Song of the South Review

Yep I’m going there.

After many requests, I finally watched on youtube the controversial film Song of the South and wanted to give you guys my thoughts.

zipadeedodaI’m sure many of you want to know first- is Song of the South racist?  My answer is a definitive yes.  Now is it the most racist thing I’ve ever seen?  No.  Particularly when it comes to Disney I feel like we often get two camps on racial sensitivity arguments.  Some on one side defend every last thing in a Disney film as being above board.  And then the other side nitpicks every detail and claims watching Disney will harm your children.  I often see the same type of division among feminist writers (with obvious exceptions like our friend to the blog Swanpride).   I personally think both extremes are nonsense.

Here’s how I see it.  When I was a kid I watched Gone with the Wind repeatedly.  I knew it was a good movie with many positive attributes (and the fact my Grandma loved it was in its favor).  But I was also not stupid.  I knew it was not an accurate depiction of slavery.  And I will say I never ‘loved’ the movie because the portrayal of the slaves made me uncomfortable even as a kid.  Still worth seeing but its not a film I would personally ever want to own.  I knew that as a kid and I know it now.

I think we need to have a similar confidence with material like Song of the South.  Kids aren’t stupid.  They know this is a movie and with a little careful parenting we can help them understand that the filmmakers meant well but there are some racially insensitive or racist moments.

That said, is the movie worth going to such a great deal to see?  Gone with the Wind is an important movie in the history of film for many reasons.  To me that is worth sitting through some uncomfortable moments.  However, I don’t think Song of the South is on that level.

In fact, I think if it wasn’t for the controversy and a great song Song of the South would be completely forgotten.  I found it to be thoroughly lame.

zipadeedoda2So what’s the story of Song of the South?  It is set in Reconstruction Era South and based on the Uncle Remus storybooks which were popular in the 20s.  Uncle Remus is a jolly old black man (a caricature for sure) played with a lot of warmth and light by James Baskett.  He won a special academy award for his performance and it is deserved.  He makes you smile even if you know such a man in real life would probably be more wounded behind all those stories.

song of south2So there is this little boy named Johnny who is Grandson of the plantation owner.  His father has left doing some fuzzily explained editing job for a newspaper.  The child actors in Song of the South are not very good. I found them cloying and annoying and not convincing at all.

Basically Johnny and a little girl named Ginny keep getting bullied by these two other kids on the plantation.  Uncle Remus cheers them up with stories about Brer Rabbit and his gang.  And when he first meets them he sings the iconic song Zip-a-dee-do-dah

There are three shorts with Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear.  I found all 3 to be forgettable and have a few cringe inducing moments.  None of them made me laugh or were that creative or different.

song of south6 song of south5It’s also very difficult to understand the Redneck English of the Brer characters from time to time.  Most of the shorts are Brer Rabbit about to get eaten by Brer Fox and Brer Bear and him getting out of it in the end.  But we have a tar baby which I understand was a part of the stories but feels extremely uncomfortable and another scene where Brer Rabbit is in a hangman’s noose, which given lynchings that were still happening in 1946 is tough to watch (and its not like we are free from such racially driven violence today by any means).

song of south4Basically the bullies keep picking on Johnny but the Mother blames Remus and says he must stop telling the stories (how about you actually raise your son lady?…).  This is so upsetting to Remus he is going to leave the plantation, which I found highly unlikely.  This kid has just been there a few days, so I doubt telling the stories to the white kids would be that upsetting to Remus. But various things happen and all is set right by the end of the movie.

song of the south5So again I do think Song of the South has racist or racially insensitive moments.  Is that a reason to not see the film?  You have to make up your mind for yourself on that.  I do think the hearts of the Disney team were in the right place.  They wanted to make a jolly film based on these folk stories.

It is not a hateful picture but racism can be unintentional and still be racism.  Again, I think kids are smart enough to know a film with animated bears and rabbits isn’t a historical depiction of the post-war South.  And the movie doesn’t teach them any bad lessons as far as their own behavior is concerned.

