Disney Ride Still Makes Light of Sex Slavery

As many as 4 million people–most of them women and children–are sold into slavery globally each year, according to the United Nations, and 70 percent of those women are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation [PDF]. An estimated 200,000 American children are at risk for sex trafficking each year, and the International Human Rights Law Institute estimates that 30,000 sexual slaves die annually from abuse, torture, neglect and disease.

So why is Disneyland still asking us to laugh at an overt depiction of sexual slavery in its popular Pirates of the Caribbean ride?

Many of us have floated past the scene of a pirate captain selling captured women as “brides,” with the banner “Auction: Take a Wench as a Bride.” Viewer focus is drawn to a rotund woman on the auction block, an object of open derision due to her weight, as well as to a red-haired woman with her breasts on display, an object of hoots and hollers from surrounding drunken pirates.

These two women are linked to four other women-for-sale by ropes cinched around their waists. One of the captives–a teenager–cries profusely into a handkerchief while an older woman tries to comfort her. This disturbing scene of women being sold into sexual slavery is supposed to be amusing.

What makes this all the more alarming is that the Disney folks altered the ride to be less sexist during a major renovation in 2007. It originally included a scene with male pirates chasing unwilling (but giggling) townswomen and another in which an overweight male pirate, exhausted from his pursuit of a teenage girl, holds a piece of her dress and says, “It’s sore I be to hoist me colors upon the likes of that shy little wench” and, “Keep a weather eye open, Mateys. I be willing to share, I be” (an implied gang-rape invitation?).

The pirates-ravaging-wenches aspect of the Pirates attraction was planned from its inception in the late 1960s. Several sketches from illustrator Marc Davis conveyed the rapacious spirit of the scenes:

And they included the notion that women might even enjoy being sold into sexual slavery:

So why didn’t Disney get rid of the sexual slave auction when it had the chance? What arguments were put forth by corporate executives to justify showing these images to as many as 40,000 visitors a day, many of them children, with jovial music playing in the background? (Note: Pirates was the last exhibit Walt Disney oversaw before his death. The auction scene is the only one he saw fully animated, and the only scene that has never been altered.)

Disney has unparalleled power to shape young hearts and minds. If the Pirates of the Caribbean ride normalizes sexual slavery with humor, it can desensitize viewers to this heinous and very real gendered crime.

When will Disney learn that sexual slavery is no laughing matter? Contact the company to let them know what you think.

Special thanks to C. Martin Croker for his insightful research on the ride and to Theme Park Adventure magazine for images and history on the ride.

Comments

  1. I grew up in Orange County and visited the park frequently. 'Pirates' was always one of my favorite rides and I think that had something to do with the fact that it always seemed quite out of sync with everything else. It is not at all sanitized and about as close as Disney is going to get to being historically accurate. I never thought the scene in question was supposed to be funny. Quite the contrary, I found it very disturbing and sympathetic toward the women portrayed, especially the crying teenager. The scene that they cut WAS offensive. It showed pirates chasing women and one overweight woman chasing a pirate (see, she's fat so she's desperate, ha ha!).

    Maybe I was advanced for my age or just well educated by my feminist mum, but I was always able to see some things as anachronisms and still enjoy the ride. Parental guidance suggested?

    • The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is not even remotely historically accurate. Marc Davis focused on the "more humorous and lighter side of Pirate life" (Croker link in post) because the typical pirate life was not all that exciting. If the ride were historically accurate, it would not feature a sea battle or advanced sword play. It would include pirates being hung or half-crazed from venereal diseases, and female pirates would have been a part of the ride. Pirates rape exploits included both men and women, and pirate auctions included both male and female slaves. The "bride" auction, featuring a slave who enjoys being sold, appears to be a Disneyland creation.

      In other words, Disneyland Imagineers spent a great deal of time and money creating a "lighter," historically inaccurate depiction that both erased women as actors/pirates, and included women in grossly exploitive ways. It's a shame that THE best ride at Disneyland is, at times, such an affront to those concerned about human rights.

