Disney Ignored Song of the South Shareholder Proposal

As Disney shareholders may be aware, asking about Song of the South’s release became somewhat of a tradition at the Disney shareholder meetings starting in 2006. Back in 2011, shareholder Matthew Hansen asked Disney CEO Robert Iger about releasing Song of the South. In short, Iger responded, “[J]ust remember it as it was, and don’t expect to see it again for… at least for awhile, if ever.” Full transcript and audio can be found here.

Undeterred, Hansen began to work on a shareholder proposal. In September of 2015, on vintage Song of the South letterhead, he wrote to Disney:

I respectfully submit the enclosed shareholder proposal for inclusion in the 2016 proxy statement pursuant to the 2015 proxy statement of The Walt Disney Company and in accordance with Rule 14a-8 ofthe Securities and Exchange Act of 1934. I intend to present the proposal at the 2016 Annual Meeting of Shareholders.

Disney received the proposal and responded to him, saying that the Disney Board of Directors would review it. A few weeks later, Disney’s legal team WilmerHale responded in a 6-page letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Basically, they asked them to allow Disney to ignore the proposal, “pursuant to Rule 14a-8(i)(7), on the basis that the Shareholder Proposal involves matters that relate to the ordinary business operations of the Company.” Here is an excerpt from Disney’s response:

In addition to interfering with management’s day-to-day operations, the Shareholder Proposal also seeks to “micro-manage” the Company. Specifically, the Shareholder Proposal instructs the Company to release one particular film (Song of the South) from among its approximately 2,900 titles, through a specific medium (Blu-ray) and within a specific timeframe (in connection with its 70th anniversary). Determinations about what, how and when to release a particular title are inherently complex, and shareholders as a group are not in a position to make informed decisions on such matters.

How’s that for arrogance? The SEC concurred, saying that they would “not recommend enforcement action to the Commission if Disney omits the proposal from its proxy materials”, effectively greenlighting Disney to ignore Hansen’s proposal.

The full document containing all correspondence between the parties is available for viewing on the SEC web site: https://www.sec.gov/divisions/corpfin/cf-noaction/14a-8/2015/matthewhansen112315-14a8.pdf

Matthew Hansen kindly provided me with the following backstory, which I will include here in its entirety:

It has been an interesting journey that began when I asked Bob Iger at the 2011 Annual Meeting that took place in SLC, if they would release the film. His stern response (that can be heard in shareholder archives, or I have a copy of it downloaded) prompted me to want to attempt a shareholder proposal that would line up with the 70th anniversary – since we all know Disney obsesses over anniversaries with their home video catalog releases. (But apparently me specifying the 70th they claimed as “micro-managing” the company. Go figure.).

Since I had to hold a certain amount of shares for a year it required some waiting before I could move forward with anything. But once I did it has been interesting. Everyone I showed my proposal to loved it. I even received support from someone I felt was very important to my cause – animator Floyd Norman! I even met him twice this summer. To sum up what I gathered from talking with him – Bob Iger for some reason hates the film, and I fear while he is CEO it won’t see the light of day. I have a UK VHS of the film and watched a converted digital copy of it recently during a flight to CA and I can’t figure out why he would feel that way about it.

Anyways, one of their many reasons in their SIX pages to the SEC is that the film has not been a matter of widespread debate and as they claim only been brought up at a few meetings and requested by a few ardent fans – which I don’t believe. The fact that the then-chairman of the board John Pepper chuckled and said “We almost made it through the meeting” [without someone mentioning Song of the South] when I asked my question in 2011 because it was an almost annual question, which was then followed by the Rose Wagner theater packed full of shareholders cheering and applauding my question – makes it hard for me to believe them when they claim it has been only a “few” meetings and ardent fans requesting it.

Which is why I am hoping that we can maybe get some more discussion about the film to show them it isn’t just a small group of ardent fans that want this film. One friend I showed this to told me it is pretty sad that in a day when a film such as 12 Years a Slave can win Best Picture, they are still withholding Song of the South from being released – yet feel free to use just about everything from it to market their parks. One such instance, aside from the obvious ride, was an ad we received in the mail showing days kids had off from school in the fall as times we could plan to come to Disneyland and it called them “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Days” and had Mr Blue Bird to help advertise.

It seems that Disney is content with ignoring its shareholders and fans who wish to legally own this movie for themselves. But they certainly have no qualms about continuing to exploit and profit off of the film’s legacy via Splash Mountain and the Academy Award winning song Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah. It’s a sad reality, but one that needs to be shared with the public. A sincere thank you to Matthew Hansen for his efforts, and perhaps someday Disney will stop snubbing some of the very people that help keep them profitable.

