Bob Iger Confirms Song of the South Will Not Be on Disney+, Says It's 'Not Appropriate in Today’s World'

Song of the South (1946)
Song of the South (1946)
Screenshot: Walt Disney Productions, RKO Radio Pictures (YouTube )

It looks like Disney+ won’t feed your “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” earworm anytime soon!

According to Deadline, Disney executive chairman Bob Iger confirmed at the annual shareholders’ meeting that the 1946 Disney classic film Song of the South will not be re-released on the Disney+ streaming platform. Iger recently stepped down as CEO in February and was replaced by former Disney Parks, Experiences and Products chairman Bob Chapek.

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Back in November 2019, Dumbo (1941) was all over the news as rumors swirled that the vintage animated film would be added to the platform, but without the Jim Crow-animated character and its scenes.

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Turns out, the movie did, in fact, appear on the new streaming platform as originally intended with an added disclaimer which read, “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

As for Song of the South, Iger noted on Wednesday that the classic film is “not appropriate in today’s world,” which means even a disclaimer wouldn’t save it.

In a November 2019 article for The Guardian, Scott Tobias wrote about the “difficult legacy” of the classic film, noting:

The word “slavery” never gets uttered, but surely Uncle Remus (James Baskett), the avuncular black man at the film’s center, was once the property of the plantation he calls home. The creation of folklorist Joel Chandler Harris, Uncle Remus is known for his Br’er Rabbit stories, and he becomes a father figure and friend to seven-year-old Johnny (Bobby Driscoll), a white boy who’s visiting his grandmother’s plantation as his parents grapple with some untold problem in their marriage. Remus’s sensitivity to Johnny far exceeds his parents’ coldness and neglect, but that warmth comes with the implication that men like Remus—and the housekeeper Aunt Tempy, played by Hattie McDaniel—are human only insofar as they serve the needs and destinies of the white characters. That notion persists in films deep into the 21st century, too.

There are plenty of examples of pernicious racism in Song of the South that are right there on the surface: the minstrelsy of the animated characters, particularly Br’er Fox; the slang in the dialogue; a wandering chorus singing traditional black songs; and, most notoriously of all, a fable where Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear use a tar baby to fool and ensnare Br’er Rabbit. (That part didn’t make Splash Mountain.) Yet the subtle low point of the film comes in Remus’s narration just before Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, when he reminiscences about how things were “a long time ago,” when “every day was mighty satisfactual.” “If you’ll excuse me for saying so,” he adds, “’twas better all around.”

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Tobias also notes that while the film was in production, the NAACP and the American Council on Race Relations expressed their objections and southern-born writer Dalton Reymond made an attempt to “soften the script,” but the studio rejected such efforts. Further, once the film was released, people picketed the screenings and the film was met with “scathing criticism from reviewers, politicians and other black advocacy groups.” So, from their purview, it wasn’t “appropriate” for the world nearly 75 years ago, either.

Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah (Original) / YouTube

Iger confirmed the company will be digitizing other Disney library titles to the new streaming platform, but hasn’t specified which.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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DISCUSSION

It’s fairly surprising that Disney hasn’t tried to recut the film, as a lot of the objections are on ambiguities in the film that could likely be addressed with minor dialogue changes. A bigger problem would be that the live-action framing narrative is famously dull, but that would just give Disney more license to alter everything but the animated segments and Baskett’s highly-regarded performance, maybe to the point of cutting out all the backgrounds and other actors and making him the only live-action character (and maybe also work in an actor representing Joel Chandler Harris as a witness and retransmitter in the vein of the Brothers Grimm and S. Ansky).