Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Disney, The Song of the South, and Race

E725 Correspondent Kimberly Hart is in the house with an installment of the Obscene Machine:


In the comments below, a reference is made to a 1963 Bobo the Doll study--that study is available here.


  1. I believe re-releasing The Song of the South would be very problematic and risky. While it might have nostalgic significance for those who watched the cartoon, it has the potential to be very dangerous to younger audiences who perhaps would not understand its placement in history and its outdated stereotyping. While stereotyping on the screen was not a problem during that time, people have a responsibility to consider our own time period and the consequences a movie like this could have on young and even older audiences.
    I was reading an article online about this controversy (www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2007-
    03-25-songofthesouth_N.htm) that says that Disney wants to edit it so that the beginning of the film addresses these racial and social concerns. I am curious as to how exactly they will carry that out and how they can explain that to young children who may just fall in love with the characters and be fed outdated stereotyping. Maybe I am reading too much into this, but I don't think it is fair to assume that these types of things go over children's heads. Disney has a responsibility to consider these consequences.
    The article also mentions the large profit that would come of re-releasing this film (they already have people promising to buy it and egging on the release!), so that makes me wonder how much of this issue will come down to money and how much emphasis will be placed on social implications.

  2. Disney has a responsibility to its young viewers to uphold social norms and morals of today despite interest in the re-release of the film. Psychological studies on effecting repetitive behavior in children viewing media content prove that disinhibitory (the loss of inhibition) effects can and often do result from viewing media content. The 1963 Bobo doll study conducted by Bandura is one of the most famous studies proving that children repeat behavior seen in a film and justify that same reprehensible behavior through cognitive methods such as displacement of responsibility. The progress made through civil rights efforts should not be lost through the induction of a new generation into age old stereotypes.
    -concerned e493 student Anna Zylstra

  3. S. Beth Cain
    Eng 493
    April 4, 2007

    In response to the possibility of Disney re-releasing the Song of the South movie, I believe this is a highly complex topic with many issues.

    For one, I do not believe in censorship, but the objections from the African-American community should be considered. It has been many years since I have seen this film, and I wonder how it will be viewed by today’s children who will not understand the racial, and cultural, references. Is it harmless to release such words as “tar baby” back into our society which was, and is, a derogatory term for African Americans? In addition, the uncouth use of the English language such as “ain’t” further stereotypes the lack of education being implied toward these characters.

    There is an interesting comment from an article in the online USA today, located at: http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2007-03-25-songofthesouth_N.htm, where James Pappas, an associate professor of African-American Studies at the University of New York (Buffalo), states that the movie should be re-released because of its “historical significance” but “should be prefaced, and closed, with present-day statements.” He continues with, "I think it's important that these images are shown today so that especially young people can understand this historical context for some of the blatant stereotyping that's done today."

    Another view is, although the movie is controversial and dated, does Disney have the right to distribute its own product? They will certainly face debates and boycotts, but the film and its contents are already “out there,” especially in the home-video markets of Europe. A possible compromise might be what Professor Pappas was suggesting, that it be released with a scholarly response added to preface the video. In addition, maybe it is time to add a new Motion Picture Association rating. Currently G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 are used to rate American films. Why not add a CO (for culturally offensive)?

  4. The rerelease of this film brings up an interesting thought towards either the ignorance or progression of our society.
    On one hand, one has to take into consideration that at the conception of this film ( mid 1940’s), this kind of depiction of a human being ( of non white descent that is) was consider completely plausible. However, if this film had been created and released for the first time in 2007, there would be a huge public out cry. The only way the depiction of the lead african american character would be tolerated if is the movie was meant to be a mockery of racial stereo types, such as Blazing Saddles or Scary Movie.
    Therefore, i feel this movie is acceptable for its release in the 1940’s, but there is no need for this sort of false presentation to be rereleased back into society...espically if side noted as “a classic”.

  5. The re-releasing of The Song of the South is completely wrong. Disney should not even be considering re-releasing a movie such as this one. Children today do not need to be exposed to negative racial stereotypes. It is like spreading poison. Children are like sponges, why would Disney want today's youth to soak up such material? It is said that there are many people encouraging the release of this movie and that Disney will inevitably produce a large profit. I believe the cost outweighs these potential profit margins. Today we live in a more accepting society that does not accept stereotypes such as these. Our children shape the world parents and those who entertain these children should think of the future. By re-producing this racist movie we are teaching our children, in a sense, a form of hatred. Disney would be teaching little ones to judge others. There is enough hatred and judgement in this world without the re-releasing of a racist children's movie. Disney has the power to produce large profit margins through other means of entertainment for children.