Posted in Articles, Rumors, Song of the South | 11 Comments

11 Responses to Disney Ignored Song of the South Shareholder Proposal

  1. Nancy Mills says:

    I would dearly love the opportunity to own a copy of Song of the South. My grandma took my siblings and I to see it in the theater when we were young. It is my favorite Disney movie. Please allow me to share it with my grandkids as well.

  2. Janette Garcia says:

    I remember seeing this movie as a child and would love to own a copy for my collection. This may not have been”politically correct”, but was great entertainment.

  3. Melanie McBroom says:

    Song of the South is a beloved movie for me. I loved it as a child and my brother and I have fond memories of watching it. We used to live on top of a mountain, I remember singing Zip–a-dee-doo-da when we would walk down the mountain playing. I am lucky to have a copy of the DVD UK version. He bought it for me one year for Christmas, and I have him a copy of a movie poster I found in a local antique shop that same Christmas. I think it’s a shame they won’t release it for today’s adults and children to enjoy. My brother and I were not racist, actually quite the opposite because of the movie I think. I think Disney is just afraid of being accused of being politically incorrect. Very sad.

  4. Bryan Hornsby says:

    You can get a good DVD Quality Song of the South From ClassicReels.com for hard to find Movies, Digitally Remastered, I have a copy and it’s Great. Tired of Waiting on Disney, you’ll be glad you did.

  5. Philip says:

    He needs to submit the proposal again and continue doing it until the higher-ups crack, bow down to us all and release the film on DVD and Blu-Ray with a historical context disclaimer.

    Keep the discussions going and make sure they get louder and louder so we can all be heard for sure and then have no choice but to release it.

    Another idea would be to have D23 release the film as a D23-exclusive that only D23 members can get.

  6. Dave Klaboe says:

    Recently on Fb I used the term “Tar Baby”, as a reference to a political post that seemed appropriate. It made me wonder why and how I thought it was something I even remembered correctly. “The Song of the South” was a very popular Disney film in the 40s, and as a 5 or 6 year old, I did see it…. All I remember are a few songs, and a few cartoon characters and uncle Remus. All of my adult life I have heard it was pulled by Disney because it was racially charged or unacceptable, or not politically correct. The same as the Amos and Andy TV show which I grew up loving. I don’t remember these 2 classics as offensive but enjoyable and funny. Many years later it does occur to me to wonder why the distributors don’t. What do you think? Well at least I would like the opportunity to decide myself, as long as it does not cause anyone serious distress.

  7. Phantomwise says:

    The problem about having a discussion is that nowadays, all the discussions are only about how supposedly racist it is. However, whenever I ask if they’ve seen the movie, it doesn’t surprise me that they haven’t. Funny how a film about friendships that surpass race, is only viewed through an obsessiveness of race. Even people who like the film, end up talking about the race factor. The only other comments I see are of people remembering it from when they were a kid, which is nice, but not exactly persuasive.

    Instead, a discussion needs to be started on its merit as a film and about the message it conveys: why stories are so important. “I’m just a worn out old man what do nothing but tell stories. But they ain’t never done no harm to nobody. And if they don’t do no good, how come they last so long?” Perhaps talking more in-depth about the other aspects of the film will make people curious enough to give it a chance, and eventually, a release.

  8. Nectaria says:

    Well, I have been waiting for Disney to release Song of the South on DVD for so many years and I’m still very upset that they don’t want to re-release this movie after its 70s Anniversary. There is no such as racist scenes in the movie and there is nothing wrong with any scenes that featured black people. Not all movies that featured black people are racists. I really hate when I see people who said that SotS was a racist movie, but I do think that the people who said it are the real racist ones and not the movie itself. Some of those people also found the Tar-Baby scene from the second animated Brer Rabbit segment to be racist because it was black like a real black human, but they should know that it was just a doll and not a living thing. I do agree that most of those people haven’t seen the movie and don’t know much about the actual story of this movie. I wish Disney should change their mind about the movie and re-release it on DVD, but I think it will not happen. I’m so glad that they saved Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Brer Bear and some other Brers and Sisses for the Splash Mountain ride instead of banning them. That was a good idea to bring them back because it helped the people who haven’t watched SotS to know the existence of those characters. I actually have read the comics with those characters first before I watched the movie and I always thought that those characters were interesting. The movie helped me to become more of a SotS/Uncle Remus/Brer Rabbit fan and made me to read more of the comic stories that featured those characters. The Brer Rabbit folktales became one of my favorite tales after I became a fan of SotS and without it, I wouldn’t know the existence of the original folktales and they will probably become more less-known than they are now. Not sure how many people would know the existence of Bambi and Dumbo if Disney never made their own movie adaptations. Both Bambi and Dumbo were originally two novels before Disney adapted them.

