A 'Song' for the ages for the House of Mouse

Published May 3, 2007

Song of the South, Disney's first big live-action picture, produced one of the company's most famous songs: the Oscar-winning Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. But the 1946 film is also criticized as racist for its depiction of Southern plantation blacks. The movie remains hidden in the Disney archives - never released on video in the United States.

"Our concern was that a film that was made so many decades ago being brought out today perhaps could be either misinterpreted or that it would be somewhat challenging in terms of providing the appropriate context, " Disney president and CEO Bob Iger said recently.

Song of the South tells the story of a young white boy, Johnny, who goes to live on his grandparents' Georgia plantation. Johnny is charmed by Uncle Remus - a popular black servant - and his fables of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, which are actual black folk tales.

Remus' stories include "The Tar Baby, " a phrase Republican presidential hopefuls John McCain and Mitt Romney have been criticized for using to describe difficult situations. In Song of the South, it was a trick Brer Fox and Brer Bear used to catch the rabbit - dressing a lump of hot tar as a person to ensnare their prey. To some, it's now a derogatory term for blacks.

"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, " said James Pappas, associate professor of African-American Studies at the University of New York at Buffalo.

Pappas thinks the movie should be rereleased because of its historical significance. He said it should be prefaced, and closed, with present-day statements.

From a financial standpoint, Iger acknowledged last year that Disney stood to gain from rereleasing Song.