Children's classic Mary Poppins branded racist

Children's classic Mary Poppins branded racist
Photo credit: Supplied

It's one of the iconic scenes in the popular Disney classic, but now a US academic has branded Mary Poppins as racist for blackening up her face.

The scene, which features Julie Andrews as Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert, is set on the rooftops of London and includes the song 'Step in Time'.

Poppins, with her face covered in soot, innocently dances with Bert and his fellow chimney sweeps in what is one of the better loved scenes from the 1964 hit film.

However Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, an English and gender studies professor at Oregon's Linfield College, has argued the scene is racist.

In an article called 'Mary Poppins, and a Nanny's Shameful Flirting With Blackface,' he says Poppins' face gets covered in soot as she goes up the chimney, but instead of wiping it clean she adds more and "blackens up."

He also refers to passages in P.L. Travers' original books that were racist, including a line where a housemaid says "Don't touch me, you black heathen," to a chimney sweep.

Professor Pollack-Pelzner argues when Admiral Boom shouts orders to fire on the chimney sweeps by yelling: "We're being attacked by Hottentots!", as well as referring to them as "cheeky devils," it is racist.

"The 1964 film replays this racial panic in a farcical key," he writes. "When the dark figures of the chimney sweeps Step in Time on a roof and a naval buffoon, Admiral Boom shouts, 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."

Fans of the film have taken to social media defending it, referring to the article as one of the stupidest of all time.

Another Twitter user posted: "People who are so ignorant as to be offended by such scenes should never watch TV or movies. They are obviously incapable of rational thought or discernment."

Another wrote: "Mary Poppins wasn't flirting with black face! It was soot in their faces from being a chimney!!! Stopped spreading racism claims on non racist things like this!!!"

Professor Pollack-Pelzner defended his article, telling the Mail on Sunday: "I don't like hearing that something I loved and that something that was important to me in my childhood might be more troubling than I assumed. So I appreciate the strength of the reaction.

"I just hope some of that energy can go to Disney as well and ask them to think a little bit more about how their new movies connect with the past."