As a child, I vaguely remember seeing Disney’s Song of the South, and I definitely remember my mother reading to me from a book about the adventures of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. I even remember asking her about the tar baby, because I didn’t understand why Br’er rabbit was getting so angry at it, which led my mother to stumble all over herself trying to explain it. But that’s the kind of entertainment you grow up with living in a small Southern town with a black population of almost zero.
I recently did an article on upcoming films and was astonished to find that Disney has just now come around to having its first black princess in an animated film, after having an Asian (Mulan), Native American (Pocahontas), Arabian (Jasmine), and of course a slew of white princess of varying hair colors. The same directors that got some flack for rampant racism in the Aladdin film are doing this one, entitled The Princess and the Frog, so it’ll be interesting to see how that one turns out.
It will in no way be as racist as Song of the South, however. It’s no surprise that Walt Disney did this film, considering the fact that he was an extreme racist, a fact that is often overlooked today. Although it is to be noted he actually became good friends with James Baskett, who played Uncle Remus and voiced many of the characters in the film, and even campaigned for him to receive an honorary Oscar. Still, it’s amazing that the film wasn’t even more racist than it ended up being.
The live action/animated film is set in the South after the Civil War. Johnny is a little rich white boy who runs away from his grandmother’s plantation after he finds out his parents are separating and is befriended by the kindly Uncle Remus, who entertains him with tales of Bre’r Rabbit and his friends, and it is during these tales that the film switches to animation. Johnny’s mother warns him not to spend time with Uncle Remus, who later saves the boy after he’s attacked by a bull by telling Johnny one of his favorite stories. While the story itself doesn’t sound racist, the portrayal of the black characters is, as well as the master/slave feel of the film (even though it takes place after the war).
Children may not be able to see the film, but they can see animatronic figures of the animated characters and hear songs from the film on one of the most popular Disney rides, Splash Mountain. It’s a shame that the film is so racist, because if you took that part away, the film would be an entertaining, colorful and fun children’s movie with a cast of wonderful characters. But it is best that children don’t see a film like this at a young age, because their minds are more easily shaped than adults. Unless children have intelligent parents that sit down and talk to them about what they’ve just seen and explain to them what’s wrong with it, things like this are better viewed by adults, if they ever have a chance to see one of the old VHS copies of it, who can view it as a way to see how much our society has changed.
SOURCES: wikipedia.com article: Song of the South (film)