AKA: Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti: Walt Disney and the Science of Exploitation
Year Released: 1996
Distributor: National Labor Committee
Running Time: 18 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Black Gold, The Lion’s Share, Mickey Mouse Monopoly, Fashion Factories Undercover, The True Cost, Behind the Swoosh
-This documentary is streaming in two parts on YouTube.
-The National Labor Committee was able to kickstart this documentary from a report called “How to Get Rich on 11 Cents an Hour” as a way to critique the fast fashion industry.
-Jean-Bertrand Aristde was briefly featured in this documentary. He was a former Catholic priest and politician who is against globalization and won the 1996 UNESCO prize for Human Rights Education.
I’m no stranger to criticizing Disney or even reviewing things that criticize that megalithic media corporation. I’ll give you a small recap of things that I’ve covered which call out or at the very least satirize the House of Mouse. The first that came to mind was the surreal guerilla film Escape From Tomorrow which was filmed in Disney World in secret and deconstructs so many things about the company and the brand’s culture. There was The Corporation which briefly calls out Disney among several other corporations. One of the more somewhat recent examples I reviewed involved an actual court case against Disney with last year’s The Lion’s Share. That documentary covered the infamous music plagiarism scandal involving the song “Mbube” by Solomon Linda which was ripped off to make “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. As one could guess, one of the main targets of said lawsuit involved The Lion King. Speaking of that film franchise, I’ve reviewed multiple examples from Osamu Tezuka’s Kimba the White Lion/Jungle Emperor Leo anime series and Petite Noir’s La Maison Noir: The Gift and The Curse long-form music video which were both plagiarized by Walt’s company in different ways to do things with their biggest animated movie from the 90s and it’s remake respectively. What I don’t understand is how so many Disney fans ignore or straight up forgive that company whenever they do malevolent things. Does their childhood mean more than others suffering? Is all of this corporate hellfire worth looking the other way from it? I decided to revisit a short documentary that covers a certain aspect of their massive merchandising empire.
Get uncomfortable. Get REALLY uncomfortable.
Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti is an expose of sorts that takes place in that aforementioned Caribbean island. Several companies have set up sweatshops in that nation to exploit the labor very cheaply. While most of these companies have grossly underpaid these employees and mistreat the Haitians, Disney paid them even less and never gave them the time of day to live or even breathe. Various workers who were incognito were interviewed by the producers while at the same time getting information about how much their wares were being sold in America. How can these workers survive with ravaging poverty and abuse from The Happiest Place on Earth.
This documentary further proves me right that black people don’t belong in Disney’s circle of life. Seeing these abject slums and horrific working conditions that even most alleged third-world nations would find deplorable made me sick. I couldn’t stand seeing all of this abuse going on and how scared the workers were for standing up for themselves lest they get fired or worse. These employees are interviewed either with their faces away from the cameras and one woman wears a mask while spilling her guts about her experiences working. The scene where one of the interviewers and an interpreter talks about the American prices at the time about the Disney clothes was enraging. When the interpreter translates the prices in French, the group of workers were screaming and laughing. It wasn’t funny ha ha kind of laughter, this is the kind of laughter you make when you’re so angry that you want to hurt someone and don’t want to get an assault charge. This reminded me of an opening scene of Black Gold which I also reviewed where the Ethiopians were stunned about how much coffee costs in America and Europe except the outrage was handled differently. This is predatory capitalism on display there. Also, I did find it intriguing that there were two examples of clothing with Simba shown in the documentary in addition to Esmeralda pajamas. The level of irony is so strong and hopefully I shouldn’t have to explain why. Another highlight was the opening interview piece where people around New York City are actually talking critical of Mickey Mouse’s domain. One person even calls the Walt Disney Corporation “Mouse-a-witz”. You know, like an amalgamation of [Mickey] Mouse and Auschwitz? That was so biting, it’s not even funny. The most brutal sense of irony was the ending where the scenes of destitution and slums are around. Want to know what song is playing? “Heigh-Ho” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Think about that for a second! You won’t be looking at the song the same way after seeing the Haitians suffer under these conditions.
Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti is a gritty watch, but there were issues just around the river bend of sorrow. The most glaringly obvious aspect was how dated the documentary was. Not just because of the 90s filming or fashion, but there were dated facts with the economy at the time and when they mention that Michael Eisner was the CEO (the current one is Bob Iger for those scoring at home). I understand that they couldn’t get the footage directly from the Disney sweatshops, but some footage from them could’ve been nice if they were allowed. The anti-sweatshop message is something I agree with, but they got really preachy at the end with possible solutions. Obviously, nothing has changed. Even if it’s not Haiti, the companies are going to other nations like Bangladesh, Jordan, El Salvador, or Sri Lanka just to name a few. The biggest issue with me was the implied white savior complex of the whole thing. The interpreters who were Haitian weren’t seen and it was mainly the white interviewers and filmmakers on full display most of the time. While not as bad as let’s say OT: Our Town, that did rub me the wrong way with how it was set up.
This documentary was certainly an eye opener, but it could’ve been much stronger in hindsight. Seeing the struggling sweatshop workers and what they couldn’t afford was quite heartbreaking. I’m glad there were those that called out Disney for their misdeeds even in one of their most profitable decades in that company’s history since that was made during their Renaissance Era. However, there were aged elements and I thought it got preachy even though I agreed with the message. Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti was a good watch and I do think people should do their homework on companies they support. Disney isn’t as innocent of a business as sadly many people expect.
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1-2 points if you like social and ethical documentaries.
Subtract 1-2 points if you are a hardcore Disney fan.
-Brutal display of Disney’s mistreatment
-The employees are very sympathetic
-Attempts to offer solutions
-Aged cinematography and references
-Gets harsher in hindsight with the continuation of sweatshops in general
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warning: Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti is certainly darker than all of Disney’s movies. There’s a cruel reality of sweatshops, the wage slave labor, and rampant poverty going on. Definitely older children and up for this documentary.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti is property of the National Labor Committee. The screenshots are from YouTube and are property of the National Labor Committee.