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Disney's SONG OF THE SOUTH: a truly offensive musical?

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3 minutes ago, Jim K said:

Yes, it was in the original stage production.  And the original and movie were not to kind to women either.  No matter how good Annie was as a sharpshooter, she was not complete until she had a man.  And to get her man, she had to come in second.  

When they revived Annie Get Your Gun for Bernadette Peters, they reworked the script so it was more respectful of Native Americans and to make Annie more of a twentieth century woman.  And they dropped "I'm an Indian Too" altogether.  Instead they took a subplot that was in the original but not in the movie and turned it into a romance between a Native American and a white woman.  I don't think they are licensing the original script anymore.  If you see it on stage today, you will see the new version.  Here are a couple of clips from the new version with Reba McEntire, who replaced Bernadette Peters.  The first is her version of "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun", and the second shows how they doctored the final scene.

 

 

Thanks. I'm surprised it wasn't done as a TV movie with Reba. She was tailor made for this role. She started her singing career performing at rodeos.

I agree that the ending of the Betty Hutton movie sort of sees Annie take a step backward. Where her rifle becomes second in importance to making a man happy.

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And here are a few of the lyrics to "I'm an Indian Too" that were disrespectful of Native Americans and their culture.  Short of rewriting the song, there isn't much they can do with the lyrics to make it respectful.

Just like Battle Axe, Hatchet Face, Eagle Nose
Like those Indians, I'm an Indian too.

And I'll have totem poles, tomahawks, pipes of peace [all sacred to Native Americans]
Which will go to prove I'm an Indian too.

Just like Rising Moon, Falling Pants, Running Nose
Like those Indians, I'm an Indian too.

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7 minutes ago, Jim K said:

And here are a few of the lyrics to "I'm an Indian Too" that were disrespectful of Native Americans and their culture.  Short of rewriting the song, there isn't much they can do with the lyrics to make it respectful.

Just like Battle Axe, Hatchet Face, Eagle Nose
Like those Indians, I'm an Indian too.

And I'll have totem poles, tomahawks, pipes of peace [all sacred to Native Americans]
Which will go to prove I'm an Indian too.

Just like Rising Moon, Falling Pants, Running Nose
Like those Indians, I'm an Indian too.

Yeah, not sure it can be perceived as an attack on racial stereotyping which this wiki article says:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I'm_an_Indian_Too

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On 6/17/2018 at 9:35 AM, TopBilled said:

My view, for what it's worth, is that Disney liked using old stories to appeal to new audiences. There was a nostalgia factor involved in using Joel Chandler Harris' stories. Disney himself might have enjoyed reading them as a child. I really do not think it was some huge conspiracy where Disney decided to take the material and use it to promote his own personal views of slavery. I doubt he was that calculating. He wanted to entertain a postwar audience. Did the same people complaining about the movie complain to Harris' estate about the stories being written in the first place? 

I agree. I think it's just Disney Company PR that's keeping it from being released in the U.S. The same way they've tried to "cleanse" other "offensive" works of Walt Disney, not just movies but the beloved old Disneyland attractions, such as Pirates of the Caribbean. (They thought it "improper" for a pirate to chase a wench, so they put the wench carrying food, so it will appear he's only after the food and not the girl.)

Like Gone With the Wind, this movie was also based on a book; however, in contrast to Mitchell's book, Harris began writing his stories as a newspaper serial as early as the decade after the Civil War. (And published as book in late 1880s.) At that time, people were also enjoying reading Mark Twain's books that many consider "offensive" today! ? 

In his teens during Civil War, Harris worked for a newspaper owner who also owned a plantation, providing Harris room and board. In his years there, Harris became close friends with the slaves, visiting their quarters when he wasn't working, and hearing them tell their folk-stories. He wished to honor those slaves and preserve their stories by publishing those stories in his newspaper serial, which later would be published as a book.

I've seen a foreign copy of the movie and I really didn't see anything really "offensive" about it. Again, I watched it in context of a story taking place in 1860s, not just the movie's context from mid-1940s. The little boy, who is visiting the plantation while his father is away, loves and respects Uncle Remus.