  2. A.L. Noble says:

    I agree with Julia. And actually I think Disney corporate promoted women as people who could and would save themselves (as well as others) in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

  3. It's historically accurate. It's not like it didn't happen. And they don't just make light of "raping" part of a pirate's life, but the whole darn thing. Listen to the song, there is plunder and pillage and don't give a hoot. There is also a man being tortured/drowned for information on the ride. His wife is shot at for supporting him.

    I think they "Disneyfied" all the aspects of the pirate's life for the sake of the ride. That is, tried to put a little humor into what is really a dreadful situation.

  4. MaryBeth Adkison says:

    I contacted them. This is horrible, thank you for writing about it!

  5. I really don't think it's that big of a deal. I've been to Disney twice in my life, once when I was six and once when I was ten. I don't even remember seeing this part of the ride, so chances are it's not leaving a huge impression on kids. It is more "historically accurate," I suppose, depending on the version of history they're trying to present. As a history major, I know that the life of pirates was really not all that exciting- disease, drowning, and all sorts of other nasty events were far more common than the romanticized version presented. As Disney is an entertainment-based theme park, I'm more inclined to think that they're going for the romanticized side of the pirate's life, and loose women and (I'm sure) sexual slavery were a part of that.

    Now, if they were TRYING to offend people, sure, I could understand the fact that people are annoyed and insulted. But it's a fanciful story exhibit. Many pirate tales you read are going to include the presence and mistreatment/exploitation of women. Should we, then, protest against these stories too? Disney is not at all advocating sexual slavery or misogyny. Personally, I enjoy that it's not politically correct. There's a difference between a fictional story and what the company believes to be okay in the real world.

  6. Though this subject may be historically accurate, it is inappropriate as a Disney ride, and it is definitely inappropriate to present the material in a manner that seems to condone the practice. I'm wondering why more people fail to protest the ride and the practice.

  7. nice insightful comment Julia.

  8. I agree with Julia. The pirates are murdering, stealing, and sex trafficking. I always saw it as a bad thing, unlike the more offensive scene they cut out. I think its supposed to show how bad the pirates are, and it does that.

  9. I always thought that the whole point of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was to show how evil pirates get their comeuppance. They travel the high seas doing dasterdly deeds and as a result are cursed for all eternity. From that view point the auction makes perfect sense.

    • Awesome, & “open-minded”comment, Liv!
      If someone doesn’t like the ride, or another attraction, for that matter, they don’t have to go on it, or, for that matter, any of the parks!
      It is “censorship of art”! These attractions are, indeed, works of art! Take them as they were intended, or go to Six Flags!
      Would you have them change a roller coaster, because you don’t like the one’s with “loops”?
      It is out of sheer arrogance, that anyone should think, or try to change any part of any of the Disney parks, or films!
      I, for one, was appalled, when Disney changed lyrics in the “Arabian Nights” song, which opens their film, “Aladdin”, supposedly so they would not offend any “Middle Eastern” folk!
      The lyric “Where they cut off your nose, if they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but, hey! It’s home!” were perfectly descriptive of “Agrabah”, a “fictional place”!
      (The lyric was changed, to, “Where it’s flat, & immense, & the heat is intense. It’s barbaric, but, hey! It’s home!”)
      Would you all have been happier, if they had added one male pirate chasing another male, to the “chase scene”? I would have, as it would have lent a little more authenticity to pirate behavior, rather than to insist that “gluttony” was a common pirate trait! (We all know how there were so many obese pirates out there!)
      I am against censorship, in any form! Whether for an attempt at humor, or art, or a most beloved attraction at an amusement park!
      If you don’t like the ride, sit it out, or shop, while the “open-minded, fun-loving” members of your party, go on, & enjoy themselves! (Stop being a “wet blanket”!)
      Even the great George Carlin said that “There is humor in everything. Even rape!” (BTW… I do not agree with “rape”! It is an horrible act of violence, for which any legitimately convicted perp should be most severely punished, to the fullest extent of the law!) However… He goes on to say, “Imagine Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd!” (I still laugh, as did the entire audience! Listen! You will find it on YouTube!)
      BTW… If you want the ride to be “politically correct”, you will have to shut it down, permanently!
      (Since when is piracy, itself, “politically correct”?)
      Thank you!

