Sunday, April 17, 2011

Random Thoughts: Song of the South

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

I don't want to open a can of worms, and I know that Disney certainly has a reputation for its practices in many areas, but at the same time, I just have to address some news I've learned of lately. Song of the South will remain unavailable on DVD (or blu-ray for that matter) for who knows how much longer. Disney's CEO, Bob Iger, said at The Walt Disney Company's Annual Meeting of Shareholders that, "sometimes you have to make financial sacrifices in order to do what's right. So remember Song of the South for what it was and don't expect to see it again anytime."

I'm adamantly against the re-writing of Huckleberry Finn because, in removing words that are deemed "offensive," you're screwing with the author's intentions. What's wrong with adding in footnotes to explain the words and phrases? A ton of the renditions of Shakespeare's plays have them to explain the original meanings of his words. Why not do the same? I can see why that might not work in Fantasia... it's more difficult to explain purely visual sequences than it is to explain words. So, while cutting part of the animation from "The Pastoral Symphony" wasn't necessarily right (it would be hard to deny that the "servants" in that sequence are anything other than of African descent), it might have been the best way to address the concern. But we're not talking about ten or fifteen seconds of material in Song of the South. Regardless, there are plenty of other areas in Disney "masterpieces" that contain questionable material!

There is going to be a 70th anniversary edition of Dumbo soon, which is another 40s-era Disney film that has some racist moments (one of the crows is named "Jim Crow" for starters). And, if you're familiar with other older Disney cartoons, you'll find stereotypes of Jews, Nazi propaganda, and some ridiculous depictions of Asians. Oh, and of course, let's not forget the "red men" in Peter Pan. And it's not just antiquated images... Pocahontas and Tarzan are a few of the newer Disney features that deal with indigenous peoples in ways that aren't 100% perfect. But, you can only do so much. Yes, you could try harder in some instances. But, just because children might get the wrong impressions (which is a specific reason as to why Song of the South remains in the "vault"), why remove a learning tool that exhibits a historical example of the way things were seventy years ago? The actor who played "Uncle Remus" in the film couldn't even attend the premiere, because it showed at a "whites only" theatre in Atlanta (though he did receive AN OSCAR for his performance). Why not add in an "extra" or even an introduction to the DVD that explains the time? Put it in a historical context, folks. 

No, I haven't seen Song of the South. I want to see it (and not some bootlegged copy. I want to be able to see it free and clear). And, if I lived in another country, I could... there have been non-US releases multiple times (yeah. our country is being censored, but others aren't.). Many other people might want to see it, too, who have no idea what spawned the cute ditty, "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah," or that the film is the basis for the hit theme park attraction, Splash Mountain. And so, I leave you today not with an invitation to argue the issues in Disney film-making, but rather a smaller question: How do you think Song of the South should be released?
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