But like I said, I don’t think the movie is worth such an ordeal with your kids.  I don’t think it is damaging to them but I also think they won’t be that entertained by it so what’s the point?  To me it was entirely forgettable. Personally I think Disney should just release the film and it would be quickly forgotten.  By not releasing it they are making it into a bigger issue than it is and making the film seem more important than it is.

It has a nice song and an engaging performance but that’s about it.

And if you like it I don’t think you are racist or a bad person.  I can see things to like about it.  This is just strictly my opinion for myself and I don’t judge anyone else on what they can or cannot stomach and still enjoy.


20 thoughts on “Song of the South Review

  1. I saw this movie about 2 years ago and honestly wasn’t offended by anything; I found the movie more lame as you said than anything else. I still have to get around to watching this for my blog sometime.

    Can you post the link on Youtube where you found this movie?

    1. Sure. it has a little bit of distortion I think to keep it off the copyright radar but not so much to be distracting. I get what you are saying. I wasn’t offended by it but that doesn’t mean I didn’t find racist elements. To me there is a distinction between the two. I have to care more to be offended. But as I said if people like it that’s cool. No judgements from me.

      1. Thanks! I watched this movie on YouTube as well on a pretty good video, but I think the video was pulled off soon after.

        I guess I consider racist and being offended to be the same. If I’m not offended, I don’t think it’s racist. But that’s just me.

      2. I think offended is a stronger response. More like disgust or repulsion. If it makes me uncomfortable or is awkward I take note but am not offended. Maybe it’s just the difference for me but to me the racist moments and elements werent done in a hateful or mean spirited way so I take note of it but it’s different than something puril and hateful. That offends me. Or if it is a picture I love like Jungle Book and they have the ending they do it bothers me because it’s the one blight on an otherwise great film.

        Anyway makes sense to me.

      3. I guess given your definition than yes I was offended but it was in a more “that was awkward”, “that was patronizing”, “that’s painting slavery in awfully rosy colors”. Not in a “this is vile awful garbage and is hateful” kind of offended

      4. So out of curiosity given your definition of offended does any film offend you? You seem to have very thick skin which is cool. I often notice insensitive things but it doesn’t necessarily ruin the film for me.

      5. Not really, mainly because since I don’t watch the vast majority of R-rated films, I end up staying clear from any material/film that might offend me.

        I also have a bit of a humorous outlook on life, i.e. I enjoy being joyful and just having fun with scenarios and situations for the most part instead of taking things too seriously. Something that I’ve done since I was young is react to things as if I were in a sitcom. For example, if something bad or unfortunate were to happen to me, I’d pretend I were in a sitcom being watched by people and I’d react how my sitcom character would react. It helps me a lot from getting mad or too arrogant about things.

        The only thing that I can think of that can really upset me would be films with anti-Muslim sentiments. But again, I haven’t seen any of those yet, so I’m good 😀 !

      6. Not a bad life philosophy! You should write a book. You could call it The Full House Life (or whatever sitcom you like). Thanks for sharing that. I guess I can’t really help myself from noticing these things. It’s just how my brain works but glad there are people like you to remind us to calm down :). I haven’t seen many movies that have angered me and the one’s I have it was about religion (Drop Dead Gorgeous and Superstar being the biggest examples). I walked out of the theater I was so offended.

        What about Aladdin? I have a Muslim friend that is bothered by the way Arabic culture and race are portrayed in that film. He still likes it ok for the good stuff but it bothers him.
        Anyway, thanks for answering!

      7. I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen one episode of ‘Full House’, lol. My fave sitcom is ‘The Honeymooners’. I’m an old-school guy, lol. Also love ‘The Andy Griffith Show’, ‘All in the Family’, and ‘Taxi’.