  6. Anonymous10:10 PM

    I would like to begin by saying that I understand completely the viewpoints of the people who don't believe in the re-release of this particular movie. I would like however to use this particular situation to bring up another argument that follows similar lines of thought. I look around and I see people having to censor their thoughts on a daily basis becuase they're afraid that they are not being Politically Correct. Most of the time, I truly believe that these censorships are a good thing, however there comes a point where I find myself questioning how much political correctness is too much? When does being PC actually cross the line of making things that otherwise would have simply gone un-noticed into an issue that then negatively effects people? A friend of mine has a theory that the world would be a better place if people didn't censor themselves at all. If people simply let everything go, is there a possibility that the world could eventually become desensitized to racism or hurtful remarks. It brings us back to the age old "sticks and stones may break my bones..." theory. If we simply ignore the hurtful comments that are made, is there a potential that people will tire of their obscene remarks?

  7. Sam Kovacevich10:15 PM

    What’s crackin’ Nericcio?

    Damn, after doing further research on this topic, I had no idea that the bee hive poor Brer Rabbit is trying to escape at the end of my favorite Disneyland ride Splash Mountain was actually used to replace the controversial tar baby!!!!! Who would’ve thought? I always viewed the magical tale as something harmless and fun filled, not racist and worth stirring up controversy over, but after reading further into this I actually have to say I’m really not at all that surprised…………….

    Deep reading into any Disney movie will usually lead to the uncovering of some kind of controversial subject matter. From drug content affiliations found within, Alice in Wonderland, to sexual references in Aladdin (listen closely to the balcony scene ), to racism brought to life in the aforementioned article concerning The Song of the South, these films are definitely not as “harmless” and happy go lucky as we all might perceive them. But then again our society in general is much more harmless to children than having them watch a kid's movie....For example, the other day a six year old boy in my neighborhood called me an asshole and although I’m almost positive he doesn’t even comprehend the actually meaning and use of the word, it made me realize that our children today are exposed daily to much more detrimental stuff at home and on national Television than they are while watching films such as The Song of the South, so as for its re release, I say bring it on WITHOUT censorship, however the DVD should include a prelude explaining the possible racist issues depicted within it, maybe even add a DVD extra that explores the controversy regarding racial issues. However, first and foremost and as with any movie, book, etc, parents need to take the time out to explain to their kids that Uncle Remus is purely a character of fiction…….


    Sam K

  8. While I agree with several points in the previous comments, devil’s advocate is my favorite role. In a brief summary, the movie “tells the story of a young white boy, Johnny, who goes to live on his grandparents' Georgia plantation when his parents split up. Johnny is charmed by Uncle Remus — a popular black servant — and his fables of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear and Brer Fox, which are actual black folk tales.”


    Regardless of the relationship Johnny’s grandparents have with Remus, it is not their story. In this time, it was common practice that children were raised by the servants. Plantation owners worked away from the main house, while their wives socialized and managed house servants. Where were the children? The time period and characters are the main source of controversy. What people don’t realize is the actual plot focuses on the relationship between Johnny and Remus, a friendly adult figure.

    As for the suitability for children, parents have the option of buying or not buying the movie. Leave the movie as it was originally intended. If the subject of race, slavery or stereotyping does come up, they can address them. They ARE parents after all. Let them be accountable. If the movie is subjected to censoring, what’s next? My favorite character in Gone With the Wind was Mammy, portrayed by Hattie McDaniel. She won Best Supporting Actress for Mammy and became the first African American to win an Academy Award. She also appears in Songs of the South. As painful as it was, do not censor history. It’s the only way to learn from it.

