by Chris Bodenner
A reader reminds us of a popular and now-controversial classic:
Here’s an Oscar-winning film that Disney has tried to flush down the memory hole for years: 1946’s “Song of the South.” It features former slave Uncle Remus, a shuffling stereotype who nonetheless is the most decent person in the film. Disney has refused to release the movie on DVD, even though Remus’ stories about Br’er Rabbit are thinly veiled tales of a black person’s ingenuity and cunning against arrogant crackers. A website dedicated to preserving the film’s memory is here. The song from the film that won the Oscar, “Zip a Dee Doo Dah,” is here.
Update from a reader:
Just one word of correction for the description that the reader provided for “Song of the South”. Anyone who has seen the film knows that, for all Br’er Rabbit’s cleverness, he is not triumphing over “arrogant crackers”. The primary dynamic in the animated scenes is between Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear, all of whom are voiced by black actors. It’s an animated version of Amos and Andy. To be honest, what strikes me most of all is how much this dynamic reminds me of the Ice Cube movie Friday. When Chris Tucker is jumping for joy that the neighborhood bully has been knocked out, it is very much reminiscent of the joy these animated characters take in seeing each other bested.
I would also like to add that the idea of the clever African American triumphing over the arrogant whites does not carry over to the live-action portion either. While Uncle Remus does teach the lesson, it is the young aristocrat who applies this lesson to best the local racist white trash. It should also be noted that the main tension in that part of the story is between the land-owning whites and the poor whites who occupy the lowest rung in this world, though it doesn’t stop them from disrespecting Uncle Remus.
I was lucky enough to find a company in Georgia that distributes remastered (though not restored) copies of the film on DVD. From what I’ve read, this is not sanctioned by Disney in any way and may even be a pirated copy. It will be interesting to see if Disney fights to retain the rights to this film and prevent it from entering the public domain, even though it does not want to have anything to do with the film.
Another sends the above video, which brings sexism into the mix:
I’m loving this thread. Eddie Cantor is one of my favorite old movie stars. Fast-talking and action-packed, his movies were early examples of screwball comedy, but most are virtually unairable on television today and thus nearly forgotten. Like so many other performers of the era, Cantor came up from vaudeville, with its traditions of blackface, “coon shouting” and racial humor. Most of his movies (like Whoopee!, Roman Scandals, The Kid from Spain) rely on some form of broad racial humor. The best one can say is that he didn’t target any group in particular; black, Jewish, Asian, Hispanic and Native American stereotypes all enjoy ample screen time.
I remember AMC’s Bob Dorian introducing Whoopee! in the mid 1990s, prefacing it with a plea not to focus on the racial stuff, but to look at it as an “indicator of how far we have come.”