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Who's Afraid of the Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories Paperback – December 12, 2012
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
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His latest book, "Who's Afraid of Song of the South?" is a much-needed account of Disney's most notorious work. Though talked about endlessly, there is actually very little written about the movie based on hard facts and anecdotes from the key players. Jim rectifies this with a most excellent history of how SONG OF THE SOUTH was conceived, made, and received. If you feel that the film is a product of its time, you would be right. But did you also know that there was a general concern over perceivable racism in the film's material at the time while it was actually being made? No spoilers from me: to find out why, read the book.
If there is a flaw with this tome, it's that there isn't even more on the actual movie in it. More than half of the book is devoted to articles by Jim about the more 'verboten' side of Disney. Granted, I always like whatever Jim has to say about Disney, and the included articles are mostly excellent. But it felt like I had bought something of a misnomer, given it's a book about SONG OF THE SOUTH and not even half of it is devoted to the film. Maybe there's something to that - that the movie simply isn't good or interesting enough to warrant an entire book solely about it. I certainly don't feel slighted or have any unanswered questions after reading Jim's account, so perhaps there's really not much more to say about the film and its history. (I wonder how short all of those pretty "art" books on the Disney movies would be if you got rid of the pictures... now you know why they make 'em!)
But for $7.99, you are getting an wonderful account of the film's history, production and reception, a bargain no matter how you slice it. I highly recommend it for that alone. Think of the non-SONG OF THE SOUTH pieces as icing on the cake, and that your purchase might help Disney wake up and release the movie finally.
Song of the South is widely considered to be Disney's most controversial film. It remains the only Disney film (not counting educational films) never available in the United States (it was officially released in Asia, Europe, and South America). There are people who cherish the film and others who condemn it as racist. Historian Jim Korkis traces the production of the film and provides great insight on the intent of Walt and the people involved. According to studio documents, it appears that no one truly intended to insult or demean African Americans. It can be argued that the film in some ways portrayed a positive outlook on race relations, despite the time setting (Reconstruction era) and still containing cliche stereotypes of African Americans which were still commonplace in the 1940's. This doesn't make the controversial elements of the film any more acceptable, but it does provide appropriate historical context for modern day viewers to understand. Hopefully the Disney Company can make the film available in some way to adult Disney Connoisseurs and film students to see. Korkis also looks at the merchandising of the film over the decades, including Splash Mountain and references in modern pop culture. Unfortunately no images of any kind are included in this volume, but this is probably the only book we will ever get that's about the making of Song Of The South.
The other section discusses films (or parts of films) and other stories that have been the subject of rumor and gossip for many years. Some people have made a big deal over these films, but there isn't anything to be shocked about. These include how the stereotyped black character Sunflower from Fantasia was conceived and later edited out of the film in the late 1960's and how the Disney company for years denied such a character existed, despite some movie goers memories. The production of educational films about Menstruation and VD are looked at. Some stories are about Walt Disney himself, although nothing remotely scandalous. Anecdotes in later times deal with Jessica Rabbit of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Tim Burton's time at Disney, and the troubled production of Kingdom of the Sun, which became The Emperor's New Groove.
Overall, Jim Korkis does an excellent job at addressing some of these questionable and odd aspects of Disney by debunking common misconceptions and telling the real story. This is probably his best publication relating to Disney.
The book fills in the gaps about what was behind the cartoon rabbits and the gorgeous backgrounds. What do other people see where some of the people sing happy songs when the situation was not happy at all. We were raised to not recognize color but that was only because none of "those" people were allowed to live in our town. Racism and hatred were everywhere then and to some extent still exists today. And that is terrible and sad.
Mr. Korkis' book walks through the whole reason for the movie. He examines the studio, the story, and wonderful actors including the people of color which we learned to love. And we found a funny, gentle children's movie continued a myth that is terrible in effect due to insensitivity and ignorance. The movie was not to blame. Nor was Walt Disney and his studio. They reflected the understanding they had that was the same understanding that we had. If anybody is to blame, then blame the people that hold on to ignorance and hate even today. They cost our children the love of a gentle man and his stories for children.