  10. bigmama2x says:

    Where's the rotund woman on the auction block?

    I remember liking this exhibit on my first visit at seven, but when I saw it again at twelve I was shocked and disgusted. I'd be happy to see this ride gone or totally changed.

  11. Several of these comments claim that Pirates of the Caribbean ride is historically accurate. It's not even close to being remotely historically, now was that the intention. Imagineer Marc Davis focused on the "more humorous and lighter side of Pirate life" (Croker link in post) because the typical pirate life was not all that exciting. If the ride were historically accurate, it would not feature a sea battle or advanced sword play. It would include pirates being hung or half-crazed from venereal diseases, and female pirates would have been a part of the ride. Pirates rape exploits included both men and women, and pirate auctions included both male and female slaves. The "bride" auction, featuring a slave who enjoys being sold, appears to be a Disneyland creation.

    In other words, Disneyland Imagineers spent a great deal of time and money creating a "lighter," historically inaccurate depiction that both erased women as actors/pirates, and included women in grossly exploitive ways. It's a shame that THE best ride at Disneyland is, at times, such an affront to those concerned about human rights.

  12. A realization just hit me (then I promise to stop posting comments to my own blog). In response to the "but this is history" argument, imagine that Splash Mountain, a Disneyland ride set in the pre-antebellum South, featured an African American slave auction with jovial music in the background and at least one slave who appeared to enjoy being sold. We would be horrified, "history" or not.

  13. I agree with Debra.
    But Pirates of the Carrabbean is not the only movie made for kids that is not child appropriate. Among the Disney Princesses, the Aladin movie too. Yet, we see children being allowed to see such things. Its sad that there things haven’t been protested against. Disney was always out to corrupt the minds of children.

  14. Patti Mulligan says:

    The Contact Us link is not working, but I found another one that is. https://disneyland.disney.go.com/contact/

  15. I agree with Caroline. We live in such a misogynist society. It's somehow ok to show women being sold into slavery. (and of course some are happy about it!) But we cannot show blacks being sold into slavery at a Disney ride. Sexual slavery is definitely alive and well- it is no laughing matter.

  16. That's supposed to be wholesome family entertainment? I'm appalled.

  17. I think it would have been entirely possible to "Disney" up a Pirate's life *without* the allusions to rape and slavery. This ride needs a serious revamp. I never got the impression that Captain Jack Sparrow (or even old Captain Hook) was a rapist…. I'm sure one could focus on the drinking and the debauchery with clearly consenting pier wenches or even femme pirates. Then again…drinking, theft, debauchery…maybe pirates just don't make good fiction for kids after all :P

    As it stands, it's about on par with putting up an "Old South" exhibit with "little Sambo" children (the ones with the big round heads and the over-done large pink lips) for sale.

  18. Experiencing this attraction as a child never convinced me that sexual slavery was ok. You just don't think about those things as a child. This country has become so overly "PC" that even harmless attractions at Disneyland have caused people to speculate the wholesomeness of the largest family oriented company in the world. I say lighten up people.

  19. I've emailed disney about this but their reply doesn't inspire much hope of change.

    Thank you for taking the time to write regarding our Pirates of the
    Caribbean attraction. We regret that you find elements of the attraction
    objectionable. Disneyland has a rich history of storytelling and this
    vignette is one of several that tell the story of a “pirate’s life”
    many, many years ago. While our goal is to offer a wide variety of
    entertainment offerings, it is never our intent to offend our guests,
    and we apologize that this attraction has offended you. We would like
    to clarify that the scene referred to in the Ms. Magazine article was
    modified in 1997 rather than 2007 as stated.

    As we are continuously evaluating our operations, your comments are
    invaluable and will be shared with Disneyland Resort leadership.

    Please know that The Walt Disney Company is committed to conducting
    business in an ethical and responsible manner, and we respect and
    support international principles aimed at protecting and promoting human
    rights.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to write.

