When Disney launched its streaming service in November, there was a notable absence of its most controversial film, 1946's "Song of the South." The film hasn't been re-released in America since 1986 and was never appeared on home video in North America.
The film is a mix of live-action and animation and is best known for its Oscar-winning song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah."
"Song of the South" tells the story of a young white boy (Bobby Driscoll) on a Georgia plantation who is ignored by his parents so he spends his time with a joyous servant, Uncle Remus (James Baskett). Throughout the film, Remus entertains the boy with whimsical slave-era stories about Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear.
The stories were originally compiled by white Southern writer Joel Chandler Harris who has been criticized for profiting off the African-American folklore tradition.
The film's Disneyfied depiction of a plantation at some nebulous point in the late 1800s has been criticized for presenting "an idyllic, romanticized view of an American South that never was."
Here's a trailer from one of its re-releases.
Song of the South 1946 Trailer [digitally remastered] www.youtube.com
The days on the plantation located in 'the United States of Georgia' begin and end with unsupervised Blacks singing songs about their wonderful home as they march to and from the fields. … They provided no indication regarding the status of the Blacks on the plantation. Joel Chandler Harris set his stories in the post-slavery era, but Disney's version seems to take place during a surreal time when Blacks lived on slave quarters on a plantation, worked diligently for no visible reward and considered Atlanta a viable place for an old Black man to set out for.
While the film has only been available in the U.S. via bootlegs, Disney hasn't completely shied away from the film's characters altogether. The animated characters in the film, Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear are all prominently featured on the Disney ride Splash Mountain.
However, Uncle Remus is nowhere to be seen.
Disney has gotten around racist depictions in its older films such as "Dumbo," and "Peter Pan," on Disney+ by labeling them with an advisory: "This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions."
However, it believes that "Song of the South" is too troubling to be released on the platform.
"I've felt, for as long as I've been CEO, that Song of the South – even with a disclaimer – was just not appropriate in today's world," Disney's CEO Bob Iger said to a shareholders meeting on Wednesday.
"Given the depictions in some of those films, to bring them out today without some form or another, without offending people. So we've decided not to do that," Iger added.
Iger's decision will no doubt anger some who have have pushed for the film's inclusion on the streaming service. They claim that Disney's attempts to distance themselves from the film are an example of political correctness run amok and that they should be able to appreciate a "film of its time."
the Political Correctness Police will try and ban the ones they don't like i.e. Song of the South. The "liberals" have truly become the kill joys and Fun Police. #MAGA
— Uncle_ S.A.M. (@UncleSA87569527) May 14, 2019
Yet Disney movies with a truly good message like Song of The South will never be re-released bcuz of "political correctness".
— ❌PJ OBRIEN ❌ (@obrien9696) July 1, 2017
Hopefully the age of Political Correctness (PC) is OVER with the election of @POTUS Maybe Disney will finally release "Song of the South" !
— John Volk (@Gort778) April 22, 2017
But the argument that "Song of the South" was an innocent just a product of its era negates the fact that it was seen as racist even upon its original release.
The NAACP acknowledged "the remarkable artistic merit" of the film in 1946, but decried "the impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship." It also received scathing reviews from white film critics in The New York Times and New Yorker.
Film critic Karina Longworth claims both reviewers accused Disney of "wishing the Emancipation Proclamation had never existed."
Disney is right in keeping the film off its streaming service. Making it available, especially to children, would only work to legitimize the film's racism. But does that mean the film should disappear forever?
Longworth, the host of the "You Must Remember This" podcast, recently produced a riveting six-part series on the film and its troubling history. She thinks it should be available, but only so we can learn from its history.
"If I was running Disney, I would release it within the context of a documentary or something like that, basically saying all of the things I'm saying in this podcast season," Longworth told Rolling Stone.
"I don't think it should necessarily just be released on Blu-Ray or whatever," she continued. "I think you do need to make a historical statement while you're making it available."
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