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Walt Disney and the Memory Hole

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Disney has been around since the 1920s. The mighty Disney corporation started out in a very different time. They could hardly be held liable for the sin of having failed to anticipate the social attitudes and norms that would come a half century later.

Nonetheless, they have at least a couple of classic movies specifically with racial issues that are an embarrassment to the modern company, most notably the 1946 film Song of the South. Uncle Walt wasn't trying to be offensive – hey, he's making family films. He certainly intended to be promoting racial understanding and all that nice stuff. Ol' Uncle Remus provides the comfort and words of wisdom as the little white boy tries to deal with the breakup of his parents.

The basic problem is that the film is telling Uncle Remus stories, glossing right over the issues of black folks right happy to be down on the plantation. There's just no getting around the issues in modern America and the movie simply isn't available here. They'd just as soon forget it. It is apparently available as an import on Amazon through German sources, though. It is also available for downloading on the net.

The problem comes out in the one part that they can't even try to suppress, the hit single. "Zip a Dee Doo Dah" is one of the half dozen most popular songs in the history of Disney films. It won the Oscar for best song in a motion picture – and quite deservedly so.

The basic problematic happy negroes down on the plantation theme comes popping out of the narration before the singing even starts:

It was one of them zip-a-dee-doo-dah days,
The kind of a day where you can't hardly open your mouth without a song falling right out of it!

Well, there you go. Racist stereotypes of black folks with that natural rhythm. Nothing else can possibly redeem this; not the humanity of Uncle Remus, not the trusting bond with little Johnny holding hands with the surrogate father figure. That image alone must have constituted radical commie race mixing to many folks in 1946. What do you want? No explanation can be offered once someone has determined that they have been offended. File this under "this is what you get for trying to be nice."

Perhaps Disney would get less grief at this point to put the damned thing out than they do for suppressing it. I find it difficult to believe that most black folks would seriously be offended by the actual content of this, despite the bleating of the NAACP. How offensive would kindly Uncle Remus be to kids raised on Richard Pryor records – much less gangster rap? Clue up, people. There's great historical value in this film.

Another little entry in the Disney racial sweepstakes comes in the classic 1940 Fantasia. This one is just a small bit, and surely not maliciously intended, but lacking the distinctly noble tint of the Song of the South. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating bit of Disney trivia.

Basically, the questionable part amounts to a few seconds of a black centaur acting as servant to the white centaurs in the "Pastoral Symphony" segment, shining their hooves. The trivia page for Fantasia on the IMDB has fascinating details about how the film has been quietly edited and re-edited since the segment was deemed inappropriate in the 1960s. The good folks at The Memory Hole website have a still image of the offensive scene, along with more details.

Something comes across to me as just slightly Orwellian about this re-writing of history. Even the lauded 60th anniversary "uncut" restored DVD does not in fact have this original bit. It's a minor point, I know, but the film was what it was. It is a historical document. Just put the thing out as it was, and shut up about it. This corporate dishonesty should bother you more than the very minor racial offenses.

This all also amounts to another argument for re-claiming classic copyright limitations. These films both should have long since passed into the public domain, to be circulated by people with no vested interest in promoting the modern Disney corporate image.

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  • Michael Ryan

    Why are you trying to downplay Disney’s racist views by saying they are just minor offences? Minor, major, its all the same. Is that to say that the church bombing that killed 4 little girls in Alabama should be ‘passed over’ because it was a sign of the times? And who are you to say what black people will or will not be offended by? You should check YOUR prejudices!

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Minor, major, its all the same.

    Yup, ya got me there. Uncle Remus telling Brer Rabbit stories to the white kids is just the same as burning down churches full of black children.

    Perhaps you are under the mistaken belief that you have a right not to hear anything you consider offensive, or that black people shouldn’t hear something that might be offensive.

    Then of course you are presuming that all black people will find the same things offensive.

    My point was not particularly that somebody should or shouldn’t be offended by some specific art work, but that the work should be available as public domain work at this point. That way anyone with an interest in such things could examine the actual object of controversy and decide for themselves what to think of it.

    Also, that way, you could get you a copy of Song of the South to watch while you jack off into orgasms of exquisite indignance.

    Oh, I think it’s going to be a gusher!

