My husband has been telling me about this movie since we first started collecting Disney movies to play on our VCR. (We buy DVDs these days, but rarely get Disney movies anymore.) He had seen Song of the South on TV on “The Wonderful World of Disney”; I hadn’t even heard of it. (There were many movies I had never heard of – he says I was culturally deprived.)
As each classic Disney movie came out on video, we waited for Song of the South to hit the shelves. But it never happened; finally we realized it just wasn’t going to be released. There are all kinds of rumors about why it isn’t going to be released – or alternatively, that it is going to be released (always next year or the year after). The reasons for not releasing it have to do with the racial stereotypes it portrays, and apparently it has been controversial in this regard since its initial box office release.
My husband decries this sort of political correctness, pointing out that the black people in the movie are portrayed very positively. I’ve read similar opinions on websites regarding the movie. I also read one comment, from an “Anonymous African-American” who guesses that all such comments were written by white people, who have no idea why the racial stereotypes in the movie are so offensive. Unfortunately, this person doesn’t try to explain why they are.
Finally, today, I got to watch the movie. My husband has been downloading lots of TV shows and movies from the internet, and burning them to DVD. Apparently Disney had no problem releasing Song of the South in other countries, where the racial history of our own country does not provoke such controversy. These have been turned into bootleg versions of the movie, and Disney has (at least according to wikipedia) chosen not to take any legal action.
As this seems to be the only way to see the movie, and Disney evidently is more concerned about not officially releasing the movie than preventing it from being distributed, I was happy enough to sit down with my sons to finally watch it (my husband had to sleep before going to work for the night). My younger son was bored through the initial live-action sequences, but started enjoying it once some animation appeared.
Overall, my reaction to the movie is to wonder, what is all the fuss about? There is no indication of slavery; I take it that the movie takes place after the Civil War. The black people clearly have subservient positions on the plantation, but that is pretty much a fact of history. I don’t see the movie as celebrating the fact, only using it as background for telling some stories that were well known and loved long before Walt Disney decided to turn them into a motion picture.
I have to admit that I also fail to see that I missed such a significant bit of American culture by not seeing the movie before. The story is OK but not fantastic. The Br’er Rabbit stories are entertaining and well-animated, and they contain lessons that Uncle Remus is trying to teach young Johnny, but I can hardly say they’re among the best animated stories I’ve seen.
So for me, the most interesting aspect of the movie continues to be the controversy surrounding it, rather than the movie itself. I found here what appears to be a good summation of the issues, both what things in the movie are considered offensive by some, and why they should not be seen as a reason to keep the movie from being seen. I’ve always thought it makes more sense to see a movie or read a book, and then have a good discussion of the problematic aspects of the work, than to lock it away as unacceptable.
But as the Anonymous African-American pointed out, I am white and don’t know what it’s like to experience life as a black person. I would be interested in hearing a black person’s evaluation of the movie, and why it should or shouldn’t be shown.