If anyone wanted to complain about a movie being "offensive" for modern viewers, I could easily point out several pre-WWII movies and cartoons, even going back to silents, where blacks were disrespected and portrayed as lazy, stupid, and getting scared easily (trembling and stammering with their eyes bulging and mouth agape). But that's all part of the history for that era of movies; I wouldn't call for a ban on those old films, either.

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4 minutes ago, Rochelle W said:

I agree. I think it's just Disney Company PR that's keeping it from being released in the U.S. The same way they've tried to "cleanse" other "offensive" works of Walt Disney, not just movies but the beloved old Disneyland attractions, such as Pirates of the Caribbean. (They thought it "improper" for a pirate to chase a wench, so they put the wench carrying food, so it will appear he's only after the food and not the girl.)

Like Gone With the Wind, this movie was also based on a book; however, in contrast to Mitchell's book, Harris began writing his stories as a newspaper serial as early as the decade after the Civil War. (And published as book in late 1880s.) At that time, people were also enjoying reading Mark Twain's books that many consider "offensive" today! ? 

In his teens during Civil War, Harris worked for a newspaper owner who also owned a plantation, providing Harris room and board. In his years there, Harris became close friends with the slaves, visiting their quarters when he wasn't working, and hearing them tell their folk-stories. He wished to honor those slaves and preserve their stories by publishing those stories in his newspaper serial, which later would be published as a book.

I've seen a foreign copy of the movie and I really didn't see anything really "offensive" about it. Again, I watched it in context of a story taking place in 1860s, not just the movie's context from mid-1940s. The little boy, who is visiting the plantation while his father is away, loves and respects Uncle Remus.

If anyone wanted to complain about a movie being "offensive" for modern viewers, I could easily point out several pre-WWII movies and cartoons, even going back to silents, where blacks were disrespected and portrayed as lazy, stupid, and getting scared easily (trembling and stammering with their eyes bulging and mouth agape). But that's all part of the history for that era of movies; I wouldn't call for a ban on those old films, either.

Excellent post...and thanks for the background on Harris and how he was inspired to write the stories in the first place. I am sure the slaves who shared their folktales with him enjoyed doing it and he was honoring them by preserving what they said to him.

You can't just wipe out their history and not represent them because people 150 years later are offended or embarrassed by them. Can you imagine if people were banning movies about our culture now because they were offended by the way Americans live in 2018? We're here at this point in history and our story means something.

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46 minutes ago, Rochelle W said:

I've seen a foreign copy of the movie and I really didn't see anything really "offensive" about it. Again, I watched it in context of a story taking place in 1860s, not just the movie's context from mid-1940s. The little boy, who is visiting the plantation while his father is away, loves and respects Uncle Remus.

I would remind you as I reminded @TopBilled that just because you don't see anything offensive about it from your perspective in 2018 doesn't mean that there wasn't criticism lobbed at the movie in 1946 because there certainly was by African Americans. There is a post on the first page showing a picture of black picketers protesting in front of the movie theater that is showing it. They must have found something offensive and I would recommend you research their concerns and POV for some deeper insight. What they were and may have found insulting or offensive then might not register or be obvious to you now. You're entitled to your own opinion and POV certainly but just because you don't see something as offensive doesn't mean that there wasn't something offensive in it for some audiences. 

Sometimes, its not just about you and your own opinions as to what makes something offensive, especially if you cannot recognize or understand why it was, or could be deemed offensive to different groups of people then or now for that matter.

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2 hours ago, Jim K said:

not to kind to women either.  No matter how good Annie was as a sharpshooter, she was not complete until she had a man.  And to get her man, she had to come in second.  

Personally, I think the sexism is blatant and does a tremendous disservice to the real Annie Oakley.  She once said, "I ain't afraid to love a man.  I ain't afraid to shoot him either."   That's not a woman who compromises or condescends. 

