Song of the South is one of the most obscure and most popular of all the Disney movies: despite the fact that Disney has not made it available for a generation, the movie is the basis for the "Splash Mountain" flume rides at the Disney parks, and the movie's theme, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" remains a familiar anthem.
The movie's odd status is down to the racist themes it embodies, telling the story of a former slave who repeatedly feints towards his great satisfaction with life on a plantation, and who serves as a Magical Negro who comforts a young, affluent white boy whose parents are struggling with an unhappy marriage.
Apologists for the racist themes in the film call it a product of its time, but its release in 1946 was hugely controversial (it was even controversial during its production, with civil rights campaigners writing to Walt Disney personally to ask him to halt production).
How did Disney come to make this bizarre film, and how did they come to decide to simultaneously make it disappear and elevate it to a cultural touchstone?
Karina Longworth is one of Hollywood's great historians. For many years, her You Must Remember This podcast was a must-listen feed of incredible tales from film's first century, digging into the truth behind scandals, skullduggery, triumph and tragedy, from the Manson Family to Marilyn Monroe.
Last year, Longworth went on hiatus while she promoted her book, Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes's Hollywood, but a year later, she's back with a new series, delving into the secret, lost, shameful history of Song of the South.
The first episode in the series dropped on Monday (MP3) and I finished listening to it yesterday. It's spectacular!
Disney Plus is launching with the stated intention of streaming the entire Disney library…except for Song of the South, the 1946 animation/live-action hybrid film set on a post-Civil War plantation, which was theatrically re-released as recently as 1986, served as the basis for the ride Splash Mountain, but has never been available in the US on home video. What is Song of the South, why did Disney make it, and why have they held the actual film from release, while finding other ways to profit off of it? Across six episodes of our new season, we'll dig into all facets of Song of the South's strange story. Join us, won't you?
Disney's Most Controversial Film (Six Degrees of Song of the South, Episode 1) [Karina Longworth/You Must Remember This]