        Yeah, religion is always a no-go to me regarding humor. I don’t believe in making fun of any religion. Even in the Qur’an, there is a verse where God tells us not to mock/make fun of other gods that people worship.

        Aladdin…I can understand the bad feelings about Aladdin. For me personally, I never felt like they were embracing/focusing on the “Muslim/Islamic” perspective of Agrabah, so there was nothing religious about it that would offend me.

        But, I can understand how the Arab culture itself can be seen as misrepresented in it and is basically based on Western stereotypes and Fox News stereotypes of Middle Eastern people, lol. It doesn’t both me personally, because I don’t think they went too far (I mean, this was 1992) and I see it more as the city of Agrabah rather than an Arab city called Agrabah if that makes sense. Then again, I’m not Arab, so I can’t say.

  2. I always say that the biggest crime of the movie is that it is utterly boring. It is also one of those “you have to take the time into consideration” movies…and for its time, it was very, very unusual to even have a black main character. The Magical Negro is nowadays a negative trope, but bringing the concept that there is wisdom in slave folklore on screen in a movie which featured white and black kids being friends with each other was actually very ballsy back then. But not too ballsy, since this is still Disney and they were set to sneak this by without offending anyone. Which is most likely the main source of the problems the movie has.

    1. It’s interesting was watching Beasts of the Southern Wild and while it has a good story, well made movie, somw of the same tropes in Song of the South are there with the rural black character weaving tales and telling us how to live. Interesting isnt it?

    1. I agree. I think it is more accidentally racist and not hateful or mean spirited. I think you have to look at these films in the lens of when they were made. There are few awkward moments but I honestly think Disney makes it seem like a bigger deal than it is by not releasing it.

      But yeah I agreee. Not that great a film

  3. Yet another person who can’t realize that our past is just that the past. This is a movie released in 1946. Learn something about how things worked back during the days of slavery and just after and you might understand an animated movie put out the by a Liberal corporation trying to lighten the tragedy of that of our past. There could be some racial overtones there if you are one of those people offended bu every word that is used. Like say being offended by tar babies. It was, at the time, one of the greatest accomplishments of Disney.

    But like we do in this world today we can’t forget for a second that slavery existed and we all knew it was bad. The USA abolished it and it was the democratic left that wanted it to remain in a status quo. Thank god we got rid of it. The film won may awards and to this day most people will never see it except on this copy right infringed way.

    By the way in other countries it is not banned. I have a UK version of the movies because it is a Disney treasurer.

    1. I actually think they should release it. My main qualm with the movie is I think it is boring and the story isn’t great.

    2. The movie was criticized in both the black and mainstream press when it came out in 1946, including calls to boycott it. Nor can I see why this film “trying to lighten the tragedy” of Reconstruction ought to be praised, given that it doesn’t ever allude to any of the tragic aspects of the period (namely ex-slaves struggling and ultimately failing to obtain equal rights with whites, and being forced into sharecropping and peonage arrangements) and instead portrays an utterly harmonious and racially egalitarian relationship between whites and blacks on the plantations.

      To say that “the democratic left” wanted to preserve the slaveowning status quo is largely nonsense as well. If by “democratic” you mean the Democratic Party, it decried the Republicans as dangerous radicals and tried to discredit it by linking it to socialists and other “strange” groups. Pro-slavery thought in the South by that time was avowedly conservative, as authors like Clement Eaton and Eugene Genovese chronicled. Not to mention I can see little reason for characterizing Abolitionism as a conservative (rather than liberal or left-wing) movement.

      All that being said, I do agree with the original review: I’m sure those behind the film thought they were “doing good” by having a plot where two white kids befriend Uncle Remus and a black kid, while gaining life lessons from slave folklore and the villains being two mean white boys. But the evident decision to avoid bringing up racial tensions and economic distress ex-slaves faced is cowardly and undermined any good message the film could have had.

      I also concur that, “problematic” content aside, the film is lackluster.

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