 

 

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2 hours ago, Brittany Ashley said:

I would remind you as I reminded @TopBilled that just because you don't see anything offensive about it from your perspective in 2018 doesn't mean that there wasn't criticism lobbed at the movie in 1946 because there certainly was by African Americans. There is a post on the first page showing a picture of black picketers protesting in front of the movie theater that is showing it. They must have found something offensive and I would recommend you research their concerns and POV for some deeper insight. What they were and may have found insulting or offensive then might not register or be obvious to you now. You're entitled to your own opinion and POV certainly but just because you don't see something as offensive doesn't mean that there wasn't something offensive in it for some audiences. 

Sometimes, its not just about you and your own opinions as to what makes something offensive, especially if you cannot recognize or understand why it was, or could be deemed offensive to different groups of people then or now for that matter.

Are you assuming that I'm white???

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6 hours ago, MarkH said:

Very interesting article, not so much strictly a book review, but more of an analysis of SOTS, responding to a 2012 book about the film. It has some helpful background info, which folks above have been requesting.

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2013/01/song_of_the_south_disney_s_most_notorious_film_by_jason_sperb_reviewed.html 

Interesting how the word notorious is being applied to the film now, like it's been outlawed.

I disagree with the part where they try to dismiss defenders of the film who claim it is a product of its time. It most certainly is a product of its time. Everything is a product of its time.

Also if the film is so untouchable then why are books and articles being written about it that will almost certainly stir up new interest in it. I do think the film because of its legendary status, will outlast political correctness. Plus we haven't heard about Disney burning the original footage or letting it fall into the public domain, so the company is retaining the property because it sees ongoing value in it.

The writer of the article contradicts himself when he says anyone born after 1980 probably hasn't seen the film. But then later in the article says Disney re-released it twice in the 80s. So kids born in the 80s probably did see it when they were very young. The writer is also not addressing how the film has been available for children in foreign countries. The Amazon Australia website was selling it as recently as 2016.

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To top, haven';t yet took in entire post on SONG... but whats your opinion of that classic animated *Disney flick as a whole, meaning how well-made it is?    I must not have seen it, or been able to on tv anywhere since I was a wee  Irish lad of about 6 or so

 

as you know Baskett was awarded a special on -competitive statuette & that famed song won.  Wonder sometimes when they do that, instead of not just nominating said person?

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Whats you fans opinion(s) of *Bob Fosse's-=(l927-87) 1979 ALL THAT JAZZ?

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Though not quite among my own top ten favorite movie musicals, if one had to select just one that personified Americana during that era it must be 1944's MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS

 

 

L.B. Mayer-(l885-l957) just adored the musicals & despised depressing & gangster films

 

EXAMPLE: Wen the showed him ASPHALT JUNGLE he was furiuous & said "I wouldn't even walk across the room to talk to such people" unquote   Besides *L. Barrymore being his ultimate fav. actor, he just adored "The Mick" Rooney!

 

Where is after NYC fired him in 1951 after 27yrs-(ironically the same yr the AMPAS which he started) awarded him a special statue. His replacement *Dore Schary-(l916-l980) on the contrary liked hard & often message fare

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I utterly adore Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's THAT'S ENERETAINMENT, PART I & especially Part II-(due to mixing in other footage)  & same goes for III

 

I went to something like them,. but pretty mediocre in '84 "That's Dancing!" (**1/2 at best)

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45 minutes ago, spence said:

To top, haven';t yet took in entire post on SONG... but whats your opinion of that classic animated *Disney flick as a whole, meaning how well-made it is?   

I just went and looked at my rating for it on the IMDb. I gave SONG OF THE SOUTH a 9 out of 10. I did not review it because I felt that my comments would be misapplied if I indicated liking it on any level. But I reserve the right to do a full review of it later on. To answer your question I think it's very well made and highly effective as entertainment and as Disney "propaganda." Many films don't make us feel anything. This film does.

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If they can have the ride at his theme parks, why can’t they show the movie on TCM?

 

How do I miss the Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as well!