    I still like Disney, but I would be more happy if they decided to bring SotS back and ignore those racist complainers who said bad things about the movie.

  9. Simon Tarses says:

    @Nectaria: It takes complete gall of you to be calling people that object to Song Of The South ‘racists’. Many of the people that do are black people and other people of color tired of seeing little to no black people/other POC’s on TV or in the movies and want more for themselves, their children and their descendants (plus future generations) to have positive images of themselves on the big and small screens. Movies like Moana and The Frog Princess are what we need to see more of, as they show what a multi-racial world we live in (as well as a world where females are strong and independent, like Moana and Merida DunBroch in Brave); movies that show black men or other people of color as little more than emasculated sharecroppers/workers/servants who can only tell stories about trickster rabbits getting away from somebody that wants to harm them aren’t what people need to see these days. Disney can (and has) come up with better stories than that (and contemporary shows that speak to what children and any adult that watches them about what’s happening now) than desultory and degraded versions of old African folktales that could be told better in their original versions.

    African American folklorist Patricia A. Turner said it best:

    “Disney’s 20th century re-creation of Harris’s frame story is much more heinous than the original. The days on the plantation located in “the United States of Georgia” begin and end with unsupervised Blacks singing songs about their wonderful home as they march to and from the fields. Disney and company made no attempt to to render the music in the style of the spirituals and work songs that would have been sung during this era. They provided no indication regarding the status of the Blacks on the plantation. Joel Chandler Harris set his stories in the post-slavery era, but Disney’s version seems to take place during a surreal time when Blacks lived on slave quarters on a plantation, worked diligently for no visible reward and considered Atlanta a viable place for an old Black man to set out for.

    “Kind old Uncle Remus caters to the needs of the young white boy whose father has inexplicably left him and his mother at the plantation. An obviously ill-kept Black child of the same age named Toby is assigned to look after the white boy, Johnny. Although Toby makes one reference to his “ma,” his parents are nowhere to be seen. The African-American adults in the film pay attention to him only when he neglects his responsibilities as Johnny’s playmate-keeper. He is up before Johnny in the morning in order to bring his white charge water to wash with and keep him entertained.

    “The boys befriend a little blond girl, Ginny, whose family clearly represents the neighborhood’s white trash. Although Johnny coaxes his mother into inviting Ginny to his fancy birthday party at the big house, Toby is curiously absent from the party scenes. Toby is good enough to catch frogs with, but not good enough to have birthday cake with. When Toby and Johnny are with Uncle Remus, the gray-haired Black man directs most of his attention to the white child. Thus Blacks on the plantation are seen as willingly subservient to the whites to the extent that they overlook the needs of their own children. When Johnny’s mother threatens to keep her son away from the old gentleman’s cabin, Uncle Remus is so hurt that he starts to run away. In the world that Disney made, the Blacks sublimate their own lives in order to be better servants to the white family. If Disney had truly understood the message of the tales he animated so delightfully, he would have realized the extent of distortion of the frame story.”

    Time to let this movie go, people; you’re not helping America progress with race relations by constantly bringing it up or wanting Disney to release it on DVD, and you’re not helping your grandchildren (or children) deal with a world that has black people and other people of color in it.

    • Nectaria says:

      OK, thanks for answering me, but where did you hear that many of black people called the movie “racist”? Speaking of “Princess and the Frog”, I remember that I have heard of some people about calling the movie “racist” because of Tiana and some of other characters being black, but unlike SotS, this movie got a DVD release. I never found any of the Disney movies with any of different races to be racist at all and have no problem with any characters who are not white. I actually don’t have any children or grandchildren. I’m 22 years old and I was born on 1994. Not all fans who watched SotS are over 70 or 60 years olds. Sorry if my comment upset you, but I was trying to say my opinion about the people who found the movie “racist” and I called them racists because their opinions don’t seem to be that positive, but more negative to me.

  10. Tristan Anderson says:

    This should be released on a bluray or digital or both. For those who have children who want to know the story behind the characters at splash mtn. Disneyworld. It’s a special film.