In the wake of HBO Max temporarily pulling “Gone with the Wind” from its streaming service for “racist depictions,” Disney’s controversial musical “Song of the South” began trending on social media on Wednesday as fans debated its legacy.
The movie, a combination of live-action and animated scenes that takes place in the U.S. South during the Reconstruction era, was originally released theatrically in 1946. Based on American writer Joel Chandler Harris’ collections of Black American folktales, “Song of the South” starred James Baskett as Uncle Remus, a Black plantation worker and storyteller who sings arguably the film’s most famous song - “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” — and enthralls a young boy with tall tales of anthropomorphic characters such as Br’er Rabbit.
“Song of the South” has drawn flak for its portrayal of Uncle Remus and for depicting a sanitized view of plantation life. The movie has even been the subject of an entire book, entitled “Disney’s Most Notorious Film,” by Oklahoma State University visiting assistant professor of English Jason Sperb, who called it “one of Hollywood’s most resiliently offensive racist texts.”
While Br’er Rabbit and the other animated characters of “Song of the South” have appeared in short Disney videos, merchandise and as mascots of the Disney theme park ride Splash Mountain, the complete film itself has yet to receive a home video release in the United States. It is also unavailable on the Disney+ streaming service, with Disney executive chairman Bob Iger reportedly calling it “not appropriate for today’s world.”
Chatter on social media revolved around the film’s role today, with some condemning it and questioning the inclusion of its characters in Splash Mountain while others asked for it to be released on streaming services with a disclaimer, similar to Warner Bros. treatment of the company’s older “Looney Tunes” shorts. Disney+ currently provides only a brief warning of “outdated cultural depictions” in the description of certain films in its lineup, including “Dumbo,” which features a character named Jim Crow.
Karina Longworth, a film critic who featured “Song of the South” on six episodes of her “You Must Remember This” podcast, which highlights the forgotten history of Hollywood, was in favor of recirculating the movie, arguing that it ran the risk of becoming a “fetish object” if it remained hidden.
Other fans were more concerned with reworking Splash Mountain to remove Br’er Rabbit and other “Song of the South” characters, instead putting the focus on a more recent Disney film that showcased a cast of mainly Black characters — “The Princess and the Frog.”