  9. crystal toctocan3:56 PM

    As I was scrolling down the blog entries, I saw the “Song of the South” cover and it automatically brought me back to my childhood. I remember singing to the songs and enjoying the cartoon characters in the film, but I do not recall at all the plot of the movie. I guess as a child all I was concerned about were the cartoon characters and the catchy melodies. I have mixed feelings about the re-release of the film. If the film were to have been re-released maybe a few years earlier I think that it would have been fine. I feel like the earlier generations could have learned from it and the mistakes of the past, but as of now the new generation of children have been exposed so much from t.v. and the media I feel like they would become a little confused with the context of the film. A part of me does not feel that it would be wrong to re-release it because it could be a learning tool for future generations and, in addition, by suppressing it, it is like the issue of racism never existed . Another part of me feels that the film could bring back hurtful memories of the past.
    I researched some articles on the release of the film and I saw mixed opinions as well. For example, in New Georgia Encyclopedia website, it states, “Local reviews, including a notice in the African American newspaper, the Atlanta Daily World, were largely positive, but nationally the film was not well received.” In another response to the film, Ann Friedrichs states, “I grew up in Atlanta, GA. and The stories in this movie are wonderful. And their lessons still apply today. I do not see the harm in re-releasing this movie. The people who object should read the stories.”

  10. Anonymous6:47 PM

    I have never seen The Song of the South and I do not intend to. Stereotypes, accurate or not, offensive or flattering, tend to form a grip on youth. If this film is released young Americans will see this film and associate any stereotypes that they may find with reality. Stereotypes after a while become the reality. Watch Spike Lee's "Bamboozled." It's terribly sickening and nauseatingly real.

  11. Melinda6:04 PM

    "The Truth Hurts". That is an old saying that describes the United states' past. Yes racism is bad and evil, but that doesnt mean that it didnt happen. We have a duty to each generation to teach them about the history of the country they live in. That means telling them the good with the bad, even it is evil and unthinkable, because there are evil ideas and evil people in the world. It is important that we teach each generation about the history of our country so they can appreciate how far we have come. I think disney has a right to publish this, and if parents are so worried about sheltering thier children from the truth, well then they mine as well lock in the basement, becuase while America is a wonderful place to live, they will encounter evil and unthinkable people and ideas eventually in their lives.

  12. The outrage over Disney possibly re-releasing Song of the South seems a bit disingenuous considering there are scores of movies that depict wholly unrealistic versions of events/eras. When I began thinking about this posting the only thing I could think of was Mandingo – which teems with inaccuracies. Why is it acceptable that it is inaccurate so long as it is does not glamorize slavery? For anyone who may watch the movie in a modern context there is no way that they would believe that slaves were happy and well treated – unless of course they were already being raised in a racist household (and I don’t have any firsthand experience with white supremacist but something tells me that they would be angered at the lack of violence against Uncle Remus, who disobeys the orders of his owner.)

    Flat out it is censorship and part of the anti-Disney sentiment, which is a completely separate issue from the movie and its contents.

    In censoring the movie there is a censorship and white-washing of our past, we would prefer not to remember that bigotry and racism was so deeply embedded that hardly anyone blinked at the contents of the film. But as Addaselia pointed out, the movie itself is centered on the friendship of a boy and an older slave, a relationship that exists in spite of the racism that Johnny is raised with.

    As for the problems with the vocabulary of the film, well… how about we don’t show it to kids?! Just because it is a Disney film does not mean that all parents must run out and purchase it for their toddler and allow them to watch it on a loop for 2 weeks. Parental responsibility seems so easily forgotten lately, parents actually can tell their children no.

    All of this is to say that attempts to bar Disney from a re-release of this film is no different than people banning books, which for us lit geeks is a completely unthinkable act. Most certainly there are elements of Huck Finn that share aspects of Song of the South (the friendship of the boy and the slave is the most obvious) and it is also one of the most frequently challenged books – anyone here want to call for a ban of it? Of course no one in this class, which is why it is curious to see so many people willing to lock Song of the South away as though it never existed.

  13. Anonymous1:24 AM

    The movie criticized as racist for its depiction of Southern plantation blacks. I also think that it inappropriately projects Remus as a happy, laughing storyteller even though he’s a plantation worker. However, it is not intentionally racist. The movie never refers to blacks on the plantation as slaves. It makes clear they work for the family, living down dirt roads in wood shacks while the white characters stay in a mansion. “In today’s environment, ‘Song of the South’ probably doesn’t have a lot of meaning, especially to the younger audiences,” said James Pappas, associate professor of African-American Studies at the University of New York at Buffalo. “Older audiences probably would have more of a connection with the stereotypes, which were considered harmless at the time.” I agree with him. I think it’s important that these images are shown today so that especially young people can understand this historical context for some of the blatant stereotyping that’s done today.