Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, March 1, 2021


 Walt Disney's Song of the South, based on the Uncle Remus stories of Joel Chandler Harris, is a hot potato for the company in these politically correct days.  although set just after the Civil War in the Reconstruction South, the film has been criticized for its glorification of slavery and its unsettling racist tropes.  You won't see the film on Disney -- it "wouldn't necessarily sit right or feel right to a number of people today."

Combining live action and animation, the film features James Baskett as Uncle Remus, a folksy black character on a ante-bellum plantation, who gives life lessons to a young Bobby Driscoll through folk tales about Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, and Br'er Bear.  Also featured was Luana Patton as Ginny, a poor white girl, and Glenn Leedy as Toby, a young black boy.  Among the talented cast was Ruth Warrick, Lucile Watson, and Hattie McDaniel.  James Baskett also provided the voice of Br'er Fox and (in one segment) Br'er Rabbit.  The two other main voice characters went on to be featured in television's Amos 'n' Andy:  Johnny lee (Br'er Rabbit) played shyster "lawyer" Algonquin J. Calhoun and Nick Stewart (Br'er Bear) played Lightnin'.

Problems with racial overtones in the film began when Disney hired Dalton Reymond, a Southern-born writer to  write the screenplay.  Reymond peppered his 51-page treatment with words such as "massa" and "darkey."  Disney then hired Clarence Muse, an African-American performer and writer as a consultant on the film.  Muse wanted the black characters to be portrayed with dignity and not as stereotypes, but Reymond did not adopt any of his suggestions.  Disney then hired screenwriter Maurice Rapf to work with Reymond and co-writer Callum Webb; Rapf's job was basically to temper Reymond's "white Southern slant"  Rapf was a Jew and a left-winger and was afraid of veering the film toward Uncle Tomism; Walt Disney told Rapf that's why he had hired him, "You're against Uncle Tomism.  You're a radical."  Nonetheless, after seven weeks, Rapf got into an argument with Reymond and was taken off  the project.  Reymond, by the way, had never written a script before...nor since.

To complicate things, requests by the NAACP and the American Council on Race Relations were denied requests to see the treatment.

Despite some of the racial overtones, the characters were treated with dignity and (thanks to Rapf) and pride.  The film, with all its shortcomings, is still enjoyable and the animated sequences are well done.  Song of the South is a product of its time and should perhaps be viewed that way.  For me, the scene with the crows in Disney's Dumbo is far more offensive.

For those who have not seen Song of the South in its entirety, take a look and judge for yourself.


  1. I have seen it, but not since very young childhood, on what was probably its last rerelease (1969?). Interesting that even has a copy up...I have to wonder if ever-vigilant Disney hasn't demanded its removal out of a desire to see what people make of it.

  2. Wow. Apparently:
    1986: November 21: Song of the South is re-released in theaters for the final time.
    I might've seen it as late as 1972, when age 7.