Song of the South has always been something of a blemish on the Disney name, due to its racist undertones. However, it can't be denied that the film is a piece of film history. It's got a reputation not unlike The Birth of a Nation, the 1915 film school staple that is widely hailed as one of the most important films of all time on one hand...but could be taken as a recruiting film for the Ku Klux Klan on the other. Song has taken a lot of flack over the years, due to its portrayal of Southern plantation blacks. The film has never been released on video in the United States, and this is from a company that releases, and re-releases, and re-re-releases everything. That may soon change, though. Disney President Bob Iger recently announced that the company has been giving some serious thought to making it available.
Iger states "We've decided to take a look at it again because we've had numerous requests about bringing it out. 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." Song of the South was originally released in 1946. If you're not familiar with its characters, you've surely heard its most famous song, "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah." Splash Mountain at the Disney parks is based on the film. A mix of animated content and live-action, Song tells the story of a young white boy, Johnny, who goes to live on a Georgia plantation. A black servant entertains Johnny with the stories of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear and Brer Fox, which are actual black folk tales. Remus' stories include the saga of the "Tar Baby," a phrase which today is considered a derogatory term for African-Americans.
The film doesn't refer to the characters as slaves, and it isn't as offensive as a lot of the controversial material from America's unfortunate past. Many don't see how it's any more upsetting than, say, Gone With the Wind. But the fact that Song is a children's film surely adds to the concern. The demand for the film can't be denied -- nearly 115,000 people have signed an online petition asking Disney to make the movie available to the public. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, which distributes Disney films for home viewing, cites it only as a possibility, stating: "Song of the South is one of a handful of titles that has not seen a home distribution window. To this point, we have not discounted nor committed to any distribution window concerning this title."