Florida school bans Disney movie on civil rights activist because a parent didn't want her child to learn hatred

A Florida school banned a Disney movie about racial integration after one parent complained students should not see scenes of hatred toward a 6-year-old Black girl.

Earlier this month, the parent wouldn't allow her child to watch the 1998 Disney movie "Ruby Bridges," which tells the real-life story of a 6-year-old girl who was among the first Black students to attend Louisiana public schools in 1960.

Photos from the time showing white mobs hurling insults and threats at the girl have been studied in history lessons for decades, along with other examples of white communities protesting against Black students integrating schools across the South in the 1960s.

Today, Bridges, 68, is a civil rights activist, children's book author and speaker.

The Florida parent, Emily Conklin, contends the movie is inappropriate for second-grade students and wrote a formal complaint this month that racial slurs and scenes of white people threatening 6-year-old Ruby as she entered a school might teach white students to hate Black people, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Now, students at North Shore Elementary in St. Petersburg cannot watch the movie until further review, but students at other schools in the district can, the Times reported.

The movie is not rated, according to Disney's website. The studio says the movie is about how Bridges is "subjected to the true ugliness of racism for the very first time" when she integrates her New Orleans school. But "guided by the love of her mother and father, Ruby's heroic struggle for a better education becomes a lesson for us all," Disney says.

In the movie, Bridges is played by Chaz Monet and Penelope Ann Miller plays a white teacher who forms a strong relationship with the girl and helps her learn in the classroom despite the tension outside the school building.

SEVENS DAYS OF 1961: Meet the Americans who stood up to racism in 1961 and changed history

Who is Ruby Bridges?

Civil rights activist Ruby Bridges was the first Black student to attend her New Orleans elementary school at age 6 in 1960 following the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled U.S. students could not be separated by race.

At the time, Bridges had to be escorted through the front doors of the school building by federal law enforcement, who helped protect her from a mob of screaming white people who did not want Bridges or other Black students to attend school with white students.

U.S. Deputy Marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, in this November 1960, file photo.
U.S. Deputy Marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, in this November 1960, file photo.

In a 2020 interview with USA TODAY, Bridges said she first thought the angry crowd of people meant it was Mardi Gras, because that's where she was used to seeing big crowds of people in New Orleans.

The crowd threw items at Bridges, but she said the thing that frightened her most was seeing white people "march" around the school building holding a Black baby doll in a coffin above their heads.

Advocates for Black students push back

A coalition of groups who have long advocated on behalf of Black public school students in Florida's Pinellas County publicly spoke out against the elementary school's decision to ban the movie.

In a letter to the community, the president of the Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students questioned whether the decision to ban the movie serves students from different backgrounds "fairly and equitably," the Tampa Bay Times reported.

COQEBS president Ric Davis wrote that decision-makers in the district should "not overreact because one white person objected to something."

The Northside Elementary parent's complaint came after second grade students had watched the movie. In response to the mother's complaint, school officials said they would not show the movie again this school year, The Washington Post reported.

When the school district banned Toni Morrison's novel "The Bluest Eye" earlier this year, district officials cited state law and a rule telling them to “err on the side of caution” when considering including books in lessons, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The Times said this week that the district had not set a timetable for reviews of either the Morrison book or the Disney movie.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ruby Bridges Disney movie banned at Florida school