Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Song of the South (April 12, 2010)
This is one of Disney's most controversial movies. It seems odd, because I grew up reading the stories of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and Brer Bear and Uncle Remus, but this movie generates a lot of controversy, and I would be remiss if I didn't address it in this review. First, let me say that this movie isn't readily available in the US (Disney won't release it on DVD) so I had to do some finagling to get my hands on a copy of it so I could finally see it. Was it worth the wait?
I must say I enjoyed this movie. the animation mixed with live action sequences were cool, and this was one of the first movies to feature this technique (Disney was ahead of his time). The songs were fun, the Brer characters were fun, and the story of the little boy who comes to know and love Uncle Remus and his stories is a cool story to watch.
That being said, I can understand why people call this movie racist. I grew up watching cartoons that featured racist depictions, and I didn't even realize this until I was older and I took a college course about Racism in popular culture. That class ruined me (I can't watch anything anymore without noting whether it features racist stereotypes). I definitely see those at play in "Song of the South." I know that Walt Disney didn't intend to be racist when he made this movie. Much like Mark
Twain when he wrote "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Disney was actually trying to be ahead of his time. He was trying to say "hey look, black people are humans too!" That may sound like a ridiculously unnecessary statement (of COURSE black people are people too) but there was a time when this statement was a scandalous one. Quite simply, "Song of the South" comes from a time and place where a lot of people thought black people were inferior to white people, and as a product of its time, there's no way this movie CAN'T be racist. It's not TRYING to be so, it just reflects the prejudices of its time, just like any other movie.
I think the question here is whether this movie should be banned because it features racist stereotypes. I for one don't think so. I found the movie enjoyable, and if I had kids I'd watch it with them (that's the key, I think, I'd watch it WITH them) and maybe we could compare it to a movie like "The Princess and the Frog" and see how differently the characters are depicted in each movie. I don't think I'd turn this movie loose on my kids without being there to explain to them that it's just an old, dated movie with some old, dated ideas, but I wouldn't turn the movie "Gone with the Wind" loose on my kids either without making similar points, and that movie has been available on DVD for years (and in my opinion, it's far worse than "Song of the South" if we're going to talk about racist stereotypes). Basically, Id' say that this movie is good and it comes highly recommended, but the caveat is you need to watch it with your kids and be a parent and do what a parent does: explain some of the harsher realities of the world to your kids.