Friday, February 29, 2008

When is that Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah Day?

Disney is still tight-lipped about releasing Song of the South. This came up at a shareholder's meeting a while back when Disney spoke of their upcoming film The Princess and the Frog. They were proud to announce that this movie would introduce their first African American princess. But when questioned about Song of the South, CEO Bob Iger would simply say that they were evaluating the situation. Since the announcement of the new movie, there has been loads of controversy. A name change from The Frog Princess to the current title of The Princess and the Frog. Also, they changed the new princess's name from Maddy to Tiana, and she will no longer begin her journey as a chambermaid. This was all due to increasing accusations of a racial slant.

This is here and now, but what about Song of the South? This 1946 film contains themes and speech that are viewed as very stereotypical. It has never had a home release in the United States, although it has gone on sale in other places around the world. My father has a VHS tape that is the complete movie in English, but there are Japanese subtitles during all of the songs.

I think Disney needs to take a page from their own book. The Walt Disney Treasures Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume Two DVD set has a "from the vault" section which includes shorts that are deemed to be stereotypical of African Americans and other ethnicities. When you go to this section of the DVD, there is an introduction by Leonard Maltin -- an introduction that you cannot skip nor fast forward through. The points he makes about these shorts are very applicable to the Song of the South situation...

"Cartoons made in the 1930s and '40s contained gags and characterizations that reflect attitudes and prejudices of their time. Some of those ideas would be absolutely unacceptable today. Whether they involve racial or ethnic stereotypes or crude behavior that came under the heading of barnyard humor.
Some people would sweep films like this under the rug; pretend they never existed. We certainly wouldn't want children to get the wrong idea by seeing some of those stereotypes. But, Disney fans and enthusiasts should be able to enjoy them in tact. And concerned parents might use this opportunity to talk about the way things were many years ago and just how far we've come since then."

Using their own logic, Disney should have no qualms about releasing their classic feature. They could put a similar message on the Song of the South disc. I'm sure they know that the title would sell; this is not a money issue. They fear the public backlash that might arise by bringing this movie back into the public spotlight.

I say to Disney, Give us Song of the South. It is a classic piece of work that Disney and film enthusiasts would love to own. As Mr. Maltin stated, it could be used as an opportunity to educate people (not just kids) about where we've been and the progress we have made in the past 60 years. Similar stereotypes existed in other classic movies that have been widely available, such as Gone with the Wind. Disney did no more than other studios at the time. You can't undo the past, but you can use your past ventures as a way to educate people moving forward.


Since our last post, Kristin put in another two mile run and I put in another 5k run at 6.5 mph (no walk breaks). Our friends Kyle and Carly have opted out of the full marathon and have signed up for the half, so we will have more company on race day!


Rae! said...

I agree with you the Song of the South.
Great job on the miles!!!

caballerofan said...

I couldn't agree more. Especially if released through the Treasures line as you mentioned.

Leonard Maltin does a fantastic job with these and certainly can set the tone and background for this early Disney film.

As one who has seen Song of the South,(google is your friend) I see no true issue with the film. It does as you say portray a different era.

So did ROOTS by the way. A film that was embraced and received awards. I don't recall any out cry over it.

And SOS is nothing like ROOTS. Perhaps that's not a fair comparison.

In my opinion there is nothing in this film that offends unless you are the type of person looking to be offended.

Nice job with your training guys and so cool that you have friends joining you.

mgreene said...

Song of the South was the first movie my Dad ever let me go to by myself - it was around 1975 when it was playing here at a local theatre. Too many people today are all bent out of shape about political correctness. Never heard any outcry about the movie "White Men Can't Jump". Double standards are rampant today when it comes to racial issues.