The Haunted Mansion: Disney-ifying Racism

I also love this movie (the imagery, the feeling of mansion), but I’m first to point out how weird this movie deals with telling a racially-charged story. The movie opens with a story of a man and a woman; she’s writing a letter and we see her poison herself. The man is inconsolable and eventually kills himself too, which is why Gracey Mansion is haunted: the deaths of these two lovers. When all the other servants died, they were cursed to remain on the property as well.

In present day, we see a successful realtor black couple who are clearly living their best life, selling houses left and right. I love to see this kind of representation because there’s often a racist association of black people with poverty. Marginalized people are often living in poverty, but it isn’t the only story.

The realtor couple is offered this house to sell, which is an old multi-million dollar mansion in the heart of the bayou. It has its own private cemetary and stretches for acres. My main issue is the way the story of the ghosts is told. Edward Gracey tells his story as if it were his great-grandfather (Edward is a ghost) and says of his disastrous suicidal love affair: “They were from different worlds and couldn’t be together”. Then later, the butler reveals that he murdered Elizabeth because, “[they’re] union was unacceptable” and that if he hadn’t murdered her, Edward would have run away with her, from his honor as a wealthy man in society, etc.

Eight-year-old me did not understand these statements whatsoever; only as an adult revisiting the story do I realize that he’s talking about the fact that Elizabeth is black (she bears a striking resemblance to the present-day wife, Sarah, and that’s why they brought her there, thinking its her reincarnated) and Edward Gracey is white. Think about the time period; perhaps late 1880s to early turn of the century era. America is still soooo racist at that point in time and there’s no way authorities would have condoned an interracial marriage; it was illegal. Especially in Louisiana, where New Orleans was a slave port; Edward Gracey probably owned a ton of slaves to work what was most likely a plantation. This is probably how he met Elizabeth; it sounds like a Sally Hemings/Thomas Jefferson narrative (which has been romanticized but it was essentially the guy who owned her raping her since was still a child; she might have had a Stockholm Syndrome love for him. Maybe she really did, but we don’t have her side of the story-only his.)

I know that it was 2003 and most likely, Disney didn’t want to be divisive at all or show the real horrors of slavery in a kids’ movie, but kids are taught about slavery. I don’t think completely hiding history of our despicable past helps anyone, especially when you have to dig through layers and layers of subtext to find the real story they are telling. If we forget the past, it will repeat.

And while we’re at it, what was up with that drag-me-to-hell sequence with Ramsley? Eight-year-old me was not ready for that imagery and yet, it was in there, so I’m just saying, Disney: tell the real story.

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