For its time, a time when segregation was still aggressively enforced in the United States, 'Song of the South' was likely a progressive film, a major family film many of whose main characters were black, and whose animated characters were voiced by a black performer. Now, of course, 'Song of the South' is considered problematic due to its depiction of black slaves as happy and complacent, and its portrayal of them as Uncle Tom stereotypes.
Look closer, however, and you'll see a fine family film, warmhearted and gentle, both a technical landmark and a dazzling series of fables as told by Uncle Remus, the movie itself serving up a number of its own morals -- like the fact that a parent's good intentions can unwittingly stifle their child, or that storytelling is key to one's moral and social development.
None of this matters, of course. Walt Disney has now chosen to ignore the film on the basis of its reportedly offensive depiction of African-Americans in the post-Civil War era. For one, this film was not intended as propaganda or considered offensive at the time, and was merely the product of American perceptions of the 1940s; it's not any worse than the scores of westerns that depicted Native Americans as savage Injuns. Of course, Native Americans were and continue to be a marginalized group while African-Americans have maintained a desire to assimilate and have. Being that African-Americans have been far more vocal in their rejection of the injustices committed against them, it goes without saying that white-on-black bigotry is a far more sensitive issue than white-on-Indian bigotry (despite the fact that the Native Americans have suffered just as greatly at the hand of The Man as African-Americans), and therefore, we're less willing to excuse movies like 'Song of the South' than we are films like 'The Searchers.'
But then why is 'Gone With the Wind' still given the green-light and not 'Song of the South'? Well, the answer is simple: The Walt Disney Corporation. Walt Disney will go to any length to keep its reputation clean, and 'Song of the South' is construed as a serious threat to it -- therefore, placing the film on moratorium and making it unavailable simply deters controversy. They can't undo it, but they can certainly hide it. It matters not the value of the film. In a heartbeat, Disney would withdraw something as beloved as the 'The Little Mermaid' if it were one day decided that the film was unfair or offensive in its depiction of mermaids. In 'Song of the South,' one sees an innocence and warmth. In current Disney films, one sees a lot more of the cynicism and calculation of a soulless capitalistic corporate entity.
The depiction of blacks in current cinema is a lot more shameful and offensive than anything in 'Song of the South.' Consider personalities like Chris Tucker, Martin Lawrence, and films such as 'Phat Beach' and 'Friday,' which depict African-Americans as lazy, dope-smoking ne'er-do-wells who treat women badly and have no morals. I guess the fact that these films are largely created by African-Americans for African-American audiences gives them a dubious seal of authenticity, being that African-American entertainers are, ostensibly, no longer being exploited by the white man and have developed their own independent voice. If that's true, why is it so much more difficult for black filmmakers such as Charles Burnett and Julie Dash, filmmakers with a truly independent voice, to either find financing for their films, or be met with commercial acceptance? 'Song of the South' might be inaccurate in its depiction of slavery, but it never makes a point of being *about* slavery, and it's no more inaccurate than hundreds of Hollywood's historical epics and costume dramas.
By making 'Song of the South' unavailable, Disney is doing a disservice to those involved in the film and, more importantly, to the millions who harbor fond memories of it.
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