  • Sean Currie

    SONG OF THE SOUTH deserves to be buried.. it’s available to internet-savvy folk, so fine..

    but as far as putting it in modern day Wal-Marts, Targets and Best Buys? Hell no..

    the fact exists that these deluded images did a great disservice in collectively disrespecting black people as a whole– to dismiss it as simply being a sign of the times implicitly endorses the attitudes.. the promotional image above may not have even been used by most theaters..

    the “uncle remus” folk tales are of great historical importance, BUT– in the hands of Disney, how many people now implicitly (or for younger people, explicitly) attribute the various brother’s grimm-harvested folk tales as Disney “inventions”? The same goes for Milne’s WINNIE THE POOH…

    I can remember seeing the movie as a young boy, on the DISNEY channel, in the mid 80’s… Despite the ‘moral’ lesson(s) involved, it was hardly a bold maneuver for any filmmaker to depict American slavery as being anything but a marginally uncomfortable circumstances.. young people who are not conscious of the true brutality of the slavery era may be led to think it was “just okay”…

  • marcus white

    Surely the film shows that although Uncle Remus was being persecuited by white people it did not make hime bitter towards all white people, he still befriended the little boy because it had nothing to do with him. Does this story not have a moral….somewhere?

  • http://uncleremus larry

    i always enjoyed uncle remus. of course i was a little white boy then.brer bear was funny always funny. i was surprised when dumbo was pulled because of the two crows. i think that these films were relavent later on larry

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Well, I’m not just sure how to judge the movie, cause I haven’t seen most of it. I’d really like to lay hands on simple DVD so I could see what the fuss was about.

    My best understanding would be that they were basically sidestepping the racial issues. Not that they were trying to justify slavery, but their theoretical sin would seem to be basically glossing over those sins.

    Instead, they glossed over those parts so they could get to presenting Uncle Remus having human relations with the little white kids. Perhaps that was more important to do at that point, from Disney’s standpoint. They at least thought that they were trying to be inclusive and doing right.

    But I’d sure like to study the thing closely, get a chance to pick at it a bit.

  • Luke

    It should be released, I don’t care how racist or un-racist it is, I’m not even going to justify it with “sign of the times” it should be released because it’s part of cinematic history, and then people can hate it or like it all they want, but people have a right to form an opinion of this movie regardless of how offensive it is.

  • Senoj

    The author Al is so obvoiusly a racist it is painful to read his denials that Disney was. As it is apparent in his writng of the above article as well as in his angry responses to anyone who does not agree with his racist opinions. Poor poor Al, why the sexual references in your response…perhaps you are more than just an angry racist, perhaps this aggression is more far reaching. I wish for you the ability to see beyond your pity ignorance in due time so that you are able to remove the samsara you have placed upon yourself. Your existence is beyond today, last week and next year, you are more than the colour of your skin and you have an obligation to do better than this gibberish you are publishing. I wish you knowledge and peace.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Senoj, I could give a rat’s ass about you calling me “racist.” The likes of you have whored the word out to the point that it’s all stretched out of shape and not able to do any good when someone comes along who actually would fit such a description.

    But there are few things that I find more contemptible and distasteful than the kind of cheap grasping after a faked-up sense of moral superiority that you display here. You want to act like you’re some enlightened spiritual creature. You’re obviously not, and your comments in #8 are evidence of that.

    As to Walt Disney, I make no claim to having any understanding of his personal attitudes about race. Don’t particularly care. I’m judging only by what he put on the screen. In that professional capacity, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that he intended other than to be inclusive and understanding. It’s a small world, after all.

    Then again, maybe if I could actually watch Song of the South I’d get a different outlook.

  • http://culturesalad.blogspot.com/ Ray Ellis

    This isn’t a copyright reform issue–it’s a political correctness issue, and as such, I have to stand with Al on this one. History, as much as some would try otherwise, cannot be rewritten. Nor should it be. Summarily dismissing Disney (or Barger, for that matter) as a racist because they bring up something that makes you feel uncomfortable puts the real shame on you. Espousing censorship, no matter how noble the intention, opens a floodgate for terrors you have not even begun to imagine.

