First, io9 issued the breathless "Reminder: Rudyard Kipling was a racist f*** and the JUNGLE BOOK is Imperialist Garbage", written with the zeal and incompetence of a fourteen year old who just discovered Howard Zinn. I'm not really interested in arguing with this piece, other than to point out that any halfway decent point gestured at in the article was already made, in a more coherent and readable manner, by George Orwell, a man whose leftist bonafides and direct knowledge of the workings of imperialism are unimpeachable. At the very least, it is hilarious to read Bombast McGawker going into hysterics over "lesser breeds without the Law" as coded to represent the White Man's Burden over other continents, where Orwell points out that it was probably a dig at the Germans.
But let it not be said that Slate, with its delusions of grandeur evidenced by a paywall, is afraid to sally forth into the fray that Gawker Media has started with a mostly unmourned dead author in the public domain. "Not only was Kipling racist," Katy Waldman must argue, "but so was Walt Disney!" Which is probably true, but Waldman then picks the hill she wishes to die on.
But as far as pure and explicit racism goes, Kipling’s novel scores lower than Disney’s 1967 movie, which introduced a great ape called King Louie (after Louie Armstrong) who sang minstrel songs about his desire to get civilized.
I might have only been born in the mid-80s, but I do still remember a time when writers, before turning in an article, had to actually do some research. Waldman, who is apparently Slate's "words" correspondent, whatever that even means, has probably watched the 1967 animated Jungle Book at some point, but that appears to be where her knowledge and research ended.
Now, Disney and his studio certainly deserve criticism. But if you are going to attack Disney on racism, at least pick a time when he and the studio were intentionally racist. Because Waldman didn't bother to do any research.
King Louie in Disney's 1967 Jungle Book is voiced by Louis Prima. Louis Prima was an Italian-American band leader and singer who grew up in New Orleans. He is the one who sings "I Wanna Be Like You", which is not a minstrel song, but a swing/jazz song. Which is the type of music Louis Prima played.
A quick visit to Wikipedia's entry on The Jungle Book shows that Prima was suggested for the part early on. And the book the Wikipedia entry cites (accessible here) mentions that Prima brought down his entire band for his audition, and performed their regular Vegas act. Key point: "Some of the antics of Prima and his crew also found their way into the film".
So the 1967 King Louie was not meant to be a caricature of African-Americans. His image, attitude and mannerisms were inspired by the man who voiced him, a pop-culture icon, who was an Italian-American (!). If this can somehow be construed as racist, then the word has lost all meaning. Instead, this is an example of lazy research. A high school freshman writing an article on Disney's The Jungle Book using Wikipedia would have turned in a more accurate paper with better sources than Slate's own 'words" correspondent.
I e-mailed Ms. Waldman about this error yesterday, and the article has yet to be corrected. Slate, a site that posts clickbait about how Hamilton, a musical where the Founding Fathers engage in rap battles has *gasp* indulged in artistic license, apparently has lower standards for its own content than a Broadway rap musical. Why anyone would even pay for this elephant dung Slate calls journalism is beyond me.