Why Disney’s CEO Says That Disney’s Forgotten Movie “Song of the South” Wouldn’t “Sit Right” With Disney+ Viewers
When you think of “Disney”, chances are, your mind doesn’t automatically wander to a racist movie of yore that that has been buried due to an extensive campaign of damage control.
But believe it or not, the House of Mouse is guilty of just that. We all know by now that on November 12th, Disney launched its much-anticipated streaming service Disney+, making a library of over 7,000 television episodes and 500 films available to its subscribers.
And while some customers were excited about re-watching old classics like “Smart House” and “The Cheetah Girls”, others were busy frantically searching the archives for a title that is old, but not forgotten: “Song of the South”.
Released in 1946, “Song of the South” was originally green-lit with the goal of capitalizing on the popularity of post-Civil War blockbusters like 1939’s “Gone With the Wind”.
Song of the South is possibly the most problematic movie Disney has ever produced.
“Song of the South” revolves around the character of Johnny, a seven-year-old boy living in the Reconstruction-era South (the 1860s and 1870s). While visiting his grandmother’s plantation during a moment of familial strife, Johnny befriends a former slave named Uncle Remus who now works on the plantation.
Seeing Johnny’s obvious unhappiness, Uncle Remus tries to cheer Johnny up by recounting fables starring Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear–anthropomorphic animals that learn the lessons of life the hard way. Through Uncle Remus, Johnny learns how to deal with the difficulties of life from a more mature perspective.
And while on its surface, the movie seems to be a straight-forward coming-of-age story combined with subtle messages of racial harmony, the thrust of the film is much more insidious than that.
The relationship between Uncle Remus and his white employers is a problematic picture of a subservient, docile old black man who is happy to live and work on the plantation in which he was formerly enslaved.
Before singing the legendary ear-worm “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, Remus waxes nostalgic about the unnamed good ol’ days when “every day was mighty satisfactual”. He then adds: “If you’ll excuse me for saying so, ’twas better all around”. It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that the moment in history Uncle Remus is referring to is when slavery was still a part of the American way of life.
Uncle Remus’s short soliloquy before the movie’s big number acts as sort of a thesis statement for the movie. As Scott Tobias from The Guardian astutely observed, the film suggest that “things are better for everyone” when black people “accept their subservience and benefit from the largesse of white plantation owners, even when they’re ostensibly free to leave at any time.”
Or, in other words, according to Tobias: “The rotten heart of Song of the South is the implication that such carefree days were easier to come by in the idealized world of the pre-civil war south”.
Disney Studios, aware of how controversial the film is, has made it publicly known that they do not plan on making “Song of the South” available for streaming on Disney+ now, or ever.
Back in 2011, when faced with the question of whether Disney would consider re-releasing “Song of the South”, Disney CEO Bob Iger made his position very clear, saying that the movie “wouldn’t necessarily sit right or feel right to a number of people today”.
“Even though we’ve considered from time to time bringing [Song of the South] back, I didn’t think it was the right thing for the company to do,” he said. “[We] just felt that it wouldn’t be in the best interest of our shareholders to bring it back, even though there would be some financial gain. Sometimes you make sacrifices on the financial side to do what you believe is right and that’s an example of that”.
But some people are wondering if Song of the South’s omission on the streaming platform is just a way for the media conglomerate to avoid taking responsibility for its past sins.
Obviously, Twitter users have pretty strong opinions about Disney’s handling of the “Song of the South” controversy.
It’s surprising how starkly opinions differ on whether “Song of the South” should be available to the public.
Some people were happy that Disney decided to omit the title from their library:
glad disney+ was smart enough to keep song of the south off of it
— maura ♡ (@maurafigueroaa) November 20, 2019
Some people believe that the release of the movie would do more harm than good.
Others believe that Disney is shirking responsibility for leaving the movie off of Disney+.
Put Song of the South on Disney+, you cowards.
— Top Hat Turtles (@TopHatTurtles) November 14, 2019
There is the argument that Disney is trying to re-write their past by hiding the movie.
Of course, others can’t help but make jokes about the entire debacle:
BREAKING: Disney announces “Disney + +” and premium version of Disney + that’s the exact same but this one has “Song of the South”
— Byles “Big Muscles” Murton (@notagoose001) November 14, 2019
At this point, we wouldn’t put it past Disney to do just this in order to make an extra buck.