I’m going to be honest: we’re committing a cardinal sin of satire here. We haven’t actually seen the movie.
Here is where I would talk down the importance of the comic (“A comic on the internet took such a liberty? No!“), but I’m not going to, because let’s be honest it’s pretty great. Have you seen it? It’s probably the best thing online, or possibly ever made by man whatsoever.
The evidence is on the table, in all seriousness though, and Disney does seem guilty of some pretty poor historical revisionism.
P.L. Travers is one of the few Australian authors I think is truly comparable to writers such as Patricia Highsmith or Lord Byron, in that their personal lives are just as fascinating as (and recontextualise) what they wrote. She was openly bisexual in an era where that was particularly dangerous, she raised an adopted son as a single mother, she spent years living with the Native Americans, and studied Zen Buddhism in Kyoto. She was the 1920s equivalent of a theatre hippie, touring in Shakespeare plays and penning poetry. As well as Mary Poppins, she wrote erotica. Just have a read of the wikiquote page on her.
P.L. Travers would be a fantastic character to put on screen, and Emma Thompson would be a brilliant choice to play her. So, when they decided to make a movie with her as a main character, of course they decided to disregard the actual P.L. Travers and invent a boring fictional one instead. I could go on, but instead, go read that article I just linked to. Why should I type something when the same words already exist?
Now, the actual reason I didn’t want to talk down the comic earlier is because media and fiction are powerful weapons. Representation is important. When a studio decides to make a bisexual woman straight, remove her single-motherhood or ignore the non-western influences in her life and work, they are wilfully erasing the identities of bisexuals, women and (your milage may vary on this last one but you know what I mean) POC.
Hollywood is part of a big problem by making everyone as white, straight and male as possible; it’s just extra on-the-nose here because they altered a true story to accomplish that. The people who cry “it’s just a movie!” might be singing a different tune if a film rewrote a straight historical figure to be gay, I somehow suspect. Something I’ve learned as a white-man-aged-eighteen-to-thirty-five is that you don’t know what it’s like to not be represented in the media you watch. Like, 90% plus of everything we watch is about white men aged 18-35. You have to actually work hard initially to try and understand what not having your identity represented might feel like. It’s important to feel culturally represented, and it’s why I think so many people are quick to anger about “the PC-police” when we suggest having character that represents someone else for a change, even though they already have so many by comparison.
I was fully expecting Saving Mr. Banks to ignore the fact that Walt Disney didn’t hang around to see Travers when she arrived, and that he didn’t want her to attend to film premiere (fun fact: she gatecrashed it like a badass), and that he was kind of a sexist in general. Disney is unlikely to make a movie about Uncle Walt being a shit. But I wasn’t expecting them to also revise history to turn an erotically charged bisexual single mum poet into a stereotypical stuck up British wasp.
Because obviously, the latter needs far more representation in today’s media than anything the former has to offer.