When Disney+ debuts in November, fans will be able to watch every Disney film ever released…well, almost every film. Disney recently shared that “Song of the South” and the Jim Crow scene from the original animated film “Dumbo” won’t be available for viewing on the new streaming service.
Disney previously announced their plans to open up the vault of Disney films to Disney+ subscribers, but “Song of the South,” the controversial 1946 film criticized for its portrayal of African Americans, won’t be one of those films. The film has never been released for home video in the U.S., so the decision to keep it from Disney+ is consistent with Disney’s policy regarding the film.
Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, spoke about the decision not to release “Song of the South” in one of the company’s annual meetings back in 2011, sharing that parts of the film “wouldn’t necessarily sit right or feel right to a number of people today,” and “it wouldn’t be in the best interest of our shareholders to bring it back, even though there would be some financial gain.”
If you aren’t familiar with “Song of the South,” here’s some context. The film, based on the book “Uncle Remus,” takes place after the Civil War and follows a young boy named Johnny, who moves to his grandmother’s plantation. There, he meets the character of Uncle Remus, an African American working on the plantation who teaches Johnny lessons through stories about the animated characters of Brer Rabbit and company.
Though the film won an Oscar for its song “Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah,” it has long been criticized for its glamorized portrayal of plantation life, as it insinuates that African Americans were happy to be working for their white masters. Even though the characters and hit song inspired the fan-favorite attraction Splash Mountain in the Disney Parks, the film’s content has caused it to never be released for home video and rarely seen by consumers.
Interestingly, Disney has also shared that the Jim Crow scene from the original animated film “Dumbo” will also not be made available on Disney+. While the film will be available for streaming on the platform, it will not include the infamous scene in which a bird named Jim Crow provides Dumbo with his black feather and he and the rest of the crows teach the Dumbo to fly.
Like “Song of the South,” this scene has long been criticized for its racial insensitivity. The name Jim Crow refers to the racist segregation laws in place in the U.S. until the mid-1960s (for reference, “Dumbo” hit theaters in 1941). At this time, Disney has yet to comment further on the removal of this scene from the film on Disney+.
While it’s understandable and commendable for Disney to want to keep their new streaming service free of racist content, many fans have pointed out the problem with erasing the content altogether. As Screenrant points out, it can be argued that to remove offensive and controversial scenes or content from previously released films is, in a way, to sanitize history and possibly erase the mistakes that Disney has made in the past. One Twitter user even shared how Warner Brothers handles insensitive Looney Toons content. Take a look at the Tweet below:
In response to Disney editing out the crow scene from Dumbo for Disney+. I want to remind everyone that Warner Bros always put this warning on their releases for their Looney Tunes releases. pic.twitter.com/RbdDe25TFI
— Leo(hobbyist cartoonist looking for work) (@CLXcool) April 18, 2019
The question that remains, however, is whether insensitive content belongs on a family-friendly streaming service at all. It’s worth noting that not all content on Disney+ will be family-friendly.
Disney announced earlier this month that the company’s acquisition of Fox officially means that consumers will be able to stream “The Simpsons,” “Deadpool,” and other more adult content on Disney+. So while racist content (specifically films like “Song of the South,” which have been banned from home video) shouldn’t be available on Disney+, not every show or film on the streaming service will be kid-friendly, either.