'Song of the South' release mulled despite possible controversy
ORLANDO (AP) Walt Disney Co.'s 1946 film Song of the South was historic. It was Disney's first big live-action picture and produced one of the company's most famous songs the Oscar-winning "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." It also carries the story line of the Splash Mountain rides at its theme parks.
But the movie remains hidden in the Disney archives never released on video in the United States and criticized as racist for its depiction of Southern plantation blacks. The film's 60th anniversary passed last year without a whisper of official rerelease, which is unusual for Disney, but President and CEO Bob Iger recently said the company was reconsidering.
The film's reissue would surely spark debate, but it could also sell big. Nearly 115,000 people have signed an online petition urging Disney to make the movie available, and out-of-print international copies routinely sell online for $50-$90, some even more than $100.
Iger was answering a shareholder's inquiry about the movie for the second year in a row at Disney's annual meeting in New Orleans. This month the Disney chief made a rerelease sound more possible.
"The question of Song of the South comes up periodically, in fact it was raised at last year's annual meeting ..." Iger said. "And since that time, we've decided to take a look at it again because we've had numerous requests about bringing it out. Our concern was that a film that was made so many decades ago being brought out today perhaps could be either misinterpreted or that it would be somewhat challenging in terms of providing the appropriate context."
Song of the South was re-shown in theaters in 1956, 1972 and 1986. Both animated and live-action, it tells the story of a young white boy, Johnny, who goes to live on his grandparents' Georgia plantation when his parents split up. Johnny is charmed by Uncle Remus a popular black servant and his fables of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear and Brer Fox, which are actual black folk tales.
Remus' stories include the famous "tar baby," a phrase Republican presidential hopefuls John McCain and Mitt Romney were recently criticized for using to describe difficult situations. In Song of the South, it was a trick Brer Fox and Brer Bear used to catch the rabbit dressing a lump of hot tar as a person to ensnare their prey.
To some, it is now a derogatory term for blacks, regardless of context.
The movie doesn't reveal whether it takes place before or after the Civil War, and never refers to blacks on the plantation as slaves. It makes clear they work for the family, living down dirt roads in wood shacks while the white characters stay in a mansion. Remus and other black characters' dialogue is full of "ain't nevers," "ain't nobodys," "you tells," and "dem days's."
To me and for me, this was a wonderful childhood journey, when I lived in a time of my own world, not realizing race....
I think it is important to keep this movie alive, it depicts art and history
Sign the petition to free "Song of the South": http://www.songofthesouth.net/