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I just want to say that I appreciate you fellow TCM fans for the thoughtful discussion here.  I feel like TCM is the one place where anyone of any group can come together and appreciate Classic movies in a respectful, thought provoking manner.  As a millennial (I still prefer to consider myself Gen Y haha) I've recused myself from all other social media, it's too vitriolic. Just to say, I really appreciate the TCM forum and this course for its civility, even dealing with topics of race and gender equality which can be hard for people to talk about. Of course people are emotional or passionate about these issues, yet we can still love old movies (We don't have to love them all.) 

Its also really hard to think about things in the lense of yesteryear versus today.  I agree SOTS shouldn't necessarily be banned (noted it's not banned, just buried in the vault for reasons y'all discussed) and I have this vague recollection of seeing it once as a kid, though that would have been the late '80s or early '90s.  I think someone said it was re-released twice, though Wikipedia says Disney hasn't released it for home viewing since its initial release.  I'm sure someone's already mentioned that some of the songs are available as clips, even if the whole movie isn't.  

I do remember reading the B'rer Rabbit stories in schools and loving them, mainly because he was always getting out of tricky situations and I liked rabbits.  B'rer rabbit stories have African origins and was later published by Robert Roosevelt, then later Joel Chandler Harris.  Then adapted for screen by Dalton Reymond, a Southerner, and Maurice Rapf, who was Jewish and initially hesitated the offer to write the screenplay, fearing it would be offensive.  

As an adult, I realized SOTS is offensive today.  Wonder if this is due in part to being adapted, several times, by non-African Americans? Whether you like the movie or whether it has aesthetic merit in spite of the stereotypes are different issues to explore.  Can a movie like this still have cultural or aesthetic merit in spite of stereotypes? (Not having seen it in years, except for clips I can't speak to this movie specifically.)

I believe they talk about SOTS in the PBS documentary on Walt Disney, I can't remember if it's part I or II. Apparently Disney wanted King Vidor to direct the live action sequences.  I read that Disney didn't even want to watch the film with an audience due to "unexpected" audience reactions. That said, it's probably staying in the Disney vault for a while.  Again, previous commenters discussed the reasons for this. 

I think the idea of the movie being offensive at the time of release is totally a valid one, especially taking into consideration the segregation laws at the time which were obviously objected to by people.  James Baskett wasn't even allowed to take part in the premiere festivities since it premiered in Atlanta.  Similarly, Hattie McDaniel didn't attend the Atlanta premiere of GWTW several years earlier.  Obviously, people picketing outside theaters makes me think at least some people found it offensive.  I also wonder if there is a difference of view, not just in race, or in age, but in cultural demographic (North/South) that makes people find it inoffensive or offensive?  Also, if you saw it as a kid you might have different feelings about it.  

 

 

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On June 18, 2018 at 1:29 PM, MotherofZeus said:

I brought up South Pacific elsewhere because I was surprised it wasn't on the viewing schedule or syllabus for the Mad About Musicals class (I asked to be corrected if I was wrong and no correction was given).  Because we've explored Cabin in the Sky and Hallelujah's depictions of race and because South Pacific is overtly about fears of miscegenation in a way unlike the previously discussed films, I would like to discuss it in the context of the course. Our instructors almost exclusively picked Black American culture to explore, but Asian American tropes have gone untouched (I love Auntie Mame, but I cringe at Ito). I know South Pacific includes stereotypes of Asians I find offensive, but it does so post-WWII -- after so many GIs and WACS of Western Europe and the U.S. had been in Asia and were having to reexamine their assumptions. The play/movie is attempting to reconcile what has been inculcated into Nelly and Lt. Cable's views of non-whites. I've had people tell me they are offended that I like South Pacific. I can see why Asian Americans or Asians wouldn't want to watch or listen to it, but "Carefully Taught" is about as powerful a rejection of racism and a statement of how racism is passed along as one can find. Nelly rejects her ingrained values after thoughtful exploration in South Pacific. I am certain I am not ignorant of tropes used as an educational device or for comical/entertainment purposes.  I think some of both happens in South Pacific, but I open this up to folks to determine whether one should be shamed publicly for enjoying it (I won't be shamed even if people argue I should be).  

