Walt Disney was a complex figure but not anti-Semitic, according to Disney experts and the filmmaker behind a new documentary on the Mickey Mouse creator.
Speaking at the Television Critics’ Association panel Sunday about PBS’ American Experience documentary on Disney, producer and director Sarah Colt said allegations he was an anti-Semite are unfounded.
“That’s just not based on any truths, so there’s no reason to bring it up in the film,” she said. “It wasn’t relevant. There isn’t any evidence.”
Composer Richard Sherman, who penned songs for Disney films like Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book, called those claims “preposterous” and said he and his brother Robert — the children of Jewish immigrants — were treated like sons by Disney.
“There are many charges against Walt Disney, and if you answered every one of them, you’d have a four-hour film that was nothing but rebutting charges,” added Neal Gabler, author of Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. In his research, Gabler said, “I saw no evidence, other than casual anti-Semitism that virtually every gentile at that time would have, that Walt Disney was an anti-Semite.”
While the panelists agreed on that point, they offered other conflicting opinions of Disney as a man both revered and feared. Gabler said that “everyone was terrified of [Disney],” while Sherman defended his former boss.
“He was a great soul, he really was. And he had his flaws, of course. Who doesn’t? But the main thing is he was driven to do good things,” he said.
American Experience’s four-hour Disney documentary will air on Sept. 14 and 15. You can watch a preview of it below.