‘Song of the South’ Scandal Furthers Viewer Interest

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The "Tar Baby" scene in Song of the South

Credit: Disney

Apart from the upcoming remake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), no film has garnered Disney as much backlash as the infamous Song of the South (1946). Although reports continue to tear it down, the film still has a very vocal fanbase.

Epcot Disney 100 points of light on spaceship earth
Credit: Disney

Although the Walt Disney Company is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, a recent report from Newsweek shared the company’s biggest mistakes in the past century. Naturally, the article lists Song of the South as number one on their list of Disney disasters, and the author was not shy about why.

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The writer describes the film with the following,

“A passion project for Walt Disney, 1946’s Song of the South was one of the first films to blend live-action and animation. Set in the late 19th just after the civil war, the film used the Uncle Remus storybook by Joel Chandler as inspiration. As Chandler was a white journalist chronicling Black folklore and profiting as a result, the source material was already controversial, even by 1940s standards.”

The article further describes the film’s problematic reception in the following paragraph, which reads,

“Although Song of the South definitely hasn’t aged well, even upon release, the film and its happy-go-lucky depiction of slavery were divisive. In his review, The New Yorker’s John McCarten said he “felt like Disney wished the 13th Amendment had never passed,” while The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) protested outside theaters.”

Br'er Fox and Br'er Rabbit
Credit: Disney

The fact that Disney’s most infamous feature has been the subject of controversy goes without saying, but then why is there so much interest in it? It’s true that Disney has done everything it can to hide this film away, yet audiences still want to see Uncle Remus on Disney+

Related: Op-Ed: ‘Song of the South’ Restoration is Disney’s Biggest Power Move

There has been a significant increase in interest in Song of the South, especially during the week of cancel culture and the closure of Splash Mountain at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and other Disney Parks. Many fans even believe it’s time for Disney to release it, obviously with an updated commentary on why it was cinematically significant.

James Baskett and Bobby Driscoll in Song of the South
Credit: Disney

First of all, while Newsweek’s take on the film does have its points, it also misses a few elements. For example, Uncle Remus was never enslaved, he was a sharecropper and never referred to as one in the movie. Second, without Joel Chandler Harris writing the Br’er Rabbit stories down, a tremendous piece of African American history and folklore might have been lost.

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Not only that, but the heavy censorship of this film has nearly caused the world to forget the cinematic contributions of James Baskett, one of the first black actors to win an Academy Award for his portrayal of Uncle Remus, as well as Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Brer Bear. Even the iconic Disney classic “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is on its way out.

Uncle Remus in Song of the South
Credit: D23

As much as Disney has done in the name of film preservation, it’s surprising how much they have done to keep this film out of public access. While the movie still hasn’t found its way to DVD, Blu-Ray, or Disney+, bootleg copies still exist, and those who have seen the film upon its rare rereleases are still keeping it relevant.

Related: Multiple Disney Rides Facing Closure, Imagineers Threatened

Song of the South is not Disney’s best movie; Walt Disney himself would later go on to dwarf it with more successful features. However, it still has a role to play in the studio’s history. However, does that excuse it of its troubled past?

Will Song of the South eventually get a re-release? Tell Inside the Magic what you think in the comments below!




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