    Sincerely,

    Donna Peverley
    DISNEYLAND® Resort
    Guest Communications

  20. Growing up in California, I've been to Disneyland multiple times, from elementary school to my last year of high school in 2005 (after they changed the ride to be more Johnny-Depp-centric). Oddly enough, I never get the impression that anything in the ride was for laughs— more for thrills. The first drop was exhilarating, the skeleton with the treasure was frightening and creepy (and a lesson– what good does gold do you when you're dead?), and the ship fight was, I thought, between two bad pirate ships– not Pirates and the British Navy. Then, I saw torture (the man being dipped in the well) (scary!), slavery (scary!), drunken sailors shooting into the air (dangerous!) and finally, the pirates rotting away behind bars– but they were only a few of many (the threat still exists! Be careful where you sail!). I don't think I saw an attractive pirate on the ride, and I certainly did not want to be one– or a wench (or, rather, I thought the redhead was pretty but didn't want to be in that situation and didn't see why she wasn't absolutely miserable given her ugly and violent prospects).

    I think it would be fair to title this article, "Disney ride still includes sex slavery." But until Disney came out with the Pirates of the Caribbean Movie, I didn't think that Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean Ride was trying to glamorize pirating, alcoholism and sex trafficking anymore than the Haunted Mansion ride was trying to glamorize being a ghost.

    I'd love to hear responses about how other people digested the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride when they were young, and whether your experiences were different from mine.

  21. Foamy Darkale says:

    Where to begin in this mess I have to wonder. I remember going to Disney world as a kid and honestly I remember seeing some of this and there’s afew things you have to remember. #1 Slavery existed! its’ not right or moral but to erase that these things happened does no one a great service. You also erase all those that fought against it as well as those that let it continue. Sex slavery is still alive and just as wrong today as then. If the ride wanted to be more accurate then they would make it african american women rather then those of european decent. There where whites or what ever you want to call them sold as slaves right before the american revolution by muslim corsairs. Many of the slaves that were sent here during that time were sent here because of the many wars going on in africa. Africa has 80 small little countries within it so many border wars happen there to this very day.

    Pirates of any era are into making coin as fast as they can by any means possible, This includes prostitutes which was more prevalent in the town of jamaica then most of you would like to realize. I would suggest that anyone offended by things that pirates might do please walk up to the nearest pirate and give him a good piece of your mind.Last I looked that was parts of africa and far south america so you’d better hurry if you want to make it soon. Personally should that actually happen I’d be interested in watching what their response is.

    I would like to point out that while there were (maybe still are) female pirates out there, there are far far more names then just grace o’mally, anne bonnet and mary read. please go look them up as they overcame real obstacles far greater then somebody or a ride that offended them.

    At this point I would like to say that if something out there is something you don’t want your children to see, That is the time for you to be a parent and perhaps explain to your kids why you think something is wrong. History happened and erasing it or changing it because YOU find it offensive is wrong to everyone. Talk to your kids and tell the truth even if its’ something you don’t agree with. At least that way you’ll be a parent and not keeping them ignorant.

    I find rape, torture and killing wrong as most of you do, I find it interesting that people forget that most of the times Disney portrayed pirates they cast them as villains up till the Johnny Depp movies. Hollywood has a vast history of spinning a good yarn to tell a story and damning accuracy.

    well all i can say further on this subject is it might be better to strive for equality instead of punishing anything that has a penis because of your own personal hang ups and emotional baggage.

  22. Waaah!

  23. Lighten up! It is just a ride, so what if it makes a serious situation light hearted and funny. I would hate to live in your feminist world full of doom and gloom all the time!

