20 October 2008

Song of the South

Disney first released this picture in 1946, and there was some racial controversy about it even then. The NAACP acknowledged "the remarkable artistic merit" of the film, but decried the supposed "impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship" (even though the film was set after the American Civil War). It was shown on television in 1972 and in theatres in 1986. Other than that, Disney has never released it on home video in the USA because executives believe it might be construed as racially insensitive. It had previously been released on home video in England and Japan, but was withdrawn worldwide in 2001. Bootleg copies are widely circulated, and to their credit, the Disney Corporation has not brought legal action.

Based on the Uncle Remus cycle of stories by Joel Chandler Harris, it was Walt Disney's first live-action film, though it also contains major segments of animation. The live actors provide a sentimental framework, in which Uncle Remus relates the folk tales of the adventures of Br'er Rabbit and his friends. Maurice Rapf was asked by the Walt Disney Company to turn the stories into a shootable screenplay. One of the reasons Disney hired Rapf to was to temper what Disney feared would be a white Southern slant. Rapf was a minority, a Jew, and an outspoken left-winger, and he feared that the film would inevitably be Uncle Tomish. "That's exactly why I want you to work on it," Walt told him, "because I know that you don't think I should make the movie. You're against Uncle Tomism, and you're a radical." Rapf initially hesitated, but when he found out that most of the film would be live-action and that he could make extensive changes, he accepted the offer.


Unknown said...

Well, "... sweet potato pie and shut my mouth."
When my girls were little I read the Brer Rabbit stories to them. Our book was the one illustrated by Barry Moser and his watercolors are perfection. We laughed to tears over the Tar Baby story. Brer Rabbit may well have been their first anti-hero. (Now we share Daniel Craig as James Bond.) Thanks for the memory.
PS. Wasn't there similiar controversy with Dumbo?? Love that movie, too.

Erick Acuña said...

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CityKin said...

Well I definitely remember seeing the movie as a little kid on Sunday evening Disney show. I didn't get the context at all and I am not sure I liked it. I think I did, but something seemed off aobut it to me and my world.

I would definitely like to see it as an adult so I can make up my own mind.

Are you saying it is compltely inoffensive, slightly offensive or is it that we should be grown-up enough to accept a happy go lucky share-cropper singing songs and tellin tales to two scrubbed white children and not make such a big deal about it? When your kids see it does it prompt serious discussion about this country's racists past or is it just harmless children's stories?

Unknown said...

Are you asking me??--I don't remember Song of the South as well as Dumbo or some other movies. Wouldn't have been as captivating to the girls as say, The Little Mermaid or a big fav, Lady and the Tramp. When we have discussions now about America's past my hubby and I try to put events into context. They are aware of the history of slavery in the US and elsewhere in the world and the fact that it exists today with little effort to stop it. I think what is more important is to understand what allows an environment where slavery, racism, genocide to prosper so that an individual can see it when it starts to show itself. I'm not much in agreement with censorship and believe that humor and mores change quite rapidly. Movies from the late 50's and 60's are to me a view into that world, not an endorsement of it.

Mark Miller said...

I found the movie to be completely inoffensive. In fact, I can't find one iota of racisim in it.

The black guy is the hero and admired by even the old whites, and there's mutual respect shown both ways among all blacks and whites.

The little girl is far from "scrubbed"; she's from the white-trash family who sublets a shack on the plantation, just like the negro workers do. There's some classism on display in the movie, because the snooty family would rather see the little boy hang out with the black kid than the redneck chick. Even then it seems like the behavior of her juvenile delinquent brothers has as much to do with it as her economic status.

Throughout the movie it's only willfully breaking one's word that earns anyone any social penalties; never race.

That's probably why little kids seem to like it so much and adults feel so uncomfortable with it. The kids just see a "happy go lucky share-cropper singing songs and tellin tales" while we know from history that it was never like that.

Perhaps we should learn from our kids. If we quit seeing it as history and instead view it as a moral tale like an Aesop fable, maybe we could get past the color of the characters and just enjoy their colorfulness for its own sake.

Mark Miller said...

Mabuhay, I'm curious kung paano ka got dito. Aking asawa ng isang Filipina mula sa Naga City sa Bikol. Ay ka pamilya?

At ako ay masisiyahan sa iyong blog.