    Political correctness is a real danger to freedom of speech in that it waters down creative thought. I’ve disagreed with Al more often than not( we won’t rehash the DC thing), but never once can I recall an instance where he called for censorship or a ban of any kind.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Thanks, Ray. It partway IS a copyright reform issue though, in that they are using copyright law as the tool of censorship.

    Mostly, copyrights are pumped up and abused for the relatively benign purpose of simple greed, wanting to continue extracting tribute for 50 or 100 year old stuff- however much and long they can get Congress to let them milk it.

    But stuff like this Song of the South and some of the Scientology nonsense use copyright as a stick for censorship of the historical record. They are using it to not just tax the works like regular copyright usage, but to as much as possible completely suppress historical documents that the modern corporate entities think will reflect badly on their companies.

    Copyrights = censorship.

  • http://sterfish.blogspot.com Sterfish

    Quite simply, I think that Song of The South should be available for people to see. I’m against the idea that racist or potentially racist images should be unavailable. These types of things should be available in part so that we can be aware of our history. Nothing makes you take pause and realize how far we’ve come (or gone back) as much as seeing the way things used to be.

  • Evan

    can anybody tell me where i can get Fantasia on dvd

  • Evan

    never mind im getting it for my birthday

  • Evan

    and nobody is replying to this nobody replies to comments on blogcritics anymore but it still goes on on topix and students of the world

  • Evan

    but anyway i got Fantasia on dvd

  • Evan

    and this is the storyline to Fantasia

  • Evan

    it opens up in a concert hall when musicians like Leopald Stokoski and Deems Taylor tell you about the stuf their gonna show you on the screen it might great landscapes or big shadows the first segment is Tocatta and Figue n D Minor it does not tell a story its shows object flying threw the air around the desert and the mountains and a boulder walking down a tunnel

  • Evan

    the second segment is the Nutcracker Suite however their is no typical Nutcracker on the screen but on the screen are faires that fly around in the forest their magic brings mushrooms to life and makes them dance and at the bottom of a lake is a fish their are also dancing flowers

  • Evan

    and than its winter and faires ae ice skating

  • Evan

    the 3rd segement is the Sorcerers Apperantice which opens up in a castle when a wizard named Yen Sid is practing magic tricks and Mickey Mouse who is cast into the roll as his apperantice has pour water into the cauldren the bat Yen Sid makes becomes a butterfly and than Yen Sid takes his wizard hat off and heads up stairs to take a nap and Mickey sees his chance and puts on Yen Sids hat and brings a broom to life giving it arms and orders it to get a bucket and pour water into the cauldren and than Mickey Mouse sits down in a chair falls asleep and dreams about being on a rock out in the middle of the sea commanding the waves and the storm

  • Evan

    but when he wakes up from that dream he sees that broom is pouring too much water into the cauldren which could flood the castle Mickey tries to stop him but he wont listen he counties to pour more water into the cauldren and than Mickey Mouse gets an axe and chops the broom to peices

  • Evan

    but that only leads to bigger problems the brooms become a group start flooding the castle Mickey Mouse tries to stop them but he cant finish what he started and Yen Sid wakes up and goes down stairs and stops the flood making the brooms lifeless again and Mickey is in huge trouble

  • Evan

    Mickey gives Yen Sid back his hat and gets a bucket and than Yen Sid spanks Mickey Mouse with the broom

  • Evan

    and than Mickey Mouse and Leopald Stokiski congraulate each other

  • Evan

    the fourth segement is the Rite of Spring which opens up in outar space and the comet lands on earth and volcanos erupt

  • Evan

    and water comes and little blobs are born and some are caught by jellyfish and another fish walks on land and becomes the first amphebain

  • Evan

    and also in the sea are the pleasosaurs a meat eating creature with fins and a long neck and there are the moasaurs crocodiles with fins and above on the rocks are petrodycles that fly down and catch fish one would catch a squid and the other would the squid away from him and one would fly down and catch a fish and get eaten by a moesaur

  • Evan

    and on land are the dinosaurs and a dimetrodon that would prey on a nothosaurus

  • Evan

    and a tricerotops a three horned dinosaur that ate plants and a stegosaurus a dinosaur with plates on its back and spikes on its tail and the t – rex a meat eater that chases the dinosaurs and than its starts to rain

