Saving the Redhead: Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean
Updated: Apr 10
Pirates of the Caribbean auction scene (Photo by Heather Anne)
“We wants the redhead!” is one of the iconic lines from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland. The famous auction scene shows women being sold as “brides” by the pirates. Because the redhead is exceptionally beautiful, she is their most desired purchase.
This article is ©2017 Heather Anne at Heather Anne Art and Soul. All rights reserved. See my copyright notice here.
Anyone who has ridden Pirates of the Caribbean knows the auction scene well. A plus sized woman stands on the auction block as the auctioneer calls for bids. Waiting their turn are five sobbing women, bound to each other by a long rope around their waists. They are crying because they are about to be sold as slaves. A gun toting pirate is holding on to the end of their rope. A beautiful redhead in a crimson dress is the next woman to be sold. The drunken pirates chant “We wants the redhead!” as the auctioneer tries to sell the larger woman on the auction block first.
Disney fans are firing verbal cannonballs online in a fight that rivals the battle scene on the ride. Disney Facebook groups are blowing up. People have even started a petition to “Save the Redhead.”
This is the concept art released by Disney showing the changes to the scene. (Photo and art courtesy of Disneyland Resort)
The thing is… the redhead IS being saved! She is being saved from bondage and slavery. No more dirty pirates will be buying her like an animal or a piece of meat to be shared among them. She is being promoted from sex slave to autonomous human being. Let’s face it, pirates did not sell women to be "brides" and live happily ever after. They say, "WE wants the redhead," and in reality, they would likely all get a turn with her.
I understand why some Disney fans are upset that this scene would be altered. Walt Disney himself did have a hand in its creation. Some fans feel like too much of Walt is being taken out of the park. I disagree but that is another blog post. The park undergoes changes on a regular basis, and some fans don’t like it.
I wholeheartedly support this change for many reasons. I think it was long overdue.
In the past few days, I have read many arguments from Disney fans who are angry about the redhead becoming a pirate instead of a slave. I have chosen the five most common ones and here is my response to them.
1. “But what about history? Aren’t we erasing history by taking this out? You can’t change history!”
If they start erasing slavery and trafficking from actual history books, we will have a problem, but Disneyland is an amusement park. Pirates of the Caribbean and other Disney park attractions are not museum exhibitions. They are not the basis for history books or history classes. They are fantasy and nostalgia mixed with some accurate historical representations when it suits the story line. This is entirely appropriate for an amusement park. The goal and purpose of an immersive theme park attraction is to have a fantastical and nostalgic experience, not give a hard hitting history lesson.
I have taught my homeschooled children history lessons in the park using the attractions and the well done architecture, however, it is at an elementary school level that just scratches the surface. Selling women as sex slaves is not an appropriate addition to elementary school history and social studies.
Historical accuracy will hardly be compromised by upgrading the redhead from slave to autonomous human being. There are many accounts of female pirates. Mistress Ching in the Disney film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End bears a striking resemblance to real-life female pirate Cheng I Sao, also known as Zheng Shi, Ching Shih or Madam Ching, all names that mean widow of Cheng I. Interestingly, the historical female pirate Cheng I Sao had strict rules prohibiting the men on her crew from raping women. In fact, any pirate caught raping a woman under her leadership was sentenced to death. You can read more about Cheng I Sao in Women Pirates by Ulrike Klausmann or by reading the scholarly book Pirates of the South China Coast, 1790-1810 by Dian Murray, whose research was crucial in saving the legacy of Cheng I Sao.
Clearly, putting the redhead in a role of strong, empowered female pirate is historically accurate. The ride still highlights historical facts.
2. “Why are people upset about something that happened in the past? It just shows something that happened a long time ago. Women are no longer treated this way, so why be upset about it?”
Sexual slavery and human trafficking are at an all-time high NOW. It’s not something that only happened in history. It is happening all over the world today, even in the suburbs of the United States. There are countless videos and photographs of women and children being sold in auctions with ropes tied around their hands and waists in the exact manner that it happens on the ride.
Just recently, a global sex trafficking ring was discovered in the beautiful suburb of Irvine, just a short drive from Disneyland. Click here for the CBS Local article about it.
While guests see the redhead and the other women tied up in ropes on a Disney ride, real women and children are living this horror right in Disney's backyard.
Imagine a woman or child saved from that trauma visiting Disneyland to heal and having to watch their real-life hell played out on a ride.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, over 31,600 cases of human trafficking were reported to them in the United States in the past eight years. The hotline receives over 100 calls per day. This is not indicative of the entire trafficking problem in the U.S., it only shows those who were able to somehow escape so they could call for help. For more information click on the following link.
Below are some worldwide human trafficking statistics from the UNICEF organization.
21 million people are estimated to be victims of trafficking worldwide.
