Su Lum: Slumming
September 8, 2009
I saw the movie “Song of the South” when it was released in 1946, and have been looking for a copy of it ever since the advent of VCRs and DVDs, to no avail. The way I heard it, the movie had been banned by the Disney studio because it supposedly depicted slavery in a positive, lighthearted way.
Occasionally I’d get an e-mail offering a copy of “Song of the South,” if I acted at once, for a mere $50, but I suspected these were scams and I’d never see either the movie or my money. Netflix put “Song of the South” in my Saved list meaning, I assumed, I’d get it if and when the ban were lifted.
A week ago Saturday I went to Les and Ellen Holst’s garage sale, always a pleasure of treasures where I once bought a large, stuffed iguana and where, at this sale, I had to pass up a 6-foot long model of the clipper ship The Cutty Sark, because I had no place to put it. While browsing, I remembered that Les had told me he had an extensive collection of musicals and I asked him if he had “Song of the South.”
Well, yes, as a matter of fact he did – bought a bootleg copy in Europe, not very good quality, but he’d be happy to make a copy for me. Les is such a generous man that you dare not look longingly at any of his possessions lest he try to give them to you, and it should have come as no surprise that he had reviewed his copy of “Song of the South,” found it so wanting in quality that he got on the Internet, ordered a CD from Japan and presented it to me the following Thursday at the Historic Task Force meeting, which we both attend.
It was all I could do to keep from leaping out of my chair and dashing home to watch it, which I did the second the meeting was adjourned.
“Song of the South” is definitely dated in its attitudes and makes any sentient white person squirm with shame for being a member of the white race, but there are plenty of movies that show us in a much worse light (think “Roots,” or “Eyes on the Prize”). In “Song of the South” the depiction was of patronization and separation rather than cruelty, and this went for the white male/female, white rich/white trash and adult/children relationships as well.
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The main part of the movie was the telling of the Brer Rabbit stories, with which I had long been familiar (“Please don’t throw me in the briar patch,” Brer Rabbit would cry to Brers Fox and Bear, and when they took the bait and threw him in he effected his escape, calling back, “I was born and bred in the briar patch!”), one of the first (if not THE first) movies to combine live action with cartoon characters.
The songs, “Zippity Doo Dah,” and “How do you do” (the theme song of Disney’s Splash Mountain ride) are great, the animation excellent, and the Uncle Remus stories of Brer Rabbit cleverly outwitting his enemies could, ironically, be metaphors for oppressed people getting the best of their oppressors.
The big surprise was finding out that the movie isn’t banned at all. It is just “not released” in the United States. If you Google “Song of the South” there are several outlets where you can get it, as well as on eBay. It is not as if you’re smuggling in banned copies of “Ulysses,” which was such a big deal in the ’50s.
The second surprise was that the movie is set after the Civil War, so is not about slavery at all, but the time following.
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