Also, allow me to preemptively note as I did already that I brought this up elsewhere.  Threads do pick up themes previously discussed elsewhere -- especially as folks are going through a course and the content is programmed onto TCM. 

Thank you for bringing up South Pacific because I LOVED this movie as a kid.  Although I haven't seen it in like, twenty years.  I was reading about it a while ago and that's when I realized it was offensive!  I think I was so caught up in the romance of the whole thing that the larger, cultural issues probably escaped me when I was younger.  I'd really like to watch it again and wish it were playing on TCM.  (Think this has something to do with the distribution rights, as mentioned in other threads.)

Your thoughts here make me reiterate the notion that things can still have merit or value, even if it lacks certain virtues.  Aesthetically, I think this has the most "atmosphere" of any musical I've ever seen.  And perhaps the rejections of racism that were powerful at the time, aren't as forceful today. BUT, perhaps these are ideas that were needed at the time to continue the evolution of cultural inclusivity.  Like, they were as powerful as they could be at the time, until things evolved and messages could become even more direct and powerful?  Wondering what you think.  

I could never shame anyone for liking this movie, there's too much shame and not enough empathy in the world!  

My sister and her husband have spent the last six months in Southeast Asia and I wonder if they'd have a different takeaway than I do.  And I wonder what I'd think if I rematches it today.

 

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Sadly, the current goings-on in the world are showing us that South Pacific’s message of tolerance and understanding is as relevant today as it was in 1958. Especially that part about having to take a hard look within yourself to find the prejudice you didn’t even know was there and work hard to let go of it and open your mind and heart. Both Nellie and Lt. Cable take this journey and, however dated some the trappings of the film may be, their willingness to change remains as powerful a story as ever.

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& as I've noted a lot on here, the entire debacle is already over the top w/  everybody getting offended about something???

*JOHN "THE DUKE" WAYNE would be so proud of whats happened to his beloved country in this era, huh

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12 hours ago, & i said:

Thank you for bringing up South Pacific because I LOVED this movie as a kid.  Although I haven't seen it in like, twenty years.  I was reading about it a while ago and that's when I realized it was offensive!  I think I was so caught up in the romance of the whole thing that the larger, cultural issues probably escaped me when I was younger.  I'd really like to watch it again and wish it were playing on TCM.  (Think this has something to do with the distribution rights, as mentioned in other threads.)

Your thoughts here make me reiterate the notion that things can still have merit or value, even if it lacks certain virtues.  Aesthetically, I think this has the most "atmosphere" of any musical I've ever seen.  And perhaps the rejections of racism that were powerful at the time, aren't as forceful today. BUT, perhaps these are ideas that were needed at the time to continue the evolution of cultural inclusivity.  Like, they were as powerful as they could be at the time, until things evolved and messages could become even more direct and powerful?  Wondering what you think.  

I could never shame anyone for liking this movie, there's too much shame and not enough empathy in the world!  

My sister and her husband have spent the last six months in Southeast Asia and I wonder if they'd have a different takeaway than I do.  And I wonder what I'd think if I rematches it today.

 

I think the statements are strong rejections amidst the Hollywood utilization of racial stereotypes.   It is  more the soundtrack that people are apt to sift through to avoid certain numbers that don't pass muster these days.  Yes, "atmosphere" is amazing here -- as it is in Gigi -- another favorite of mine. Interestingly, we do have the film casting non-whites for these roles instead of some of the most egregious whitewashing in other films such as Mickey Rooney, Ava Gardner, Natalie Wood, Eli Wallach, Tony Randall and lo the many who played Indian in the Westerns.  Good God, the Westerns!  One of my beloved genres - but, oy! In musicals, there are few more powerful messages then Nellie's growth.  We might find it somewhat ridiculous today, but then, look at the U.S. today, and we are pretty much right where folks were back when South Pacific was made with those who would try to enforce genetic codes running the asylum.  My two cents.

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5 hours ago, spence said:

& as I've noted a lot on here, the entire debacle is already over the top w/  everybody getting offended about something???

