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What Made the Red Man Red?

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Title: What Made the Red Man Red?  
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Subject: Peter Pan (1953 film), Peter Pan (Disney franchise), 1953 songs, Disney songs
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What Made the Red Man Red?

"What Made the Red Man Red?" is a song from the 1953 Disney animated film Peter Pan, in which "the natives tell their story through stereotypical dance while singing".[1] Contemporary audiences may consider it racist and "offensive"[2] due to its "exaggerated stereotypes".[3] Although a similar depiction was displayed within J M Barrie's original play, later adaptions have reimagined the people while the Disney version and this song in particular were said to have "doubled-down on racial stereotypes".[4]

It has been compared to the song "Savages" from the 1995 Disney film Pocahontas, which also contains negative lyrics regarding Native Americans.[5]


  • Production 1
  • Context 2
  • Composition 3
  • Critical reception 4
    • Legacy 4.1
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Jonathan “Candy” Candido, who played the role of the Chief in Peter Pan, said the following about the song in an interview with MousePlanet:

"When I recorded [the song], I sang it with 10 bass singers from around Los Angeles. And if you hear the song, you'll notice my bass voice is almost twice as low as theirs ... You know, when you see the Indian chief, he's fat. I'm not fat. And he's real tall, and I'm kind of short. But you notice he looks like me. Also, he has the same dark eyebrows, and he plays with his hands like I do when I perform ... Ward Kimball's animation of the chief is full of the little visual gags that he always threw into his work, oftentimes just to keep himself amused. I especially love seeing how wildly exaggerated the chief's mouth shapes become, yet always manage to work well within the frame of his face."
— Jonathan “Candy” Candido, interview with MousePlanet[3]


Peter Pan and Wendy come across the Indians (who refer to themselves as "Injuns") once arriving in Neverland. The Lost Boys ask 'What Makes the Red Man Red?'. This song is performed by "the big-nosed, guttural Chief character".[6] The Native Americans pass peace pipe to children as they tell their story, which involves the evolution of language from "ugg" to "how", and a fable of how the people acquired a reddish hue to their skin (because the first Native American prince blushed from kissing a girl and they have been blushing since),[7] the implication being that "they used to be normal and white but just blushed".[8]

In reality, Hau is Lakota for "Hello" and the skin colour of Native American people is due to genetics, among other untruths featured in the song.


Writer Kim McLarin of NPR described it as a "bouncy, drum-heavy song",[9] while the Best of Disney called it a "labored routine".[10]

Critical reception

Complex notes that in the 21st century, "you can't just ask people 'What Makes the Red Man Red?'", and commented on the Lost Boys' musical number around this very question: "Jeez, you racists little monsters, no wonder you're orphans."[7] Althouse said the song has "obvious political correctness problems".[11] AllDay notes that "the one time they break into song" is the only time the Native Americans do not speak in broken English throughout the film.[12] In an article named Caught on Film: The Racist Ghosts of Disney’s Past, DivineCaroline wrote "The best part of the song is when the singers say that their version is the right one, 'no matter what’s been written or said.'"[13] Bustle deemed the song a "big ol’ pile of racism".[14] MediaDiversed said the "horror that was the song" served to reinforce stereotypes and racist attitudes.[15] The site Great Indian Moments From Pop Culture deemed the "insipid tune" the "worst" of the "troublesome Native stereotypes" in Disney's 1953 film Peter Pan. It noted "the chorus, with its 'nonsense' words, simply reduces indigenous languages (and semantics) to sheer gibberish".[16]

The Guardian wrote that the song is "exactly as alarming to modern eyes and ears as its title suggests".[17] Minnesota Playlist argued that this "infamous" number "upped the racist ante".[18] RantLifestyle notes "the a walking stereotype", and summed up their view of the song by saying "Oh dear".[8] David Martinez, author of American Indians and Film wrote "My jaw hit the ground when I heard this song and saw these 'redskins' hopping around and making fools of themselves. Granted it was only a cartoon, but it was one in which the animators took the liberty of demeaning an entire race in the name of entertainment."[19][20] The Narcycist referenced the song in an article about the use of subtle racism in film.[21] The Hollywood Reporter deemed the song "infamous".[22] Sasha Houston Brown, Santee Sioux tribe member and adviser to the American Indian Success Program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, said upon seeing the scene: "I remember seeing it and not having the skills to understand why it made me feel embarrassed. What does that do to a child's formation of identity, even if it's subliminal and subconscious? The message is, 'You're not human. You're a trend. You're something that can be commodified and bought and sold.'"[23] An Opinion article written at The Daily Revelle notes the problem of depicting Native Americans in this way: "Disney has always been there to teach proper morals"...from an early start, Americans are fed these ideas, and the topic is never properly taught to correct them"; they continued "If you’re teaching American history, put the time and effort into respectfully educating others on the extraordinary people that were here first."[24]

