Disney’s Song of the South is one of the most controversial Disney movies out there. If you have never heard of it, there’s a good reason. Disney has gone to great lengths to pretend that the movie doesn’t even exist. That’s why, despite Disney+ making most of their old and new movies available for everyone to watch, Song of the South will never be on the service.
Recently, it has come back into the public eye as Disney has now closed Splash Mountain in its Florida and California locations. This ride was one of the only ties left to Song of the South, as it was based on the movie’s animated segments/ The ride is now being converted into a Princess and the Frog theme. This has brought the company a lot of backlash, but it still leaves a lot of people wondering why they want to erase the movie’s presence in the first place.
What Is Song of the South?
Since the movie never had a home release in the United States and was only seen occasionally in theaters, not many people know what the actual movie is about. It’s set on a Georgia plantation not too long after the Civil War and is based on the Uncle Remus stories compiled and adapted by Joel Chandler Harris. In the movie, seven-year-old Johnny thinks they’re taking a family vacation to his grandmother’s plantation only to quickly find that his parents actually intend to live apart for a while as his father leaves to work in Atlanta.
Though Johnny isn’t fond of this in the beginning, he does become accustomed to it and begins to meet some of the people who live nearby. This includes Uncle Remus, who seems to always find Johnny during times of trouble and tells him a new story about Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear that relates to the current issue. These stories are animated and are the characters anyone who has ridden Splash Mountain would recognize.
Despite mixed reviews and a lot of controversial opinions upon its release, including how lead James Baskett couldn’t even attend the premiere due to segregation, the movie still managed to make it to the Oscars. James Baskett himself won an honorary award for his portrayal of Uncle Remus. The movie also won Best Original Song for Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, the only other remaining piece of the movie Disney has tried to reuse and repurpose to avoid its origins.
The Movie Was Seen As Extremely Racist
When all the writers, directors, and producers of a movie based on African American folktales are white, there are already bound to be issues. However, seeing that the movie was released when segregation was still an issue and many people of color were still treated poorly made the movie even worse. Despite everything Walt Disney himself tried to go through to push the movie in the right direction, including cycling through several different writers to try and work around bad stereotypes perpetuated by the original writer, the movie invoked several picketed protests upon its release. The NAACP was even involved in these protests.
Despite being set after the Civil War, the movie never specified such a date. Unfortunately, this meant a lot of the movie seemed like it was still in a time of slavery, and felt like it glorified the time period and supported the old movement. Some even felt it was a piece of white supremacy propaganda as it felt like the movie was run by a peaceful master-slave relationship. With a movie full of racial stereotypes, slurs, and more that would have never been taken well by everyone back when it was released, it’s even more of a problem now alongside today’s social justice movements, and would only raise more ire for the company if it was released again.
Disney Is Trying to Erase Their Troubled Past
Despite the fact that this movie is probably the worst Disney has ever leaned into any stereotypes and racism in the past, it’s far from the only movie that had it. Stereotypes were all too common back then, and they bled through into many other movies. There are several steps Disney is starting to go through to show they know these movies are bad, however, and it all has to do with Disney+.
While watching movies on the streaming platform, you might notice that there are some classics that now come with warnings before you watch them. Even as whimsical as a movie like Peter Pan can be, the warning lets viewers know these movies contain racial stereotypes and negative depictions of people and cultures. Though there are several movies that have this warning, that isn’t the only measure they’re going to. The version of Dumbo available to watch on Disney+ has been edited to remove a very racist scene, even with the warning before the movie. However, for Song of the South, there was too much racism and bad faith put into the movie to make any part of it salvageable, meaning it’s likely to never come back out of the Disney vault.
This story originally appeared on Movieweb