Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South?

Written by Werner Weiss. Posted in Disney History, Disney Movies, Features, Werner Weiss

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Published on January 03, 2013 at 9:02 pm with 23 Comments

Werner Weiss discusses the 1946 Walt Disney movie that’s locked in the vault with Jim Korkis, author of the new book, Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South? The article begins with the ride that’s based on that movie.

Read the full YESTERLAND article HERE: Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South?.

 

When you are done reading, please leave your comments below.

About Werner Weiss

Werner is the curator of Yesterland.com, the ultimate collection of Disney theme park past attractions. You'll find his handiwork featured here every Friday.

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23 Comments

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  1. Wonderful article. It was a great read. Thanks for sharing.

    I’d just like to put my bread on the butter here. I saw Song of the South before, and I do believe it should be officially released by Disney. The public who hasn’t seen or even heard about it should at least know about the title with a DVD case sitting on a shelf in a store at the parks. Much more controversial media has been released to the public by Disney (Such as Der Fuher’s Face [One of my all time favorite war time cartoons, I'd just like to put that out there]), so I see little to no reason why Song of the South shouldn’t be released. Der Fuher’s Face was released with a short clip of a historian talking about the history of the cartoon and explaining things that some viewers might not know. Maybe Song of the South should be released with a bonus feature explaining the same thing, going into detail about why the film was made, the story behind Uncle Remus, and what not.

    As for me? Well, while many might not agree with me, the film was okay. Not really my cup of tea, but I wouldn’t mind watching it every once and a while. The animated sections were where things picked up and are the parts I like to look forward to,while the live action scenes sort of dragged on. Does that make the film bad? No. Does that mean I hate the film? No. Like I said, it’s okay, but at the same time I do believe a DVD should at least be released to the public. Splash Mountain was completed in 1989, and the year is 2013. That’s nearly a 24 year gap of when Song of the South should of been out.

    TL;DR – Disney should release Song of the South the public.

  2. They proudly display clips of the film at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco (a great place in a great city, by the way). Being as they are not directly affiliated with the Disney company, perhaps the people at the museum could put the film out, selling it only at the museum gift shop, obviously. The only way people would be able to buy the movie is if they bought it at the museum gift shop.

    • WDFM gets permission from the Disney Company to display their clips, etc.

  3. I can’t imagine why Disney would be so afraid of this film. It’s old enough now that it’s a historical work and not a reflection on the current company. They should absolutely release it with a short introduction by someone explaining the times and context in which the film must be viewed. But even at that, I don’t remember much from the film that could be considered offensive if you know about the time it takes place (and the time it was filmed).

    They don’t need to make this a big release, but they should make it possible for those who want the film to get a copy.

  4. I have seen Song of The South many times, here in Australia we were lucky enough for Disney to release it on VHS many years ago, it’s a film I enjoy despite the “controversy”. I really feel there is a dangerous move in USA DVD / Blu Ray releases at the moment, on one hand distributors are trying to do the “right” thing by not exploiting what can be seen as racist material, however, if we deny the past and pretend it never happened then we are in danger of repeating those mistakes. The Japanese don’t teach about the second world war in their public schools and what if South Africa stops teaching their history of racism? It is nothing but blatant denial and that is never good for a society, to improve and do away with racist attitudes kids need to understand the attitudes and circumstances that created these views and the horrors that were often associated with them.

    Bongo says: Der Fuher’s Face was released with a short clip of a historian talking about the history of the cartoon and explaining things that some viewers might not know. Maybe Song of the South should be released with a bonus feature explaining the same thing, going into detail about why the film was made, the story behind Uncle Remus, and what not.

    This is a very good idea.

    I am a high school Film and Television teacher, on occassion I show clips to students such as the unaltered version of the Pastoral Symphony from Fantasia, the Crows from Dumbo, the Asian stereotyping of the mushrooms in Fantasia or even the Indians in Peter Pan. We discuss the issues of stereotyping in film and the dangers of stereotyping becoming racist, why stereotyping is used in film and how these scenes are products of their time and society at the time. The kids are mature enough to understand and more than that they want to understand. While spending time in the USA I was taken to a historic house with a large plaque out front proclaiming a local hero had lived there who had made his fortune on the Ivory Coast, the local kids had no idea how most money was made on the Ivory Coast, is this really a healthy situation.

    I am not saying all material out there that can be considered or is racist should be released (some is blatantly dangerous) but some, like Song of The South which are a product of their time and obviously made with the best of intentions, should be out there just put into context and perhaps packaging that explains the “controversial” nature of the film so people can make an informed decision as to whether to purchase it or not.

    As far as I am concerned if Disney is willing to release, Dumbo and Peter Pan uncut or keep costume characters and rides in the park based on Song of The South then there is no need for Song of The South to be withheld on DVD or Bku Ray, there just needs to be a little maturity and forethought put into its distribution.

  5. Bottom line, current Disney management are cowards. Nothing magically happened after 1986 that turned this film evil. They have bowed to the few at the expense of the many. As a proud Native American I think all groups need to get over themselves.

    • Well of course they’re cowards. Just look at how they’ve let lawyers destroy many loved attractions at the Disney Parks. The Matterhorn, the People (Re)Mover, the Skyway…you might think this is OT and maybe it is, but in both cases Disney is trying to “save” people from themselves.

