A couple years ago, I sat up in the nosebleed seats of the Anaheim Convention Center during the Disney shareholder meeting and heard Disney CEO Robert Iger answer a question about when Song of the South might be coming back.
Mr. Iger said that he had looked at the film, and the company had looked at the idea of re-releasing the SOTS, but after due consideration the answer was "sorry, no." The picture wouldn't be coming out anytime soon on DVD or any other format. It was just too sensitive.
I sat there and thought, "Okay, I can understand that. The picture isn't nearly as racist as Gone With the Wind, but this is Disney, after all. What family-type conglomerate wants grief releasing old product that rubs some people the wrong way, that opens old sores? Probably a safe decision."
That was in 2006. Then we moved on to other stockholder meetings ...
And Mr. Iger's thinking changed somewhat:
... At the annual shareholders meeting in March 2007, Iger announced that the company was reconsidering the decision, and had decided to look into the possibility of releasing the film ...
But that stockholder announcement quickly got reversed:
In May 2007, it was again reported that the Disney company had chosen not to release the film...
So here we are in 2008, and the Mouse House has reverted to the more cautious status quo:
..."[I]n Albuquerque today, March 6, 2008. A shareholder got up during the Question and Answer segment to ask Robert Iger, the CEO of Disney, 'Before the end of my lifetime will I ever see 'Song of the South' released to home video?' To which Mr. Iger replied the now 'standard' reply: They discuss the possibility regularly, there are certain issues of 'sensitivity' surround this movie and the long ago past era it was made in, times are different now, no immediate plans to release it, but they do regularly revisit it, etc."
Now, I totally get behind Robert Iger's thinking. Disney doesn't need to gin up controversy by putting SOTS out on the market again. Sure, it's got some terrific animation in it, and yes, it's not as over-the-top with its stereotypes as the Selznick-MGM Civil War epic, but there would be incoming flack if the feature was re-marketed, and the cost-benefit for Disney most likely isn't worth it.
All that I totally understand. What I don't understand is this ...
Generous portions of Song of the South are all over YouTube, and being watched. And one thing I know is, if Disney -- the copyright holder -- didn't want them them there, they wouldn't be.
So the only thing I can conclude is, the House of Mouse has mixed emotions about its sixty-two-year-old animation/live-action chestnut. Not ready to embrace it, but not willing to reject it totally, either. (And anyone who wants to own a copy, well ... that can be arranged.)
My take? Some of South is pretty edgy by today's standards (and a lot of blacks had problems with it right from the get-go), but if you want a dose of repugnant, consider what the Warners' animation crew was doing around the same time:
... [Eleven racially offensive Warners Cartoons], known as the “Censored 11,” have been unavailable to the public for 40 years. Postings no longer appear if YouTube is searched for “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs,” a parody of “Snow White” and the most famous of the cartoons. But a search for “Coal Black” does find the cartoon.
These cartoons were controversial when first released; the N.A.A.C.P. unsuccessfully protested “Coal Black” before it was shown in 1943. Richard McIntire, the director of communications for the N.A.A.C.P., wrote in an e-mail message that “the cartoons are despicable. We encourage the films’ owners to maintain them as they are — that is, locked away in their vaults.” ...
The problem for any culture, and especially a diverse civilization like ours, is the standards that one generation finds acceptable is often despised and repudiated (justifiably) in the next. Looking back, I'm amazed that anyone could not have found various stereotypes in silent comedies and animated cartoons offensive.
Yet there they are, on full view on the ubiquitous internet, for everybody to clench their jaws at.