Disney's Failed Stunt To Put The "First Female" On Money
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, in theaters now, is being hailed as a milestone in representation. And as with every time Disney gets people hailing their films as milestones, some people remain skeptical. "Disney's trying to make their Disney fare look more important than it really is," some say, "because they're Disney, and Disney wants money!"
We'll let you argue among yourselves over how true that is, but if you're looking for an example of it, few are better than that time in 1990, when Disney wanted to put Minnie Mouse on the five dollar bill. Well, not the five dollar bill—they were putting her on the five dollar Disney bill, the one you can only spend at Disney parks and stores. A press release would, as the Sun Sentinel later put it, call Minnie the "first female portrayed on North American currency."
This was a product—"corporate scrip," says Wikipedia helpfully—that literally had the words "Disney Dollars" written on it in giant letters, laying bare the company's motives. And if this really were the first female image on a currency note, that probably wouldn't be a real feminist triumph, since Minnie isn't real, and neither is the money, and also she's a cartoon mouse. But at the last moment, Disney thought to check their facts. Would Minnie really be the first?
No, said the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The United States had previously put an actual woman on an actual bill: Martha Washington in 1891. Whoops, said Disney. They now proclaimed Minnie the second female portrayed on North American currency.
But that also wasn't true. If we're counting fictional women now, the US had put Lady Liberty, Lady Justice, and the figure of Columbia on bills before. And it turns out that even Martha Washington wasn't the first real woman whose face went on a bill. Pocahontas appeared on a twenty dollar bill all the way back in 1863.
Disney, of course, would later make a Pocahontas film. In 1995, they could have put their cartoon Pocahontas on a Disney Dollar and said "Pocahontas is the first woman portrayed on North American currency" ... and this time, technically, they would have been telling the truth.
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Top image: monmitc_79/Ebay