  24. Abigail W says:

    Well, I don’t think we should be worried about the kids, as long as we don’t reveal this information to them. I am 13 years old and it wasn’t until now that I knew what that scene was about. See? Kids don’t know what it is. Based on my limited history knowledge, I just assumed that it was a sale on women but I wouldn’t even guess it was sexual slavery. Young children are innocent, so how would they know whether or why it was offensive or not? And where did Disney say it was a “laughing matter”? Coming from a child’s point of view, for I went to Disneyland quite often as a small child (and rode the Caribbean ride practically every time), despite the smiling faces and peppy music, I did not find it humourous but not offensive either. Maybe some of you people should think in a different way rather than sticking to the conclusion that Disney thinks this is a “laughing matter”, because in no way did they say that and I certainly doubt Disney means that in that way. And to the person who said it was inaccurate, it’s a child’s ride for God’s sake. You think Disney wants to scare the poor kids? I knew when I was a little kid I became emotionally frightened when I saw the slightest scary thing in a ride.

  25. This ride is by far my favorite ride at disneyland and has been since the first time i rode it 13 years ago. quite honestly there is way too much time put into this. Its just a ride!seriously! i am almost 20 and not once did it ever cross my mind that “oh this is displaying sex slavery and this is offensive”. Clearly disney never intended to deliberately offend people. And all this is doing is sucking the fun out of the ride. All they wanted was for the guests to sit back go back in time and see the life of a pirate that obviously is more humorous and light hearted than it really was. people just need to lighten up and take a chill pill. they will most likely never change the ride just because a few people are complaining over a certain part that isnt even a big deal in the first place. Disney will never be able to please everyone people will always have something to complain about. And if you dont like it then dont ride it! Dont complain about it and ruin it for everyone else who enjoys the ride…simple as that.
    Thank you for your time :)

  26. Even when I was young and probably didn’t know much of slavery, I’ve never been a fan of that part of the ride and now I’m told WHY. Sexual Slavery? In Disney? I wonder if there’s a “racist” ride that’s refused to change, too. Haven’t been to Disney in a long time, so my memory fails me.

    But, I understand how the ride may be more of a “history lesson” than a decent thrill ride that you’d expect at a theme park. History is offensive, ignorance is bliss, but you need to be aware of history to be wary and preventative of its future implications.

    If Disney really cares about being “historically accurate,” and not being offensive, than the least, they should be providing Informational Pamphlets about all the ‘wrongs’ of the “pirate life” and the era it took place in, while CLEARLY marking what’s wrong. Unless, Disney doesn’t even have the dignity to take some of the responsibility of the sexist attitudes that get passed on so easily in society.

  27. Excellent commentary and analysis of the violent sexism of a beloved but morally questionable (to put it mildly) Disney attraction. No question that the “Take A Wench for a Bride” scene is offensive because it makes light of human trafficking. It is supposed to be humorous in that the pirates do not want the weeping women in line and are all shouting “Give us the redhead!” and “We want the redhead!” Based on her gaudy style of dress and make-up and her coquettish manner, I believe we are supposed to conclude that the redhead is a prostitute.

    There are numerous aspects to Pirates of the Caribbean that are deeply offensive. The entire ride makes light out of buccaneers laying seige to a town, brutalizing its inhabitants and then burning the whole place to the ground.

  28. I think everyone on here needs to find another hobby.
    Seriously. If anyone goes on that ride, and thinks that Disney is portraying human trafficing to be o.k., then I think they need to have their heads examined. Stop trying to make the entire world a generic don’t offend anyone or do anything that someone might find offensive place to live. For crying out loud.
    People need to relax, before their heads burst. This ride IS fun, and it DOES make light of a PIRATES life. Oh, by the way…… the kind of pirates portrayed don’t exist anymore. I can’t wait to hear what you people think about the Haunted Mansion, or how about how cultures are portrayed in It’s a Small World. LIGHTEN UP PEOPLE. LIGHTEN UP!

  29. You know what would be interesting? If we stopped obsessing over ridiculous things like amusement park rides and focused on the real issues of sex slavery. If you want to be up in arms or target Disney over this, maybe you should take a trip to your nearest strip club and look reality in the face. Disney is a devil in itself, but it’s wrong to become so caught up in demonizing a large corporation and thinking you’re actually helping the women who are suffering from trafficking. If you want to boycott something worthwhile, try the SuperBowl. It’s one of the largest continued recruiting/selling grounds for sex slaves but no ones seems to get all hot and bothered enough to protest such a beloved pastime of the general populace.

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