Silencing The Song of the South

Splash Mountain was a thrilling log flume ride for children in Disney’s Magic Kingdom.  Children were taken on an exciting ride past animatronic characters singing classic songs from the 1946 Disney movie The Song of the South.  Alas, our woke culture is not happy with Splash Mountain or Song of the South.  Over twenty thousand people signed a petition asking that the characters of Splash Mountain be changed to those of The Princess and the Frog, a 2009 film featuring Disney’s first African-American princess.  Disney caved in.  Long before the petition Disney decided not to release Song of the South in any home video format in the United States and after streaming technology came along Disney decided not to stream the movie

Fortunately, Disney released the movie in other countries.  When I read about how racist Song of the South was, a skeptical light bulb went off in my head and I ordered a DVD to see if it was really so bad.  My children loved the movie and I enjoyed it too.  The last thing that movie is, is racist.  So why did Disney cave in to demands to prevent Americans from seeing it?

Song of the South is a musical based on stories that originated in Africa.  So censoring Song of the South censored stories by black people.  The stories were compiled by Joel Chandler Harris who grew up on a plantation and heard them from a slave called Uncle Bob Capers.  In 1880, Harris published his first book, Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings. In the book, he preserved the dialect of Uncle Bob Capers.  The book was an instant success, and Harris went on to publish another ten books of stories from Uncle Remus.  Walt Disney grew up reading those stories and one of his ambitions was to bring them to the silver screen.  His idea was to have both animated characters and people together in the same movie.  Walt Disney in his effort to be faithful to the stories kept the dialect of Uncle Remus although he simplified it somewhat so that it would be more understandable to general audiences. 

The movie starts with Uncle Remus, an elderly black man, happily strolling in a plantation along with animated characters singing the song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” about what a beautiful day it is.  Johnny, a seven-year-old white boy, travels with his parents from Atlanta to the plantation that belongs to his grandmother.  Toby, a black boy Johnny’s age, becomes Johnny’s friend and looks after him.  Johnny decides to run away back to Atlanta to reunite with his father.  While running away, Johnny is joined by Uncle Remus, who offers to run away with him and tells him a story about Br’er Rabbit running away from his problems only to find even greater problems. Thanks to Uncle Remus’s story, Johnny decides to stay. Johnny makes friends with a young girl his age, Jenny, but runs afoul of her bullying older white brothers.  Uncle Remus tells Johnny a story that helps him cope with her brothers.  Every time Johnny finds himself in trouble, Uncle Remus is there with a story that helps him.  Johnny and Uncle Remus become very close.  Johnny’s mother doesn’t appreciate Uncle Remus and thinks his stories are a bad influence.  Uncle Remus feels hurt and decides to leave the plantation.  Johnny runs after him and gets hurt by a bull while doing so.  Later we see Johnny semi-conscious in bed calling out Uncle Remus’s name.  Johnny’s father and his wife can’t bring Johnny out of his delirium.  Uncle Remus comes and tells the boy a story.  Hearing Uncle Remus’s voice and his beloved stories brings Johnny back to consciousness.  The film ends with Uncle Remus, Toby, Johnny  and the animated characters from Uncle Remus’s stories walking happily together into the sunset. 

Uncle Remus the black man is the hero of the film.  Toby the black boy in the film is a good friend.  Jenny’s white brothers are bullies.  Johnny’s white mother is misguided and doesn’t appreciate Uncle Remus until the end.  Blacks are generally portrayed as wiser and better people than the whites.  James Baskett, the actor who played Uncle Remus, was given an honorary Oscar for his performance.

You could not find a less racist film than Song of the South.  So why was it taken off the market?  One objection was that Uncle Remus spoke in the black vernacular of the time. Ironically, Disney and Joel Chandler Harris were trying to be faithful to the dialect and to preserve it.

But there was something far more objectionable about the movie than the vernacular.  The movie is too idyllic.  Blacks are not oppressed enough in Song of the South. In fact, they’re not oppressed at all.  This criticism has also been used in attempts to erase other productions such as Gone with the Wind and Hamilton.  But why show blacks being oppressed?  Shelby Steele in his book White Guilt. How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era wrote that “a new generation of black civil rights leaders, emerging in the late 1960s, turned to an expression of black rage to leverage white guilt and gain political power.” Black rage is a way to intimidate guilt-ridden whites into giving them what they want. A movie with blacks and whites happily going off into the sunset together does not instill black rage or white guilt. As Rep. Ayanna Pressley stated on the House floor: “racism in America is as structural as the marble pillars of this very institution” and “the time has come for people to “pay us what you owe us.”  The racial harmony in Song of the South undermines that message.  Guilt-ridden and fearful American corporations have been paying off Black Lives Matter to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and movies like Song of the South threaten that flow of money.  That is why it was so important to block American children from seeing a charming and delightful children’s movie, a movie that shows black and whites living together in happy Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah harmony.