$32 billion dollars in profits are generated annually from human trafficking.
1,500,000 victims of trafficking are from North America (Canada and the U.S.)
5.5 million children are trafficked around the world.
Despite these staggering numbers, there were only 4,746 trafficking convictions worldwide in 2012.
140 countries have made trafficking a crime. Think about that. In some countries it is NOT a crime!
3. “Why don’t we just get rid of the whole ride then? A man is being tortured in the well and the ride is full of violence. Why is it okay to have the other violence and not the auction scene?”
Stylized fantasy violence with guns and cannons is not the same thing as the selling of human beings like animals. There is nothing more degrading to a human, nothing that strips them of their humanity more than being downgraded to the status of an animal and being sold like property… except one thing… being downgraded to the status of animal and then sold to be a sex slave. That is what the scene depicts. That is the reality.
This is a ride for children and families. Depictions of auctioning human beings with the subtext of sexual slavery and rape have no place in “fun” and “fantasy” geared towards children and families. Some topics just ought to be off limits in family entertainment, especially at a Disney park.
There is just no valid comparison between drunken pirates looting or dunking a man in a well and women being tied up to be sold to men for rape. Even if they are called “brides,” the pirates would forcibly consummate that “marriage.” Even if you take rape out of the equation, I still argue that women tied in ropes, under threat by a man with a gun, being sold like an animal crosses the line of decency for a fantasy child’s ride.
4. “Why change it now when it has been this way since 1967?”
The answer to this question is simple. Because now we know better.
In 1967, there was no internet. Average people did not know that human trafficking was a real phenomenon because it was not reported in the news. Trafficking and sex slavery happened in the 60’s, especially to poor women and immigrants, but poor women and immigrants were not generally the subject of concern or conversation back then.
I am frankly surprised by how many Disney fans still think this type of scene is “only something from the past” and don’t have any clue that women and children are bought and sold every single day around the world, even in the United States. It is as easy as turning on your phone to become educated about this matter. We no longer have any excuses.
Walt Disney smoked cigarettes and he died of lung cancer. Iconic images of him smoking cigarettes were the norm for many years, but now that is not an image the Disney company promotes. Why? Because now we know better.
5. “Isn’t this just a bunch of politically correct, Social Justice Warrior (a.k.a. SJW), liberals and feminists whining about PC stuff? Why are we giving in to political correctness? PC is ruining all of life!”
I have seen insults hurled about in every discussion I have read on this topic. The majority of them are about political correctness gone awry. The perception is that this scene is just being changed for the sake of political correctness. Some angry Disney fans feel that Disney is just bowing to political pressure, not changing the scene for artistic and creative integrity.
The truth is, this is not a political issue. Just as many liberals are angry at Disney for changing the ride as conservatives. Some of my most liberal, Trump hating, feminist, leftist friends are outraged that the auction scene is being changed and the redhead is going to become a pirate.
The battle here is over whether we should keep an iconic scene in a ride because it is something that Walt created and it is part of the history of the park, or we should update it to give a more empowering view of women. It is not a partisan issue.
I don’t discuss politics publicly. I tend to be in the middle on many issues, but if I would say I lean one way or other, I tend to lean conservative. I have been called "whiny liberal feminist" by people who don't like my opinion on this issue in Facebook discussions. People who truly know me would not consider me a liberal in any sense of the word. I am also against political correctness for the sake of political correctness. I do not agree with revising history books or destroying monuments because they offend people. However, I do support empowering the redhead. I support changing the imagery of women being auctioned like property. I am very much in support of this decision from Disney Imagineering to update this scene.
The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction is not a monument, not a history book and not a museum. It is a ride at an amusement park and Imagineering is updating it to empower women. Since when did empowering a woman become a bad thing, especially when it is indeed historically accurate?
The redhead is being saved. Disney is taking the redhead out of the role of victim and making her into a badass pirate. Female pirates have largely been ignored by history, so Disney has a chance to give a woman pirate a pivotal role in their iconic attraction, thereby showing young girls the image of a strong woman rather than a woman treated as an animal or property.
The redhead is not going anywhere. She is getting an upgrade. Her status has changed to fully autonomous human being.
Women, even fictional ones, being freed from slavery and bondage is cause for celebration in my opinion! For me, I want to SAVE THE REDHEAD by freeing her from slavery and I am so glad that is exactly what Disney is doing!
If you are interested in getting involved in the fight against human trafficking here is an article about organizations you can consider. http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/15/world/iyw-how-to-help-victims-of-human-trafficking/index.html
A cause that I have supported is Africa New Day. Their model is to educate the perpetrators so that the ones committing violence will becomes fighters against it and they have a phenomenal rate of success.
This article is ©2017 Heather Anne at Heather Anne Art and Soul. All rights reserved. See my copyright notice here.