Column on ‘wokeness’ ruining Disney World experience draws backlash
By Jesus Jiménez
A column complaining that Disney World’s “wokeness” is ruining the fun “because Disney cares more about politics than happy guests” drew a sharp backlash online this week.
The guest column, “I love Disney World, but wokeness is ruining the experience,” was written by Jonathan VanBoskerck and appeared online Friday in The Orlando Sentinel.
In the column, VanBoskerck, of North Las Vegas, Nevada, wrote that he was “strongly rethinking” his commitment to the amusement park and the city of Orlando, Florida, home of Disney World.
“The more Disney moves away from the values and vision of Walt Disney, the less Disney World means to me,” VanBoskerck wrote. “Disney is forgetting that guest immersion is at the core of its business model.”
Disney has made changes to its parks in recent years to make them more “inclusive” and provide an experience that “all of our guests can connect with and be inspired by,” it wrote in a blog post.
Among the changes, Disney announced last year a “retheming” of Splash Mountain, which was previously based on the 1946 Disney film “Song of the South,” in which a former slave recounts African folk tales.
Changes have extended beyond Disney’s parks, such as with the decision not to stream “Song of the South” on Disney+.
Disney World reopened its Pirates of the Caribbean ride in 2018, replacing a scene that showed pirates selling off women in an auction. The scene now depicts the sale of “townspeople’s most prized possessions and goods,” according to a blog post on the Disney Parks site.
Among other changes, the company announced that it was “building on the story” of the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland and Disney World to “include new adventures that stay true to the experience we know and love — more humor, wildlife and skipper heart — and also reflect and value the diversity of the world around us.”
The Jungle Cruise ride includes an Indigenous character named Trader Sam, who sells shrunken heads. The character was recently removed from the ride.
“We are addressing negative depictions of natives in the attraction,” Disney told Attractions Magazine.
In his column, VanBoskerck said Disney was “taking a woke scalpel” to the Jungle Cruise.
“Every grown-up in the room realizes that Trader Sam is not a representation of reality and is meant as a funny and silly caricature,” VanBoskerck wrote. “It is no more based in racism than every Disney caricature of an out-of-touch white American dad.”
VanBoskerck, who described himself as a “Christian and a conservative Republican,” said that he and his family have been Disney customers for decades and that in addition to annual visits to Disney World, the family also takes a Disney cruise “every year or two.”
The Las Vegas Review-Journal and court documents identified VanBoskerck as Clark County’s chief deputy district attorney. The district attorney’s office and VanBoskerck did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
“The parks are less fun because immersion and thus the joy is taking a back seat to politics,” VanBoskerck wrote. “Immersion should not be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness and appeasing the Twitter mob.”
Then a Twitter mob came for VanBoskerck, whose comments drew a strong reaction online, including from some politicians.
Rep. Val Demings, a Democrat who represents Florida’s 10th Congressional District, where Disney World is, said on Twitter that she supported Disney’s work to be more inclusive.
“I am proud to represent a community that is welcoming, tolerant, and always evolving to offer the best possible experience,” Demings said.
Florida state lawmaker Anna V. Eskamani took a different approach on Twitter.
“So this adult man from Las Vegas is mad about Disney removing racist characters and animatronic rapists from their rides?” Eskamani said. “Did I get that right?”
VanBoskerck criticized other changes Disney has made, such as one announced this month to allow “greater flexibility” for Disney employees regarding “forms of personal expression,” such as nail and hair styles and visible tattoos.
“The problem is, I’m not traveling across the country and paying thousands of dollars to watch someone I do not know express themselves,” he wrote. “I am there for the immersion and the fantasy, not the reality of a stranger’s self-expression. I do not begrudge these people their individuality and I wish them well in their personal lives, but I do not get to express my individuality at my place of business.”
Disney announced in a blog post written by Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks experiences and products, that the change would allow its cast members to “express their cultures and individuality at work,” and for the company to “remain relevant in today’s workplace.”
Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.
The decision is among many the park is making “to bring a greater focus to inclusivity and belonging for our cast” after listening to cast members about their ideas for change, D’Amaro wrote.
VanBoskerck wrote that the next time he rides the Jungle Cruise or looks at Splash Mountain, he will think about Disney’s political agenda.
“That’s a mood killer,” he wrote.