Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/10/23/tarbabies-r-us.html
The wonderful You Must Remember This podcast returns to tell the secret history of Disney's most racist movie, Song of the South
Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/10/23/tarbabies-r-us.html
Weirdly enough i had this recorded on a VHS along with other Disney stuff when i was a kid (the other stuff may have been Dumbo). I never really cared for it so i rarely watched it and the other stuff that was on that particular tape, so i don’t remember everything about the feature which i guess might be a good thing though i remember the odd fragment here and there about the plot. Still this podcast seems pretty interesting and will check it out sometime
So is Disney starting to make up for Song of the South with the Black Panther movies?
Karina does a brilliant job of looking at Disney history from a historian’s perspective and gives a thorough overview of all of the issues involved in a controversial movie such as this one.
I’m so glad she’s back. It’s a great podcast, and this is a great way for her to return.
[just wanted to get in that recommendation before the usual apologists for casual and institutional racism arrive to ask why this movie isn’t being shown more today.]
It is all those things. On the other hand, the Br’er rabbit stories are lessons in resistance: You may be able to get away with sabotage if you disguise it as the stupidity that they expect from you. Confronted with an angry man that wants to hurt you, express dismay at the prospect of getting what you want. Those stories have a deadly serious purpose.
But it doesn’t need to be!
I’m gonna start a petition…
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it. There were Disney musical compilations available on VHS back in the 80’s and 90’s and everyone was real confused about where Zippity Do Da came from.
It was something of an issue when I was in film school as Song of the South is a really important text when studying both minstelry/stereotype and the Lost Cause in cinema, and the history of black performers on screen. Which were major topics in my film program. Plus its a major technical step in the history of animation and special effects.
But there was practically no way to watch the thing. Most theatrical prints had been collected up or strictly controlled by Disney, destroyed or lost. It was released on VHS and Laserdisc in Europe. And Asia got a DVD more recently. Those hadn’t made it into the US academic bootleg scene at the time. In terms of not cool these were regular wide home releases instead of the sort of academically framed release that’s usually called for. So while they’ve kept it out of sight in the US they’re still exploiting the property through more than just a theme park ride elsewhere.
That’s part of the problem. The Br’er Rabbit tales are African American tales with roots in African and Native American folklore. Appropriated and repackaged into a happy lost cause pseudo-antebellum setting by a White writer during the Counter Reformation. Uncle Remus was a key way that black culture was sanitized and repackaged as a new White Southern identity than didn’t need to acknowledge the slavery problem. Song of the South and Disney’s relationship has helped keep that alive. This and Gone With the Wind are sort of ground zero for happy slaves and adorable plantations.
And you don’t need to resort to Uncle Remus or Song of the South for Br’er Rabbit.
Deja fuckin’ Vu.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad that this podcast exists to educate people, but I tire of the necessity to have do so in the first place.
One point in the podcast is worth mentioning: she once spoke to one of the heads of Disney Animation and asked if the movie would ever be released; they said “No, it’s racist!” She asked if they’d ever seen it, and they said, well, no, but they’ve heard it’s racist, and that was good enough for them.
It is, indeed, racist, but I’m glad she’s doing these in-depth educational pieces to fill in the gaps so that people don’t have to rely on rumors or tracking down bootlegs.
If people want to seek it out, there’s no stopping them from doing so.
As we’ve previously discussed as recently as not even two weeks ago, it can be readily found on youtube and ebay.
And like I said before, there’s a market out there for everything; no matter how offensive or incendiary.
Surprising this came out since WWII. I think I know Zip a Dee Doo Da, but I’ve never seen that movie. They must have also played it on the Disney show.
SOTS had a run in the US in the . . . very early 70s? I saw it as a tween with siblings and a neighborhood friend. I think it was a summer weekend matinee kind of thing.*
What I remember was weirdly unrooted in time. I thought at first that Uncle Remus was a slave, which was awful, but then he decides to reluctantly pull up roots and leave his home (“I was going to put on a coat of white wash!”) so I figured it was a later time period.
Were the bad guys a bunch of white trash bullies?
The music and animated segments were good. The rest of it? No great loss.
- The same theater showed a fairly forgettable Disney film that’s one of the many that wasn’t listed on the streaming list, “Follow Me Boys,” about a boy joining the Boy Scouts, and his nemesis, a white trash kid with a drunken dad. I think the father was Fred McMurray?
In the podcast, Karina says she saw it in theatres as late as 1986.
I watched it once as a little kid, but I don’t really remember anything more than snippets. If I were to watch it again (which frankly ain’t happening because life is too short to waste on an hour-plus of racist bullshit), I’d want to watch it with commentary from a historian such as Longworth. I have a critical mind, but lack the training of a historian and would surely miss a lot.
Since the only good reason to watch something like this is to learn about the iniquitous historical context in which it was made, it probably belongs best in an academic setting as material for an advanced elective on institutional racism. Unfortunately, while there are clearly academics who understand the difference, I’m not sure modern academic administrations are capable of making the distinction between racism and learning about racism. It’s clear a lot of industries don’t where black people get fired or pressured out for confronting fragile white people with their lived experiences, even while neo-nazis are coddled.
The Disney execs who won’t officially release the movie despite having never watched it I can at least understand, since their job is first and foremost trying to protect what’s left of their corporate reputation. Besides, as you said, those who really want to can find it anyway without having modern Disney tacitly endorse a movie that should never have been made.
The last theatrical release was in 86 to promote Splash Mountain, and the movie was some what regularly shown on cable through the 90’s.
Kids books, records, cd’s, sheet music were in print and commonly available well into the 00’s. And clips/musical numbers were regularly broadcast or included in home releases of other movies and complications until about 10 years back.
Until pretty recently the party line seems to be that it was fine to make money off it, with a concerted effort to keep it present in the pop culture. So long as the American public never saw the whole thing. Less “we don’t want this out there” than “if people realize what this is about we’ll stop making money off it”.
The major thrust for release is for a (pricey) criterion style set loaded up with contextual info, analysis, and historical info. Probably a big part of why it hasn’t happened, they can’t quite get away with just putting it out there without putting a bunch of money into the project. And for something you don’t want to be a mass market product.
The other end of it for is them to stop profiting off of it while simultaneously trying to hide it in certain markets. Which has mostly stopped. Mostly.
I was born in '95 and I 100% remember the song being used in various places, my guess is up to the early-mid 2000’s.
I grew up in the ‘80s in rural MO and, due to our proximity to the local radio station, which also held the cable satellite array, we got cable before anyone else. I watched early MTV, Nickelodeon and Disney Channel compulsively. They definitely showed this and excerpts from it a lot.