A US academic has caused controversy online after labelling the Disney classic Mary Poppins racist.

Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner wrote a piece to the New York Times claiming the nanny Mary Poppins, played by Julie Andrews, "shamefully flirts with blackface" in the scene where she dances with Dick Van Dyke's Bert on the rooftop to the song Step in Time.

"When the magical nanny accompanies her young charges, Michael and Jane Banks, up their chimney, her face gets covered in soot, but instead of wiping it off, she gamely powders her nose and cheeks even blacker," the English and gender studies professor at Oregon's Linfield College writes.

via GIPHY

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"This might seem like an innocuous comic scene if Travers' novels didn't associate chimney sweeps' blackened faces with racial caricature. 'Don't touch me, you black heathen,' a housemaid screams in Mary Poppins Opens the Door.

"When the dark figures of the chimney sweeps Step in Time on a roof, a naval buffoon, Admiral Boom shouts, 'We're being attacked by Hottentots!' and orders his cannon to be fired at the 'cheeky devils.'

"We're in the on the joke, such as it is: These aren't really black Africans; they're grinning white dancers in blackface. It's a parody of black menace; it's even posted on a white nationalist website as evidence of the film's racial hierarchy."

The academic's opinion has been me with a mixture of agreement and denial.