of another article that Google shoved in my face. Somehow it knows I’m really into Mary Poppins and Emily Blunt lately. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but it still feels like my guilty pleasure is on display or something. It could be worse, I suppose.

Anyway, the essay argues that Mary Poppins is “flirting with blackface”.

 When the magical nanny (played by Julie Andrews) accompanies her young charges, Michael and Jane Banks, up their chimney, her face gets covered in soot, but instead of wiping it off, she gamely powders her nose and cheeks even blacker. Then she leads the children on a dancing exploration of London rooftops with Dick Van Dyke’s sooty chimney sweep, Bert.
This might seem like an innocuous comic scene if Travers’s novels didn’t associate chimney sweeps’ blackened faces with racial caricature. “Don’t touch me, you black heathen,” a housemaid screams in “Mary Poppins Opens the Door” (1943), as a sweep reaches out his darkened hand. When he tries to approach the cook, she threatens to quit: “If that Hottentot goes into the chimney, I shall go out the door,”she says, using an archaic slur for black South Africans that recurs on page and screen.

Daniel Polack-Pelzner, The New York Times

It’s obvious that if Mary Poppins were published today, it wouldn’t go over well at all. But we can’t always examine history through a modern lens. Sometimes, it has to be looked at in the context of its own time period. If these slurs were a problem in the 1940s, there’s no way P.L. Travers would have been published. But she was; society didn’t recognize these words or sentiments as slurs.

And I really don’t think Disney was trying to be controversial either. But there’s more:

The 1964 film replays this racial panic in a farcical key. When the dark figures of the chimney sweeps step in time on a roof, a naval buffoon, Admiral Boom, shouts, “We’re being attacked by Hottentots!” and orders his cannon to be fired at the “cheeky devils.” We’re in on the joke, such as it is: These aren’t really black Africans; they’re grinning white dancers in blackface. It’s a parody of black menace; it’s even posted on a white nationalist website as evidence of the film’s racial hierarchy. And it’s not only fools like the Admiral who invoke this language. In the 1952 novel “Mary Poppins in the Park,” the nanny herself tells an upset young Michael, “I understand that you’re behaving like a Hottentot.”

Daniel Polack-Pelzner, The New York Times

I mean, Mary Poppins has a friend who’s a chimney sweep. What do you expect? No one was making fun of anyone at all. And anyway, it’s just a story, and fiction at that. It’s not meant to offend anyone. I’m not trying to absolve P.L. Travers or Disney of accountability or anything like that. I’m just trying to point out that if we view everything through today’s societal lens, we lose important context, and we risk sucking all the fun out of both Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Returns.