Black Disney Animator Pushes for ‘Song of the South’ Release

in Disney, Movies

Animator defends song of the south

If there’s a more controversial Disney movie than 1946’s Song of the South, we’ve yet to find it. The film has been attacked for portraying African American people, particularly its “dangerously glorified picture of slavery.” However, some maintain that the film is “of its time” and not intentionally offensive.

One such defender is Floyd Norman, a Black animator who worked with Walt Disney, who revealed he has pitched for the film’s public release many times. Let’s find out why this Disney animator defends Song of the South to this day.

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Who is Disney animator Floyd Norman?

Animator defends song of the south

Norman is a prolific animator and a member of the Black Filmmaker Hall of Fame. He’s so well-known in animation that he starred in a documentary about his life, Floyd Norman: An Animated Life.

The film revealed that the now 85-year-old Norman started his career as an “in-betweener” on Sleeping Beauty before rising to the story team of The Jungle Book, where he worked directly with Walt Disney himself.

Norman left the company after Walt Disney’s death in 1966 and established his animation houseVignette Films — alongside fellow Black artist Leo Sullivan. The two then created educational films about Black history and the popular television series Fat Albert. He later contributed to Disney and Pixar films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Toy Story 2

Related: Research Finds Pixar Is Actually Better Than Disney Animation

Disney legend Floyd Norman and Song of the South

Animator defends song of the south
Credit: Disney

Norman first drew attention when he appeared on the Movies that Made Me podcast, admitting that he has pushed for Song of the South’s release many times: “I have argued with Disney executives and Disney attorneys about Song of the South. I call them out on it … They’re just wimping out.”

Speaking to Book and Film Globe, the legendary animator then revealed his consistent part as an advocate for the release of Song of the South over the years.

“I don’t think I’ve been a real thorn in Disney’s side. It’s just that whenever there was time to speak up for the film I became the film’s advocate because I knew enough about it, maybe more so than most,” he said.

He even revealed that book publishers have tried to use his influence to convince Disney to license Br’er animal books. Though Norman isn’t an employee anymore, his status as a Disney legend who worked with Walt himself still grants him sway at the company.

Norman even defended the controversial dialect used in Song of the South:

“We’ve written stories at Disney that have taken place in the south where we’ve given white characters a southern accent because that’s the accent they would have … That’s how they talk. We’re not mocking them. We’re just trying to keep our story as authentic as possible.”

When asked about Dumbo’s Jim Crow character, Norman replied, “Disney was taking a good-natured poke at the culture in America’s south.”

Floyd Norman and Song of the South’s “tar baby.”

Song of the South tar baby

As the interview continued, Norman revealed that he has a framed film cell of the infamous ‘tar baby’ scene, a moment so controversial it has been removed from all television releases of the film. (It remains in a quick scene in the 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, however).

Norman commented that the baby “was not an intentional thing that tar represents Black people but once again, here’s a storytelling device that people read way too much into.”

Floyd then reflects on why his experience as an African American growing up in the United States may differ from other Black people.

He said he “can understand why some African Americans would feel offended by that motion picture, and so I’ve tried to come over to their side.”

He continued, “My wife often says that I live in a bubble … Keep in mind I’m not a kid who had a rough and tragic life. I was not the victim of racism. I had almost an idyllic life growing up in Santa Barbara, California. I must be reminded that my perspective is probably not that of most Black Americans.”

Norman’s wife, Adrienne Brown-Norman, says that his childhood in 1930s Santa Barbara was far-removed from what other Black People were experiencing in the United States. When he did visit the segregated South “it was so far from what he knew that he didn’t see it affecting him.”

Related: Disney Fans Respond to Theme Park Diversity Review Team Rumor

Floyd Norman discusses Black characters, racism, and representation at Disney.

Dumbo Jim Crow
Credit: Disney

When asked about the lack of diversity in Disney’s animation department at the time, Norman only responded, “Because they didn’t show up, no Black people got hired.”

However, Norman isn’t unaware of the systemic racism endured by the Black community and even commented that his father, a man from Mississippi, “had a darn good reason to be terrified of policemen.”

Alongside his animation partner Leo Sullivan, Norman even filmed the 1965 Watts riots, witnessing rocks thrown at the police force. “By the time I got older, I understood the social issues we were dealing with here in America. It’s just that I didn’t have to deal with those issues when I was growing up.”

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The history of Song of the South

Animator defends song of the south

Song of the South is a 1946 part animated live-action movie from Walt Disney Studios, based on Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus stories.

Even before the tragic death of George Floyd and the global Black Lives Matter movement, Song of the South was seen as a controversial movie.

Despite winning an academy award (and an honorary Oscar for lead actor James Baskett), the animated film based on the Uncle Remus tales was thought too divisive for a home release.

The fact that it presents formerly enslaved people living happily on a plantation made many Disney fans uncomfortable, and CEO Bob Iger even confirmed that it would not come to the Disney Plus streaming service, calling it “not appropriate in today’s world.”

2020 saw the final erasure of Song of the South’s history as a petition arose to remove the film’s theming from the famous Walt Disney World ride Splash Mountain.

Splash Mountain does not feature Uncle Remus or humans, only starring animated characters like Br’er Rabbit.

Despite a counter-petition gaining significant traction, Disney announced that Splash Mountain would be rethemed to The Princess and the Frog, removing any trace of the controversial Disney animation from parks and screens.

Related: Splash Mountain in Tokyo Disneyland May Also Get Retheme

Floyd Norman, Walt Disney, and Song of the South

Floyd Norman

Despite all the petitions and articles, Floyd Norman stands by Walt Disney.

He notes that he started watching Disney movies when he was four years old and knew he wanted to work for the Disney Studio after finishing college.

As for Song of the South, his answer is the same as most of those who petition for the movie’s release. He wants the film to be released publicly, but with added cultural sensitivity warnings. He insists that Walt had only the best intentions in making the film.

Norman’s final quote perhaps epitomizes the motivation behind Disney’s creation of Song of the South at a time when the American Civil War may have seemed like ancient history to him, mainly as the movie was released just after the end of World War II. “Walt Disney was an overly optimistic man … He looked for the positive in everything, whether it was a European folk tale or an American story about the post-Civil War south. And a lot of people hated that about him.”

Though Norman believes there was no malice behind Song of the South, it remains unlikely that we’ll ever see the movie rereleased in the United States, whether in theaters, on home video, or via streaming.

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What do you think of Floyd Norman’s comments on Song of the South? Let us know below.

in Disney, Movies

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