Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Song of the South (1946)

I'm probably going to catch a lot of heat for this one, but here goes ...

Believe it or not, I think I can honestly say that I've never sat down and watched a Disney film in its entirety from start to finish.  Hard to believe, I know.  I'm just not that into Disney, and never have been.  I don't really know why.  I have seen bits and pieces of Disney films throughout my life that maybe , if they were all pieced together, would add up to a complete film here and there.

I've always heard stories about Song of the South and how some people think that it's a very racist film and don't agree with its portrayal of slavery and African Americans.  It made me very curious as to what all the hype was about so I figured, "what the heck, I have 90 minutes or so to kill, I'll just sit down and watch it."  And guess what ...  It was a pretty good film.  I'm not going to say that it was the best I've ever seen, but it was pretty good.  It was a great combination of animated and live action characters which doesn't sound like much now, but remember this film was released in the 40s and the animation is hand drawn not CGI.  The soundtrack and musical score are very catchy, you'll find yourself singing along in no time.

Some critical viewers think that the portrayal of slaves singing and being happy is insulting and unrealistic.  I'm not condoning slavery in any way, shape, or form, and I'm not a history expert, but I believe that the film takes place after the Civil War had ended, and that even though slaves had already been freed, many chose to stay where they were currently living and sharecrop and work the land that they were accustomed to working.  The film was not released as a historical documentary glorifying slavery in the South, it's for entertainment purposes, and that's the context in which it should be viewed in. 

The plantation setting should be viewed as just that, a setting for the story to take place.  A story about a frightened, confused young boy named "Johnny" (wonderfully played by Bobby Driscoll) coping with the separation of his parents, with the boy being helped through this difficult period in his life by a kind and gentle old man "Uncle Remus" (again, a wonderful job by James Baskett) who uses fascinating stories, songs, and folk tales to convey meaningful life lessons and morals to the children, all children, who gather around him.  This is especially important to Johnny now that his father is absent from his life.  Uncle Remus is based on a character created by Joel Chandler Harris who initially began using this fictitious character in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper in 1876.  The stories Uncle Remus told, fables of animals who behave like humans, were all based upon African-American storytellers he had known and grown up with as a child.

I'll say one thing  --  I find films that are currently being released much more offensive than Song of the South.  I'm not into the crude, vulgar, and gross insulting humor (including racial insults and innuendos) found in a lot of the newer releases, I just don't find it funny or entertaining.

Watching Song of the South I saw nothing but people showing the utmost respect for each other, regardless of their race.  I'm reminded of the words that Pope John Paul II used to describe the film The Passion of the Christ (2004) after he viewed it.  This was another film that many were offended by.  The Pope stated, "It is as it was ..."   And that's how I feel about The Song of the South, it is as it was, and nothing is going to change the past.  I think it would be more of a disservice not to eventually release this film on DVD for people to enjoy, the Disney CEO and board has the ultimate decision on whether it will be released or not and they have no intentions on doing so any time soon. 

If I sound like I'm rambling, I apologize, but I really don't see what people find offensive about this film.  Throughout film and television history there have been examples of films and shows with controversial subject matter and content including Birth of a Nation (1915), General Spanky (1936), Gone With the Wind (1939), some of the Our Gang shorts, early Shirley Temple films from the 30s, and the Charlie Chan series of films which offended members of the Asian American community, as well as the many, many Westerns which portray Native Americans as savages.  Not to mention television shows like All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Sanford and Son.  There are far more distasteful and insulting DVDs available on the market now than Song of the South, which shouldn't even be put into the same category.

And that's what I think ...

No comments:

Post a Comment