A new documentary on Walt Disney has once again raised questions of the cartoonist’s alleged anti-Semitism, allegations the film’s team called “absolutely preposterous.”
“It’s not based on any truth, so we saw no reason to bring it up in the film,” said Sarah Colt, director of PBS’s four-hour Disney bio-pic “American Experience.”
Rumors of Disney’s supposed anti-Semitism have dogged the Walt Disney Company for decades, the strongest argument for the case being the entrepreneur’s thin relationship with Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl.
Richard Sherman, a famed Disney composer who sat on a Television Critics Association panel Sunday to do press for the documentary, added that it was “absolutely preposterous to call him anti-Semitic.” Sherman said Walt treated him and brother Robert “like sons.” The Sherman brothers were the children of Jewish immigrants.
It has also been pointed out in countless articles discussing the matter that Walt contributed to several Jewish organizations—the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, Yeshiva College, Jewish Home for the Aged, and the American League for a Free Palestine among them—and in 1955 was named B’nai B’rith Beverly Hills’ Man of the Year. He was similarly honored by Hadassah in 1958.
“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,” said Neal Gabler, author of “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” and “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” at the panel.
“I saw no evidence [in my research], other than casual anti-Semitism that virtually every gentile at that time would have, that Walt Disney was an anti-Semite,” he said, surmising the rumors could have been the work of Disney’s political opponents.
“People think they know him but in reality they don’t know him,” Colt added. “He was a human being with many layers of complexity.”
“American Experience” will air on PBS September 14 and 15.