Looks like we’ve finally gotten our video issues sorted out. What better way to celebrate than with a clip from the ne’er-released-on-home-video film, Song of the South.

[youtube 47ak4vjiNzw]

Folks call or come to the Wren’s Nest all the time wondering if we are indeed the Song of the South museum.

To these type questions and comments my stock response is this: “Have you heard of Pearl Harbor?” And of course they answer yes. Then, “Well what about Pearl Harbor starring Ben Affleck?” And then–“No, we do not sell the film.”

The degree of conflation of Song of the South (1946) and the Uncle Remus Tales (starting in 1876) is astonishing. With perhaps the exception of Gone With the Wind, the confusion between the source material and the film is unprecedented, in my humble opinion. No doubt this is because very few people have actually seen the film in the last 60 years.

Last weekend in San Francisco Amelia and I happened to eat at a diner that had Who Framed Roger Rabbit on the television.

The waiter behind the counter made it clear that he was a film enthusiast, and I mentioned that this film was a direct descendant of Song of the South, and he said, “Well yeah, but it’s just so terribly racist.”

It was unclear whether or not he’d actually seen the film, but this sort of confident dismissal happens all the time.

I’ve no shortage of opinions on the film, but today I’ll just leave you with some facts–

  • The Harris family sold Disney the rights to adapt the Harris versions of the Brer Rabbit stories for $10,000 in 1939.
  • Clarence Muse, a black actor and screenwriter, quit working on the film because of the screenplay’s treatment of black characters.
  • Song of the South debuted at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta on November 12, 1946.
  • Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah won the Academy Award for Best Song in 1948.
  • James Baskett (Uncle Remus) was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 1948 for his portrayal of Uncle Remus.
  • James Baskett was the first live actor hired by Disney.
  • The film is not banned, it’s just not been made available; Disney has re-released the film in theaters in 1956, 1972, 1981, and 1986. Up until 2001, the film was available for purchase in various international markets.

Have you seen the film? What do you think?

Links for further exploration–

AJC Article on Song of the South and the Wren’s Nest

Song of the South fan page with extensive links

The Wren’s Nest Ramblers versions of the Brer Rabbit stories

Comments (14)

  • I saw the movie in a theater in what must have been the 1972 release of the film. I was five at the time, and perhaps my social consciousness had not yet become fully formed. I remember liking the movie and singing zip-a-dee-do-dah non-stop for months. I’d like to see it again some time to have an informed opinion.

  • Lain, this is thought provoking it is hard not to quote W.E. DuBois on this issue. He said that race would be the great issue of the 20th century. Alas, I believe we will have to continue it into the 21st? I wish people would view all things in the context of the times. As a child I loved the movie (1950’s). I viewed in this year and still amazingly like it. Please people it is a movie and it is an adaptation that Disney got for a mere $10,000. How about a spring showing of the movie on the Wren’s Nest grounds at our beautiful amphitheater? We invite Julius Lester , Alice Walker, and Bruce Bickley. The night of the showing July 3, 2008. the 100 anniversary of the death of the sainted Joel C. Harris.

  • It would be cool. Might I also suggest preceeding the movie someone speak to put the movie into historical context and name the issues that some have with the movie. Best to be upfront about it and then say you are showing it so people can make their own decisions. But I’d come to that. But I would say that the night before July 4th might not get the crowds. I would suggest a nice May or Sept date.

  • Speaking of Song of the South, Slate just posted an article discussing rocker Stephin Merritt’s supposed racism and including comments about his feelings for “Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah” (“great song”) and the movie overall (“unwatchable”).

  • Marshall – I think this is a fabulous idea – though I agree that July 3 mighta be a bad time. I love the idea of having someone(s) speak before the movie – it would be great to start a dialogue about the issue –

  • Oh very nice Josh, thanks.

    For those of you who aren’t familiar with Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields, take it from Team Wren’s Nest: they make great music.

    In some ways, Merritt’s problem is similar to SotS’s. From my point of view, the writer of this article is just as guilty of dismissing Song of the South as his counterpart is of dismissing Stephin Merritt. At the same time, both Merritt and SotS share a sometimes fanatical fan base. In both situations, on either side of the coin you’ve got folks accusing each other of racism.

    To me, SotS isn’t as great as it is influential and an important historical artifact. It broke a lot of barriers, and paved the way creatively for a slew of films that followed.

    What amazes me is that the same folks who can’t say Song of the South without “racist” in the same sentence often can’t identify that same brand of racism in a film like The Legend of Bagger Vance, the Green Mile, or any other film with a magical black person who serves to help out the stronger white people. Granted, those didn’t occur in the South’s reconstruction era, but I’d even say that fact should bolster the credibility of SotS.

    The relationship between Uncle Remus (clearly the hero of the film) and the white adults (clearly the dimwitted antagonists) occurred time and time again historically, whereas in more fictional films (The Green Mile, The Shining), the black character is little more than an archetype or device.

    In sum, this hullabaloo is plain silly.

  • As noted in my blog entry entitled “Bluebird On My Shoulder,” I own a treasured home video copy of “Song of the South,” which I purchased legally on the internet from an overseas source several years ago for me and my grandchildren to enjoy. My discussion of this film is more serious than some I have posted on my blog, which is called Paw Paw Bill and is easy to find (just enter that name in your browser), if you are interested.

  • Thanks for the heads up, William. Your blog post is excellent.

    I think it’s surprising to a lot of people that it is legal to buy the film–it’s not illegal, it’s just not that easy to find a copy. Funny how some more innocuous things can take on a life of their own as contraband, despite the fact–as you’ve pointed out–it’s relatively easy to pick up all sorts of pornographic material that in most people’s eyes is much more controversial and demeaning.

    Ah well.

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