In 1964, Dick Van Dyke starred as Bert the chimney sweep alongside his good friend and iconic actress Julie Andrews in the beloved film “Mary Poppins.” Based on the popular series of novels written by Australian writer Pamela Lyndon Travers, the film has entertained generations with its imaginative portrayal of the magical Mary, an English nanny who must help two children and their neglectful father.
However, the highly entertaining and fun film came under some controversy in 2019 when Daniel Pollack-Pelzner blasted the film for perpetuating racial stereotypes in a story for The New York Times. He particularly pointed out one scene where Mary and Bert dance with chimney soot on their faces, which he said resembles “blackface” — a callback to 19th century minstrel shows in which white performers would imitate Black people.
He wrote about the racial undertones in the film, connecting it back to Travers’ novel series in which blackface and racial slurs were used several times. The author claimed that Black children who read her book enjoyed the fact that some of the characters spoke in a stereotypical southern American dialect. However, when the San Francisco Public Library banned the book, citing the allegedly racially offensive material, Travers rewrote the questionable passages in 1981 so that her books wouldn’t be hidden away from potential readers.