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There’s one film Disney still refuses to release on home video to U.S. audiences: “Song of the South,” a 1946 feature based on the African-American folk tales of rascally Br’er Rabbit, as retold by white Southern writer Joel Chandler Harris. Combining live action with animation, its central character is an elderly black sharecropper who spins colorful stories to befriend a lonely white boy.
Best remembered now for the Oscar-winning song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” the film is readily available overseas and has even aired several times on BBC TV. But Disney historian Jim Korkis believes the studio, fearing a severe backlash in the States, is more interested in protecting its image than protecting youngsters.
“From a business standpoint, they could probably make a fortune,” said Korkis, who recently authored “Who’s Afraid of ‘Song of the South’? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories.” “But some people out there are just wired to believe that Disney is an evil empire out to corrupt today’s children.”
Korkis believes a release would dispel several misunderstandings about the film. It takes place during Reconstruction, not slavery, and the main character, Uncle Remus, is free to leave the Southern plantation where he lives. “South” also depicts a strong friendship between a black kid and a white kid years before Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis teamed up as “The Defiant Ones.”
Walt Disney was such a supporter of James Baskett, the actor who played Remus, that he lobbied for an honorary Oscar presented to Baskett by Ingrid Bergman.
Maltin and Korkis doubt that Disney will budge, but die-hard fans hold out hope that someday both nostalgia lovers and a new generation can overlook some painful stereotypes and enjoy a beautifully crafted classic.
My, oh, my, that’d be a wonderful day.
Neal Justin • 612-673-7431