Splash Mountain was a thrilling log flume ride for children in Disney’s Magic Kingdom.  Children were taken on an exciting ride past animatronic characters singing classic songs from the 1946 Disney movie The Song of the South.  Alas, our woke culture is not happy with Splash Mountain or Song of the South.  Over twenty thousand people signed a petition asking that the characters of Splash Mountain be changed to those of The Princess and the Frog, a 2009 film featuring Disney’s first African-American princess.  Disney caved in.  Long before the petition Disney decided not to release Song of the South in any home video format in the United States and after streaming technology came along Disney decided not to stream the movie

Fortunately, Disney released the movie in other countries.  When I read about how racist Song of the South was, a skeptical light bulb went off in my head and I ordered a DVD to see if it was really so bad.  My children loved the movie and I enjoyed it too.  The last thing that movie is, is racist.  So why did Disney cave in to demands to prevent Americans from seeing it?

Song of the South is a musical based on stories that originated in Africa.  So censoring Song of the South censored stories by black people.  The stories were compiled by Joel Chandler Harris who grew up on a plantation and heard them from a slave called Uncle Bob Capers.  In 1880, Harris published his first book, Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings. In the book, he preserved the dialect of Uncle Bob Capers.  The book was an instant success, and Harris went on to publish another ten books of stories from Uncle Remus.  Walt Disney grew up reading those stories and one of his ambitions was to bring them to the silver screen.  His idea was to have both animated characters and people together in the same movie.  Walt Disney in his effort to be faithful to the stories kept the dialect of Uncle Remus although he simplified it somewhat so that it would be more understandable to general audiences. 

The movie starts with Uncle Remus, an elderly black man, happily strolling in a plantation along with animated characters singing the song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” about what a beautiful day it is.  Johnny, a seven-year-old white boy, travels with his parents from Atlanta to the plantation that belongs to his grandmother.  Toby, a black boy Johnny’s age, becomes Johnny’s friend and looks after him.  Johnny decides to run away back to Atlanta to reunite with his father.  While running away, Johnny is joined by Uncle Remus, who offers to run away with him and tells him a story about Br’er Rabbit running away from his problems only to find even greater problems. Thanks to Uncle Remus’s story, Johnny decides to stay. Johnny makes friends with a young girl his age, Jenny, but runs afoul of her bullying older white brothers.  Uncle Remus tells Johnny a story that helps him cope with her brothers.  Every time Johnny finds himself in trouble, Uncle Remus is there with a story that helps him.  Johnny and Uncle Remus become very close.  Johnny’s mother doesn’t appreciate Uncle Remus and thinks his stories are a bad influence.  Uncle Remus feels hurt and decides to leave the plantation.  Johnny runs after him and gets hurt by a bull while doing so.  Later we see Johnny semi-conscious in bed calling out Uncle Remus’s name.  Johnny’s father and his wife can’t bring Johnny out of his delirium.  Uncle Remus comes and tells the boy a story.  Hearing Uncle Remus’s voice and his beloved stories brings Johnny back to consciousness.  The film ends with Uncle Remus, Toby, Johnny  and the animated characters from Uncle Remus’s stories walking happily together into the sunset. 

Uncle Remus the black man is the hero of the film.  Toby the black boy in the film is a good friend.  Jenny’s white brothers are bullies.  Johnny’s white mother is misguided and doesn’t appreciate Uncle Remus until the end.  Blacks are generally portrayed as wiser and better people than the whites.  James Baskett, the actor who played Uncle Remus, was given an honorary Oscar for his performance.

You could not find a less racist film than Song of the South.  So why was it taken off the market?  One objection was that Uncle Remus spoke in the black vernacular of the time. Ironically, Disney and Joel Chandler Harris were trying to be faithful to the dialect and to preserve it.

But there was something far more objectionable about the movie than the vernacular.  The movie is too idyllic.  Blacks are not oppressed enough in Song of the South. In fact, they’re not oppressed at all.  This criticism has also been used in attempts to erase other productions such as Gone with the Wind and Hamilton.  But why show blacks being oppressed?  Shelby Steele in his book White Guilt. How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era wrote that “a new generation of black civil rights leaders, emerging in the late 1960s, turned to an expression of black rage to leverage white guilt and gain political power.” Black rage is a way to intimidate guilt-ridden whites into giving them what they want. A movie with blacks and whites happily going off into the sunset together does not instill black rage or white guilt. As Rep. Ayanna Pressley stated on the House floor: “racism in America is as structural as the marble pillars of this very institution” and “the time has come for people to “pay us what you owe us.”  The racial harmony in Song of the South undermines that message.  Guilt-ridden and fearful American corporations have been paying off Black Lives Matter to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and movies like Song of the South threaten that flow of money.  That is why it was so important to block American children from seeing a charming and delightful children’s movie, a movie that shows black and whites living together in happy Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah harmony.