*JOHN "THE DUKE" WAYNE would be so proud of whats happened to his beloved country in this era, huh

Marion is one of many Americans with valid points of view and rights to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Once again, I have to say if we are talking about "the good old days" and "The Duke" is the model of the good, then that leaves a heck of a lot of people out of the picture unless serving and generally nibbling at the edges of life. Your perception of John Wayne is as artificial a construct from Hollywood as any musical we've reviewed. The man may have lived his persona (excepting his draft deferrals which other actors considered less "manly" during WWII didn't seek...a rather large deviation from his persona in the movies), but it hasn't ever really been who or what the average American is. Holding it up as the norm is unfortunate, especially when discussing equality for all Americans. 

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14 hours ago, & i said:

I just want to say that I appreciate you fellow TCM fans for the thoughtful discussion here.  I feel like TCM is the one place where anyone of any group can come together and appreciate Classic movies in a respectful, thought provoking manner.  As a millennial (I still prefer to consider myself Gen Y haha) I've recused myself from all other social media, it's too vitriolic. Just to say, I really appreciate the TCM forum and this course for its civility, even dealing with topics of race and gender equality which can be hard for people to talk about. Of course people are emotional or passionate about these issues, yet we can still love old movies (We don't have to love them all.) 

Its also really hard to think about things in the lense of yesteryear versus today.  I agree SOTS shouldn't necessarily be banned (noted it's not banned, just buried in the vault for reasons y'all discussed) and I have this vague recollection of seeing it once as a kid, though that would have been the late '80s or early '90s.  I think someone said it was re-released twice, though Wikipedia says Disney hasn't released it for home viewing since its initial release.  I'm sure someone's already mentioned that some of the songs are available as clips, even if the whole movie isn't.  

I do remember reading the B'rer Rabbit stories in schools and loving them, mainly because he was always getting out of tricky situations and I liked rabbits.  B'rer rabbit stories have African origins and was later published by Robert Roosevelt, then later Joel Chandler Harris.  Then adapted for screen by Dalton Reymond, a Southerner, and Maurice Rapf, who was Jewish and initially hesitated the offer to write the screenplay, fearing it would be offensive.  

As an adult, I realized SOTS is offensive today.  Wonder if this is due in part to being adapted, several times, by non-African Americans? Whether you like the movie or whether it has aesthetic merit in spite of the stereotypes are different issues to explore.  Can a movie like this still have cultural or aesthetic merit in spite of stereotypes? (Not having seen it in years, except for clips I can't speak to this movie specifically.)

I believe they talk about SOTS in the PBS documentary on Walt Disney, I can't remember if it's part I or II. Apparently Disney wanted King Vidor to direct the live action sequences.  I read that Disney didn't even want to watch the film with an audience due to "unexpected" audience reactions. That said, it's probably staying in the Disney vault for a while.  Again, previous commenters discussed the reasons for this. 

I think the idea of the movie being offensive at the time of release is totally a valid one, especially taking into consideration the segregation laws at the time which were obviously objected to by people.  James Baskett wasn't even allowed to take part in the premiere festivities since it premiered in Atlanta.  Similarly, Hattie McDaniel didn't attend the Atlanta premiere of GWTW several years earlier.  Obviously, people picketing outside theaters makes me think at least some people found it offensive.  I also wonder if there is a difference of view, not just in race, or in age, but in cultural demographic (North/South) that makes people find it inoffensive or offensive?  Also, if you saw it as a kid you might have different feelings about it.  

Thanks for contributing your thoughts. Great post. Especially the part where you remind us the performers could not attend the premieres in some cities.

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That Disney refuses to make Song of the South available for viewing (unless this has recently changed) makes no sense.  It is certainly no more racist than Gone With the Wind, probably less so.  And I watched part of a 1930's  Shirley Temple movie, in which the depictions of African Americans, especially children was hugely offensive.  There are a large number of other films of the era with more demeaning portrails of Black characters than Song of the South (characters played by Stephen Fetchit, Mantan Moreland, Willy Best, etc.).  GWTW and the Temple movies are very easily available, so the "blacklisting" of Song of the South is needless.

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