There's not much I will let keep me awake past my bedtime. I need my beauty sleep. Also I can get grumpy if I do not get my eight hours. Still, on a rare occasion, I will be channel surfing late in the evening, and one of my favorite old movies will hook me into the wee hours. “Dr. Zhivago,” “Dances With Wolves,” “Cassablanca,” “Some Like It Hot,” “Babes in Toyland,” with Laurel and Hardy. If you are not a Laurel and Hardy fan, you might be excused if you thought, because of the title, that this was some other type of movie. Shame on you, if you have seen some other type of movie by that title.
Maybe I should just buy DVD’s or VCR tapes of my favorite old movies. However, the only old movie I have ever bought a copy of is “Song of the South,” the 1940’s Walt Disney version of the Joel Chandler Harris tales of Uncle Remus, Br’er Rabit, and Br’er Fox. When I wanted to buy a copy a few years ago, I learned that the Disney Corporation had taken it off the market in the United States. So I had to buy a copy via the internet from a dealer who still had legal commercial copies, licensed for an overseas country, although they were not compatible with VCR’s used in the United States. For an extra $75, I could order a legal backup copy of the off-shore commercial tape in VHS, DVD, or any recording format of my choice. The Disney Corp. had removed this classic of animation and folk tales because of political pressure from those who said they found the film offensive. Among other things, the film was said to depict slaves in the South as happy and generally promoted racial stereotypes.
”Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” as performed by the brilliant actor James Baskett, with a bluebird on his shoulder, is indeed probably the most infectious example of happy ever filmed. Does that mean Uncle Remus was happy to be a slave, or could he perhaps have been transcending the cruel bonds of life and finding his own dignity? Uncle Remus is a grandfather figure beloved by the children, Black and White alike, in the film and in the audience. When the White Mistress of the plantation blames Uncle Remus for something that was not his fault and treats him thoughtlessly and unfairly, there it is, for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear, the humiliation and wrongfulness of his subjugation.
When “Song of the South” premiered in 1946 at the fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Ga., Mr. Baskett was unable to attend, due to the fact that not a single hotel in town would rent him a room. The Oscar he won in 1948 was only “honorary” for his performance as Uncle Remus, one of the most memorable film acting achievements of all time (He also provided the voices of several of the movie’s cartoon characters, including the fast-talking Br’er Fox). Such was the sad state of the world at the time of the creation of this ground-breaking animated and live-action classic, a copy of which I can not buy in the United States today. Because the film is offensive? Meanwhile, every variety of music videos and other forms of entertainment are for sale and broadcast despite their glorification of dope addicts and gangsters, and sexual exploitation of and violence against women. This is very confusing to me about exactly what is offensive and what is not?
Copyright 2007 by William C. Cotter