Is Disney Making a Mistake by Keeping ‘Song of the South’ in the Vault?

Song of the South

Disney would rather you forget about Song of the South, the Academy Award winning live action/animated feature from 1946 about a black man in the South during reconstruction named Uncle Remus who tells some annoying-ass white kids about Br’er Rabbit and how good slaves had it before Lincoln went poking his nose where it didn’t belong. Okay, not exactly, but it’s pretty close.

Disney really wants to forget this movie exists, though, and Bob Iger, who I thought had retired, reaffirmed the other day that Song of the South would be staying in the Disney Vault and would never come to Disney+. Which probably would have been easier had they not used the song ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ in a massive, extremely famous ad campaign for their parks. They also built a theme park ride, Splash Mountain, themed to the film, and that’s become famous as the ride ladies take their boobs out on.

Now, I’ve seen Song of the South, I had a VHS made from a Japanese LaserDisc in the 90s. It’s not a particularly good movie. The Academy Award it won was for the song ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ and not for the story, though Uncle Remus actor James Baskett was given an honorary Oscar a few years later. And while Baskett’s performance is certainly good, the live-action segments that make up the bulk of the movie are pretty uninspired, and you’ll just wish they had cut them way down to just be simple wrap-arounds for more Br’er Rabbit shorts, since the film only has three.

Of course, the problem with film is that Uncle Remus is sort of an Uncle Tom character and even though the film is set during Reconstruction, he’s definitely based on the contented slave who lives to make little white kids happy stereotype. It’s not just the the movie hasn’t aged well; African-American organizations protested the film when it was first released. It wasn’t meant to be racist, it was essentially the result of letting a bunch of rich, white studio execs get together and say “Alright, let’s make a movie to show people that the blacks are okay, the way only white people can!”

But the question is should the movie remain hidden from view or are we mature enough as a nation to watch something that might be objectionable with a critical eye. The answer is yes, of course we are, it’s not even that bad. Yes, it seriously downplays the horrors of slavery and the racism of the South during reconstruction, but I have trouble seeing it as particularly more racist than the crows in Dumbo; I would say Dumbo is actually significantly more racist than Song of the South.

But I don’t actually think the problem with Song of the South from Disney’s perspective is that it’s racist; I think the problem is that it’s bad. Most people have not seen this movie and were it made widely available on Disney+, there would be a lot of people piling in to watch it to write think-pieces like this one who would realize that it just isn’t a very good movie. The truth is that anyone who wants to see the movie bad enough can do so relatively easily; I managed to do so in the days before widespread internet, you can certainly find it a post-bitttorent world if you were determined to do so.

What Disney actually should do is to cut the three Br’er Rabbit cartoons from the film and put them on Disney+; they’re actually good and are based on African-American folk tales, there really should be no controversy.

Disney probably doesn’t want to draw any more attention to the film and releasing the animated shorts from it would likely just renew calls from people who want to see the film and don’t know how to use Google, but it’s a shame because they are good and they’re an actual part of African-American history that we don’t really hear about anymore today. People might be more exposed to these Br’er Rabbit folk tales if Disney hadn’t tried so hard to bury this film.

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