  6. If one can buy Will Rodger’s 1934 movie DVD of “Judge Priest” (Will is featured in American Adventure), than one should be able to buy a DVD of the tamer “Song of the South”. During the first year of America Sings, and some Jungle Cruise and Small World scenes caused complaints and brought changes in those 3 attractions. This made Splash Mountain designer’s wade softly when it was being designed and you won’t see a tar baby. The 1995 opening of Indianna Jones even had some issues with some people. I hope we are advanced enough now to release Song of the South.

    • And what about D.W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation, restored and released as a part of cinema history AND made into a dance film (Re-birth of A Nation) as well ! No one seems to have an issue with that film and it’s unabashedly a pro Klan film.

  7. I’m just sad of the poor quality that I’d get with the bootleg copy I’d have to purchase if I want to see it again.

    I hope they don’t have to put racial sensitivity videos in front of Disney’s Star Wars: The Phantom Menace due to all the controversial Jar Jar and Trade Federation racial stereotype scenes.

  8. I saw this in 1972 as a young child (6) and I remember it as a fun musical – as a child I didn’t see it as being “contriversal”, I also grew up watching Gone With the Wind and all the various Shirley Temple movies that also hit upon the same stereo types. It was part of History – History being in the past – not pretty, but we learn from the past and hopefully don’t make the same mistakes.

  9. Our family is African American. My father saw the film in 1946 and he took me to see it when I was a kid. He explained to me that the scenes in the film are a product of the time when it was made, and that there were many films made at that time which featured stereotypes of all races. Disney should just slap a disclaimer on it explaining the history of the film, and perhaps slap a PG or PG-13 rating on it.

  10. I haven’t seen the obvious solution that would solve the problem for animation fans – why can’t they just release the animated portions without the live action parts? I remember seeing the film and if I remember, the animated stories stand on their own and don’t have any racial overtones. Call it ‘Adventures of Brer Rabbit’. Splash Mountain doesn’t offend anyone, I don’t think the animated portions by themselves would either. Would Uncle Remus singing ‘Zip A Dee Doo Dah’ be offensive? I’ve seen it many times in Disney clips. I agree the live action parts are boring, I’d be satisfied with an edited version with just the animation, and it would be better than nothing.

    • Because then it’s not Song of The South and one of the parts they are worried about is the tar baby which is in the animated sequences

      • Even the tar baby sequence is NOT raciest. It was a trap set to catch the fox. Anything raciest attributed to it came after the film.

  11. I already knew about the ‘The Emperor’s New Groove” documentary, it’s called “The Sweatbox” and it’s named after the recording studio that the band Sting worked at, which had no air conditioner. It sounds really interesting, I think there is footage of it on Youtube, but I’m not sure.

  12. Watching the movie on Youtube right now. Luckily I’m watching it for the content and not the quality. It’s a shame that control of a film like this can be placed in the hands of a corporation for who knows how long. If a corporation can’t make money on something they can just stick it on a shelf forever. Ironic in a way since Walt himself took advantage of stories like Snow White, Pinocchio, and Cinderella whose tales were universally known, but at the same time were in the public domain.

  13. I have the movie on DVD. It’s such a soothing movie, we usually play it while falling asleep. The music is beautiful and the story is neat.
    We should feel lucky they even built Splash Mountain,being based on a banned movie.
    Maybe if we are lucky they will release it like out of the vault Disney Classic, 1 time release.
    Oh Well Still a GREAT movie! And Thanks for the GREAT read!

  14. Amazing, Disney is afraid to release a great movie, one that my kids have all watched many times, that is simply a reflection of how life was at the time. Folklore and fables have endured because we accept that, albeit stereotypical, we’ve accepted the simple fact that this is what life was like, and we’ve learned from it and moved on.
    What truly is amazing is that Disney is afraid to offend certain ethnic groups, yet they are about to release their version of The Lone Ranger, with Johnny Depp as Tonto?!
    I would love to have a digitally enhanced version of this film on dvd for my grandkids to enjoy. We’ve grown up and moved on Disney. maybe you should too.

    Mike

  15. It’s interesting to me that none of the comments on this page have supported The Walt Disney Company’s decision to keep Song of the South in the vault. There really are two sides to this issue.

    There are a number of different aspects of the film that people find objectionable. For one thing, Song of the South in not “simply a reflection of how life was at the time.” The film was intentionally made as a fantasy, but it takes place on a plantation with white owners and black workers. It’s not even clear that the story takes place after the Civil War and that the workers are no longer slaves. If the film had taken a little more care with its historical context and acknowledged the evils of slavery and the harsh realities of Reconstruction, that would have erased some of the objections.

    That said, I agree that the Disney Company should make the movie available to those who want to buy it. I don’t think it should be sold in brightly-colored packages on endcaps at Target and Walmart. But it would make sense to bring back the Walt Disney Treasures series for a two-disc set that not only includes the complete, unedited movie, but also commentary tracks and additional content such as the oral tradition of the African folklore that Joel Chandler Harris collected for his Uncle Remus stories, an accurate look at the historical context of the film, and an appreciation of the art of this movie.

    I’m sure Disney Company has considered such a approach. However, it could cost them a lot of money to do it well, so the potential profitability of the such an endeavor would be questionable. And Disney would still face the wrath of those who are fundamentally opposed to the very nature of the movie — sometimes from people who have never seen it, but are convinced that it’s an intentionally racist work, even though it wasn’t.