Ex-Disneyland performer says racism claims against characters are misinterpretation

Local family filed suit claiming discrimination

SAN DIEGO - A man who played a Disneyland character for a decade is questioning several claims of racism made against characters at the popular attraction.

Last week, 10News reported on two different claims, including one lawsuit filed by a Spring Valley family that claimed the White Rabbit character of "Alice in Wonderland" avoided touching four African-American children during a trip in August. 

"I just felt angry and I don't want to see another rabbit again," 9-year-old Elijah Black told 10News last week. 

The lawsuit alleges that Elijah, his 6-year-old brother Jason and two of their cousins were turned away when they tried to reach out to hold hands and hug the White Rabbit character at Disneyland, only to see the rabbit hugging and kissing an Asian and white child after they left.

"What hurts the most is seeing my kids in pain," said their mother, Annelia Black.

The Spring Valley family is one of two families now making claims of discrimination. On Dec. 10, Nastasia White of Reseda said her 5-year-old son Razzi was deliberately turned away by the Donald Duck character.  

Both families complained immediately the same day and both got offers for passes. The Blacks declined to sign a confidential settlement because they say Disneyland refused to reveal if the employee behind the costume still had a job.

The stories inspired a flood of calls and emails, including one from an ex-Disneyland performer only identified as "Tim," who for a decade beginning in the late 1980s became very familiar with Pluto. 

Because he signed a nondisclosure agreement when he was hired, he asked 10News not to reveal his identity.

Regarding the claims, he said, "I am in disbelief. I question the guests' interpretation and perception."

Tim says his peripheral vision was nonexistent. He peered through a cutout in the character's mouth and said motions for hugs can be missed. He says performers can also miss requests for hugs if made off to the side.

According to Tim, a performer's only requirement is to make a "memorable experience" for the child, which may mean actions like imitating the child instead of hugging.

"There's music being pumped in," he said. "The crowd is making noise. With the physical limitations, it can be sensory overload, especially for less experienced performers." 

Annelia Black does not buy those explanations. She says her children were standing almost directly in front of the rabbit, while the Asian girl who got the hug was off to the side.

She says the explanations do not add up. 

"I can see if it's one but he had too many children that braced him with love," she said. 

Tim says there are many reasons why a child may not be hugged or held such as if the child is holding a dripping ice cream cone or if the child has a runny nose. Those germs could later be touched by another child. 

He knows of one child so full of energy that he punched out the character's plastic eye.

Tim says there can be hundreds trying to get one performer slot and the screening process is thorough, including a panel of performers asking questions. 

He believes at least half of all the performers are minorities. He does not recall being asked specifically about diversity or his feelings on different backgrounds in the interview process.

Disney declined comment for this story.

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