Yep I’m going there.
After many requests, I finally watched on youtube the controversial film Song of the South and wanted to give you guys my thoughts.
I’m sure many of you want to know first- is Song of the South racist? My answer is a definitive yes. Now is it the most racist thing I’ve ever seen? No. Particularly when it comes to Disney I feel like we often get two camps on racial sensitivity arguments. Some on one side defend every last thing in a Disney film as being above board. And then the other side nitpicks every detail and claims watching Disney will harm your children. I often see the same type of division among feminist writers (with obvious exceptions like our friend to the blog Swanpride). I personally think both extremes are nonsense.
Here’s how I see it. When I was a kid I watched Gone with the Wind repeatedly. I knew it was a good movie with many positive attributes (and the fact my Grandma loved it was in its favor). But I was also not stupid. I knew it was not an accurate depiction of slavery. And I will say I never ‘loved’ the movie because the portrayal of the slaves made me uncomfortable even as a kid. Still worth seeing but its not a film I would personally ever want to own. I knew that as a kid and I know it now.
I think we need to have a similar confidence with material like Song of the South. Kids aren’t stupid. They know this is a movie and with a little careful parenting we can help them understand that the filmmakers meant well but there are some racially insensitive or racist moments.
That said, is the movie worth going to such a great deal to see? Gone with the Wind is an important movie in the history of film for many reasons. To me that is worth sitting through some uncomfortable moments. However, I don’t think Song of the South is on that level.
In fact, I think if it wasn’t for the controversy and a great song Song of the South would be completely forgotten. I found it to be thoroughly lame.
So what’s the story of Song of the South? It is set in Reconstruction Era South and based on the Uncle Remus storybooks which were popular in the 20s. Uncle Remus is a jolly old black man (a caricature for sure) played with a lot of warmth and light by James Baskett. He won a special academy award for his performance and it is deserved. He makes you smile even if you know such a man in real life would probably be more wounded behind all those stories.
So there is this little boy named Johnny who is Grandson of the plantation owner. His father has left doing some fuzzily explained editing job for a newspaper. The child actors in Song of the South are not very good. I found them cloying and annoying and not convincing at all.
Basically Johnny and a little girl named Ginny keep getting bullied by these two other kids on the plantation. Uncle Remus cheers them up with stories about Brer Rabbit and his gang. And when he first meets them he sings the iconic song Zip-a-dee-do-dah
There are three shorts with Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear. I found all 3 to be forgettable and have a few cringe inducing moments. None of them made me laugh or were that creative or different.
It’s also very difficult to understand the Redneck English of the Brer characters from time to time. Most of the shorts are Brer Rabbit about to get eaten by Brer Fox and Brer Bear and him getting out of it in the end. But we have a tar baby which I understand was a part of the stories but feels extremely uncomfortable and another scene where Brer Rabbit is in a hangman’s noose, which given lynchings that were still happening in 1946 is tough to watch (and its not like we are free from such racially driven violence today by any means).
Basically the bullies keep picking on Johnny but the Mother blames Remus and says he must stop telling the stories (how about you actually raise your son lady?…). This is so upsetting to Remus he is going to leave the plantation, which I found highly unlikely. This kid has just been there a few days, so I doubt telling the stories to the white kids would be that upsetting to Remus. But various things happen and all is set right by the end of the movie.
So again I do think Song of the South has racist or racially insensitive moments. Is that a reason to not see the film? You have to make up your mind for yourself on that. I do think the hearts of the Disney team were in the right place. They wanted to make a jolly film based on these folk stories.
It is not a hateful picture but racism can be unintentional and still be racism. Again, I think kids are smart enough to know a film with animated bears and rabbits isn’t a historical depiction of the post-war South. And the movie doesn’t teach them any bad lessons as far as their own behavior is concerned.
But like I said, I don’t think the movie is worth such an ordeal with your kids. I don’t think it is damaging to them but I also think they won’t be that entertained by it so what’s the point? To me it was entirely forgettable. Personally I think Disney should just release the film and it would be quickly forgotten. By not releasing it they are making it into a bigger issue than it is and making the film seem more important than it is.
It has a nice song and an engaging performance but that’s about it.
And if you like it I don’t think you are racist or a bad person. I can see things to like about it. This is just strictly my opinion for myself and I don’t judge anyone else on what they can or cannot stomach and still enjoy.