  • Evan

    and the t – rex bites the stegosaurus on the tail and than on the neck but the stegosaurus hits the t – rex with his tail

  • Evan

    and than there is a battle the stegosaurus battles for his life the t – rex battles for his food the t – rex bites the stegosaurus on the neck again and gets hit by the tail again the t – rex grabs the stegosaurus by the neck hurrling it to the ground and dropping it to the ground and than stegosaurus dies and the t – rex roars in thunder and eats the stegosaurus

  • Evan

    the next morning is a drought all the dinosaurs go hungry and Ceratosaurs meat eating dinosaurs with horns attack but all the dinosaurs become exent

  • Evan

    and the earth quake comes and the land is now a dry and lonely desert

  • Evan

    next they interdouce you to the soundtrack

  • Evan

    the fith segement is the Pastrol Symphony which opens up in acent greece when fawns and unicorns run around in a feild

  • Evan

    and above are peagus horses with wings and cupids help centours fall in love with female centours and than they are at a celebration honoring Bacchus the god of wine and his pet horned donkey Jacchus yes everybody has the time of their lives but it is interupted when Zeus king of the gods decides to fun with them and he Vulcan to makes thunder bolts and he throws them at them cossing a storm but Bacchus and Jacchus are saved by wine and than Vulcan ask Zeus if he wants more thunder bolts but Zeus tells him no and grows tired and Vulcan throws the thunder bolts away and Zeus covers himself up in the clouds for a nap

  • Evan

    and the next morning Diana goddess of the rainbow bring joy across the land and Apollo the sun god brings the sun around and Morphous the god of sleep brings the moon around and everybody sleeps in peace

  • Evan

    the 6ith segement is called Dance of the Hours which opens up in a clock palace when a ostrich awakes and tries to run with the grapes from the flock but drops the grapes in a pool which are eaten by a hippo

  • Evan

    and the other hippos dress her up

  • Evan

    and than the hippo falls asleep and elephants tease her and than the elephants are blown away and a group of alligators and crocodiles come by and try to eat the hippo but their leader Ben Al Gator chases them off

  • Evan

    and than the hippo wakes up and tries to flee but Ben Al Gator captivites her into dancing with him but she runs and he chases and his gang tries to corner her and he jumps on her but falls in the pool suddenly the alligators and crocodiles get elephants and ostriches and Ben Al Gator spind the hippo around and gets aplaued

  • Evan

    the last segement is scary its Night on Bald Mountain along with it is Ave Maria it opens up in a graveyard and night falls and on the mountains a huge black demon named Chernabog wakes up summons dark spirits from the cementary

  • Evan

    witches ghost goblins and vampires all gather around the mountain to worship Chernabog and than fire rise up from hell and Chernabog holds little demons in his hands and drops them back in the pit and picks them up again making them dancers than animals than lizards and than the party goes on all night and when one demon is caught by a female vampire

  • Evan

    and than Chernabog waves the spirits around the fairy abyss

  • Evan

    and than Chernabog tries to countuie to terrize but the church bell rings and Chernabog looks but does not see the sun in the sky and than countuies the party but the church bell rings again and the demons evil spirits ghost witchies goblin and vampires all decend back to hell

  • Evan

    and Chernabog yawns and covers himself back up in the mountains and the morning has come the sun rised up in the sky and the monks carrying torches walk on a bridge in the woods and head for church to worship God and the Lord Jesus Christ and thats the end

  • Evan

    who all remembers that

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Ooh wee, Evan. I am digging the obsessiveness of your Fantasia fandom! Now I’ma have to go hunt the thing down again. It’s been years since I saw it in the theater.

  • Evan

    well im not obsessive about it i just thought it was a good movie it had good pictures too

  • Evan

    well you can order it off ebay thats the best place to get it

  • Evan

    and there is also Melody Time which is kind of like Fantasia but the last segement in Melody Time is not about a giant black monster summoning evil spirits from their graves its about a cowboy named Pacos Bill

  • Evan

    there is another disney movie that was after Fantasia and before Melody Time its called Make Mine Music

  • Evan

    and i got Melody Time and Fun and Fancy Free but i also want to get Make Mine Music .