A San Diego family has gone public with its suit against Disneyland, alleging that an employee in the Disney’s White Rabbit costume engaged in racist behavior. The lawsuit is likely to be settled to avoid publicity. It is also likely without merit.
This Examiner spent years working with, and writing training for, the performers who portray the Disney characters at Walt Disney World. The worldview from inside a character costume is completely different from what the normal guest sees. Five specific points are worth stating.
- Character performers have very limited vision. They usually cannot see the guests. When they can see them, they usually are looking at feet, or legs, or upper torsos. Rarely do they see hands or faces. It is difficult for them to determine what guests look like let alone identify their ethnicity.
- The White Rabbit is an anxious character. Performers are taught to animate impatience, hurriedness, and an obsession with time. The performer must balance those character traits with good customer service. It’s a fine line that can crossed during the pressures of a meet and greet location.
- Character performers are jostled, have their ears and tails pulled, are grabbed to determine their gender, and are otherwise mobbed by overly anxious fans. It’s sometimes dangerous and often hot.
- Characters, to enter and exit set, must walk right past guests to get to their assigned location where guests are waiting in line for a meet and greet. Guests don’t understand why the character is “avoiding” them but to stop invites a mob and angers guests who are waiting in the character’s assigned location.
- The person performing in the costume is likely very different from what the guest’s perception of that person. Men perform as Minnie Mouse. Most Mickey Mouse performers are female. The White Rabbit, although a male character, is more often portrayed by a female performer. Performers of all nationalities and ethnicities portray all character roles.
The current suit reminds this Examiner of a situation he was involved in. A guest had offered a similar complaint that a character performer had been dismissive because of racial attitudes. The character performer was of the same ethnicity as the person complaining and very political about issues of prejudice. This put management and the character performer in a very difficult situation. To explain that the performer could not be prejudiced against his the ethnic group because he was one with that group and very concerned with those issues required breaking the Disney illusion by admitting that there was a performer in the costume. We finally elected to break the illusion and introduce the performer to the complainer. That ended the complaint.
Is this suit legitimate? It is possible. This Examiner was not there. Nor can he judge the truthfulness of the family’s claim. They are probably sincere. What this Examiner can say from years of experience is that the suit is more likely the result of misread animation or movement delivered in the heat of the moment by a performer who was doing the best she could in a very limiting situation.
The family is likely to win some monetary amount from this situation. Protecting the magic of the Disney characters and its reputation is more important to Disney. They will pay for silence. Park admissions will then be raised to fund the payout. All of who love a day at the Disney parks will lose as a result and ethnic relations will not be advanced in any way whatsoever.