TOR argued the "cartoon war dance" and song goes even further than Barrie's play by "stat[ing] that the Indians are not just savages, but sexist savages, who force Wendy to go fetch firewood while the other boys have fun".[25] Wired said the "really awkward scene" features a "thoroughly appalling song, arguably more racist than anything in the notorious Song of the South".[26] The blog Racial Stereotyping notes "Not only does this video stereotype Native Americans but it also stereotypes women".[27] Banon's Roar wrote "Watching now its cringe inducing. Every line is some kind of gag about how their skin is red and they make weird noises. Compare it even to the Crows from Dumbo. They were timely caricatures as well, but their jokes were not aimed at humiliating themselves."[28] LeapToad said "If any other ethnic group were treated this way, this film would have quietly disappeared, much like Song of the South has."[29] Though listed the 1952 film version as the third best Peter Pan adaption, it recommend that viewers "forget that whole “What Made the Red Man Red?” part, for obvious reasons".[30] MouseTracksOnline said the song " veers precariously into politically incorrect territory"[31]


When the film has been syndicated on television, the native scene has often been removed.[28]

In the 1954 stage musical, the issue of including the controversial depiction of Native Americans was avoided altogether by casting a blonde actress named Sondra Lee to perform 'Ugg-a-Wugg', "a drum number of caricatured dance moves and lyrics of inarticulate babble".[17]

Because of the perceived racial insensitivity of the characters and this song in particular by the time the film Return to Neverland was released in theatres in 2002, The Indians were not featured as characters in that movie.[12]

During production of the 2015 Warner Bros. live-action film Pan, the film's developers made a deloberate choice to distance the character of Tiger Lily from Native American heritage and remimagine them as lacking any particular ethnicity, in order to "avoid the racial insensitivities of...Disney’s 1953 animated film, which infamously featured the song 'What Made the Red Man Red?'".[32][33]


  1. ^ "Diversity in Disney Films". 
  2. ^ "Straight On Till Morning: Peter Pan". Im With Geek. 
  3. ^ a b Wade Sampson (25 November 2009). "Injun Trouble: The Neverland Tribe". 
  4. ^ Sarah Laskow. "The Racist History of Peter Pan's Indian Tribe". Smithsonian. 
  5. ^ "Mistreatment of Native Americans". Retrieved 27 June 2015. 
  6. ^ "'"Adios, 'Ugg A Wugg': Native Composer Updates Song for NBC's 'Peter Pan Live!. Indian Country Today Media 
  7. ^ a b Hope Schreiber. "Peter Pan - The Most Racist Moments in Disney Cartoons - Complex". Complex. 
  8. ^ a b "Cartoons You Didn’t Know Were Racist". Retrieved 2015-07-01. 
  9. ^ "Disney's Frog Princess". 22 May 2007. 
  10. ^ "The best of Disney". 
  11. ^ "Althouse". 
  12. ^ a b "Your Favorite Childhood Disney Movies Are Really Racist". All Day. 
  13. ^ "Caught on Film: The Racist Ghosts of Disney’s Past". Divine Caroline. 
  14. ^ "Bustle". Retrieved 27 June 2015. 
  15. ^ "What fresh hell is this? ‘The Princess of North Sudan; more scary tale than fairy tale’". Media Diversified. 
  16. ^ "Great Indian Moments (1950's)--TCG". 
  17. ^ a b Alan Yuhas. "What's up, Tiger Lily? One Native American stereotype has certainly grown old". the Guardian. 
  18. ^ "BLOG: Picking On Peter Pan". 
  19. ^ David Martínez. "Disney's 'Peter Pan' (1953), directed by Clyde Geronimi, et al". 
  20. ^ "W&L's Markowitz Co-edits Book on American Indians in Movies". 
  21. ^ "The Narcicyst On Subtle Racism: The Porky Pig and Ali Baba 1940s Clip". NOISEY. 
  22. ^ Tatiana Siegel. "Hollywood on Alert: Actors' Ethnicities Under Scrutiny Amid Heightened Sensitivities". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  23. ^ "Native American stereotypes". tribunedigital-redeyechicago. 
  24. ^ "Opinion: Native American history education lacking". 
  25. ^ "Using Tinker Bell To Shake Magic Into Everything: Disney’s Peter Pan -". 
  26. ^ "A Father-Son Review of Peter Pan". GeekDad. 
  27. ^ "Racial Stereotyping In the Media". 
  28. ^ a b "Banon's Roar!: Peter Pan (1953)". 
  29. ^ "Alexander's Favorite Disney Movies". 
  30. ^ Sage Young. "Worst to Best: 'Peter Pan' Adaptations". 
  31. ^ "Mouse Tracks - The Story of Walt Disney Records - Blog Tracks - Blog Tracks". 
  32. ^ "Hollywood on Alert: Actors’ Ethnicities Under Scrutiny Amid Heightened Sensitivities". American Renaissance. 
  33. ^ "New Peter Pan Movie Being Protested for Color Blind Casting". 

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