of the South, the 1946 directed by Harve Foster and Wilfred Jackson, remains the mouse’s most controversial endeavor.
The half the Splash Mountain attraction is based on Song of the South. half animated has been called many things by many people, including many who say it is “a Is this deserved? The conversation about this movie is especially prevalent among those who follow since
But what is of the South and why do people still discuss it nearly 75 years after its release?
What is of the South about?
Joel Chandler Harris and tells the of Johnny, a white boy who goes to live on his grandmother’s . There he meets Uncle Remus, an who teaches him life lessons through the stories of Br’er Rabbit, which come to life as the animated characters typical of 1940s . of the South is based on the by American author
Here’s the synopsis of the setting, with information taken from a Walt Disney promotional leaflet:
‘The film is set on a plantation in the southern United States; specifically, some distance from Atlanta, Georgia. Although sometimes misinterpreted as taking place before the American Civil War while slavery was still legal in the region, the film takes place during the Reconstruction Era after slavery was abolished. Harris’s original Uncle Remus stories were all set after the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. Born in 1848, Harris himself was a racial reconciliation activist writer and journalist of the Reconstruction Era. The film makes several indirect references to the Reconstruction Era: clothing is in the newer late-Victorian style; Uncle Remus is free to leave the plantation at will; black field hands are sharecroppers, etc’
The response to Song of the South
Song of the South has received both praise and condemnation.
of the South has been called out for having weaved into the writing of its , setting, and characters, and it was considered to be problematic by scholars of race years before the Black Lives Matter movement brought it into the spotlight.
The most commonly cited problem is what critics call the film’s idealized version of post-Civil War America, where The Guardian was chief among those who find this element to be uncomfortable, writing: had only just been abolished.
‘The subtle low point of the film comes in Remus’s narration just before Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, when he reminiscences about how things were “a long time ago,” when “every day was mighty satisfactual”. “If you’ll excuse me for saying so,” he adds, “’twas better all around.’
The infamous ““gollywog” dolls are: for promoting a Black caricature. This scene was cut from all subsequent American television airings though the model was featured in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit.scene has also been met with negativity in the same way that
Scholars also tend to agree that Dumbo). However, this controversy isn’t new, as people called the racist even at the time, with social groups like the NAACP commenting; of the South‘s portrayal of Uncle Remus is based on the “Uncle Tom” mold, a of a B known for its stereotypical dialect (see also the stereotype used in
“…the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of. Making use of the beautiful Uncle Remus folklore, of the South unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.”
Paradoxically, however, the film also saw widespread acclaim upon release. Song of the South includes a myriad of famous songs (also included in the A for best original . A special was also given to James Baskett “for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and storyteller to the children of the world in Walt ‘s ) such as “How Do You Do” and “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” the latter of which won the of the South.”
However, as a Black man Baskett couldn’t attend the film’s premiere at the theater, as racial segregation was still law in Atlanta at the time.
There are also those who defend Song of the South, to the extent that it even has its own fan site: Song of the South.net which cites its MO as the following.
“Since 2000, SongoftheSouth.net has been the Internet’s largest web site dedicated to providing the most information on Walt Disney’s Academy Award-winning and controversial film Song of the South, based on the Tales of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris.”
The site features a change.org petition (currently sitting it around 6,000 votes) to release Song of the South on Disney Plus, as well as an article titled “In humble defense of Song of the South,” where the author attempts to defend the most common issues with the film, starting with the portrayal of Uncle Remus:
“The character of Uncle Remus, played admirably by James Baskett, is depicted as a wise, kind, and carefree elderly man who enjoys telling stories to a younger audience, regardless of whether they’re black or white. This is established right at the beginning.”
However, this writer isn’t the only person to advocate a release of Song of the South, as in 2017 Black actor Whoopee Goldberg told Yahoo news that she also sought for the release of the film to encourage a dialogue about historic racism:
“I’m trying to find a way to get people to start having conversations about bringing Song of the South back … So we can talk about what it was and where it came from and why it came out.”
How do I watch of the South?
should has not released the on its streaming service, Plus, and it likely never will. Some argue that bring it to the streaming service, albeit with added cultural sensitivity warnings as they did for Dumbo and Lady and the Tramp.
However, if you have any doubt as to whether Song of the South will ever be available for streaming, just listen to former Disney CEO Bob Iger. In March of 2020, when asked whether the film would see a release, he described it as “not appropriate in today’s world” and confirmed that it wouldn’t be suitable for release even with an “outdated cultural depictions” disclaimer.
The VHS copies on eBay can fetch as much as $400.00, while the last theatrical screening in the US was in 1986. has never seen a DVD / VHS release in the US either, though it has been made available in other countries.
of the South remains the Walt Company’s most divisive endeavor. The question of whether to give it a home release moved through several elite , with 1984-2005 CEO Michael Eisner reportedly requesting that the character of Uncle Remus be ignored in the adaptation.
While ithe will be rethemed to The and the , following social outcry off the back of the Black Lives Matter movement. at using of the South was free of controversy for the most part as it only used the Br’er characters,
As for the BBC are known to have shown it as recently as 2006. itself, it’s apparently been shown on the Channel a number of times as recently as 2001, while European networks like the
Song of the South remains Disney’s most controversial film
Many film and social studies scholars agree that the film is outdated, while others find that it presents an uncomfortably rose-tinted view of the systematic the world is fighting so hard today. Academics and Disney fans alike have noted that the film presents its former slaves as stereotypical and simplistic in comparison to their white counterparts, particularly in regard to their attitude toward living on a plantation.
On the other hand, there are also those who feel that the film is “of its time” and that its simplified look post-slavery America fall in line with the simplicity of other Disney animated movies of the time. Song of the South defenders argue that films like Snow White and The Seven Dwarves and Sleeping Beauty — though widely considered to be classics — present an equally “stripped down” and “fairytale” look at their respective cultures, with a plain view of good and bad without the baggage of real world horrors.
Joel Chandler Harris himself has also been accused of appropriating “Uncle Remus, No Friend of Mine.” culture, though while still alive Harris actually pushed for racial reconciliation and equality at a time where such ideas were considered radical. In his book, Reading Africa into American Literature: Epics, Fables, and Gothic Tales, Keith Cartwright argues that, “Harris might arguably be called the greatest single authorial force behind the literary development of African American folk matter and manner.” Despite this, other scholars have found his use of Black folklore to have the opposite effect, as writer Alice Walker accuses Harris of “stealing a good part of my heritage” in her essay
The future of Song of the South
Though the debate with its vocal fanbase continues, the opinion from Disney seems to be that it is for the best that of the South remains unreleased. Though it doesn’t mention slavery, its depictions of Black people undeniably offended a substantial portion of Disney fans, Black or otherwise. For a company that welcomes everyone regardless of race, sexuality, or religion, a film that excludes so many will likely never be released or referenced again.
It’s clear that Disney has committed itself to improving cultural diversity and portrayals of the Black community in film and theme park alike, with characters like Tiana, T’Challa, and Finn showing significant progress. Check out everything you need to know about The Princess and the Frog; a film that will forever be remembered for replacing Splash Mountain, as well as its historic diverse cast voiced by people of color.
What do you think ofof the South? Let us know in the comments below.