News Archives: 2003 Interview Transcript

Below is the complete transcript of my written interview with Chris Haire of MetroBEAT magazine, portions of which were used for the article "Who Framed Brer Rabbit?" published on February 19, 2003.

1. First of all, what is your background? What led you to become an advocate for the re-release of "Song of the South"?

Originally, I was only in it for the memorabilia. I've always been a collector by nature, and when I found an old Disney's Tales of Uncle Remus record set at an antique show in about 1996, I was hooked. I had remembered the movie from my childhood when it was last shown in theaters in 1986. By 1998, I started toying around with creating web sites, and I began working on a site that would basically act as an online museum for Song of the South memorabilia. As my memorabilia web site began to grow, I began getting dozens of emails from people asking me about this movie, and why it wasn't available. I noticed how there wasn't a web site on the internet just dedicated to this movie, which I found rather odd since you can find just about anything out there! This led me to expand my web site beyond simply memorabilia, and cover the movie as a whole. I guess I just sort of fell into being an advocate for Song of the South's re-release. I think everyone should have the opportunity to see this movie and show it to their children and grandchildren.

2. The primary charge against "SOTS," even more so than Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus tales, concerns its depiction of the relationship between blacks and whites, i.e. that Uncle Remus is an Uncle Tom type character completely subserviant to his white master. In your opinion, is this charge valid and why?

Overall, I believe the charge is valid, although a bit exaggerated. It should be noted first and foremost that this movie was not set in antebellum times, so any act of servitude is not as a slave, but as a servant. This is very important in explaining the attitudes of the African-Americans throughout the movie. It cannot be denied that this movie was created with subservient roles for the African-Americans, because that was the general mindset of not only the time in which it was filmed, but also the time in which the movie depicts. Equally important are the moments in the film that counter what one might expect for that time period, such as the film's opening scene, with Aunt Tempy riding in the coach next to Johnny and his parents, talking as old friends. Or Toby entering the house when he wished. Or Sally dressing her son instead of one of the servants. I don't believe this movie is as fraught with servitude as has become the popular opinion. Yes, Uncle Remus may bow slightly and remove his hat in the presence of a woman, but that was common respect shown by all civilized men, regardless of race. I am especially fond of the moments shared between Uncle Remus and Miss Doshy, where their common interest for Johnny transcends any racial barrier, and you see two mature human beings talking to one another. Yes, it's brief, but it's there. I'd say these were pretty good steps for a movie depicting the Old South created in the 1940's.

3. You speak of generalizing and stereotyping in the film. Do you think this is the nature of film, esp. children's film, to do this? Considering that the framework of the tales, that of a slave speaking to his young white master, that Disney did the best they could to be authenic and yet racially sensitive at the same time?

I'm certainly no film expert, but I do see generalizations even in today's cartoons/children's movies, and stereotyping was often prevalent in the 1940's and 50's. I think it has something to do with the nature of film, certainly. It seems to me that the more specific or unique a situation in a movie, the less the majority of people might be able to relate to it, and consequently the less close they might feel to it. Disney has always dealt in fantasy, and Song of the South is certainly no exception. I feel that Disney generalized points of the movie simply because it wasn't pertinent to the storyline. Quite simply, this movie is about a young boy who comes to a plantation and is told fantastic stories by an old resident named Uncle Remus. I also think Walt Disney should be given some leeway when it comes to the live-action portions, as this was his first attempt at such a thing.

4. In your opinion, is Uncle Remus an Uncle Tom character? Is he protrayed negatively?

I do not believe Walt Disney's Uncle Remus is an Uncle Tom character, nor that he was portrayed negatively. He was portrayed as a wise and kind old man who cared enough about Johnny to befriend him and take him under his wing when Johnny needed his father's support. Even through the Walt Disney Uncle Remus comics published well into the 1960's, Uncle Remus had a moral to every story. He was never portrayed by Disney as a negative character, but rather as a mentor. James Baskett even received an honorary Academy Award "for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and storyteller to the children of the world."

5. This film has been the subject of some controversy since its release in 1946. Why do you think this is the case?

The controversy was basically over the depiction of African-Americans within the film. The press release by the NAACP stated, while praising the film for its "remarkable artistic merit" and combining live action with animation, "It regrets, however, that in an effort neither to offend audiences in the north or south, the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery." Part of the reason for the misunderstanding of the time period in which the film was set, was the omission of any indication (such as a date) that would establish the movie as being set after the Civil War.

6. Has the film been banned? What is its status?

The film has not been banned in any form, as far as we know. Up until December 2001, the movie was available on video in Great Britain, Germany and France, but has since been withdrawn.

7. What do you find so endearing about "SOTS"?

My initial love for the movie as a child was in the cartoon sequences. Disney's Golden Age of animation has always been my favorite era. As I grew older, however, I began to appreciate the movie as a whole.

8. What do you think others find so offensive? Do you think it is racist?

I would think others probably find the same thing offensive that the NAACP disapproved of in 1946. Of course, if this movie isn't available to public in the first place, how can people judge for themselves? As a child I never once considered racial issues when I watched this movie. I can understand, however, that because I am not African-American, my view could be considered biased. I respect others' opinions on this movie, but I don't believe that keeping it withheld from the public is the solution. This is no longer a movie that gets released to movie theaters; this is an historical film that needs to be preserved. Not only can future generations learn from Uncle Remus' stories, but can learn how we have progressed in filmmaking, both racially and through the techniques used to combine live action with animation.

9. Do you think it is hypocritical for Disney to continue to profit from "SOTS," ex. Splash Mtn, character memorabilia, and why?

I believe it is very hypocritical for Disney to continue profiting from collectibles or merchandise picturing the Brer characters IF this movie is never made available to the loyal public who continue to purchase these collectibles because of their love for this movie and its characters. But, as long as we see this movie released in the United States, I say more power to 'em.

10. Why do you think Disney took Tar Baby and Uncle Remus out of the Splash Mtn ride?

Because that basically eliminates any possible racial issues that patrons might have with the ride. As the Splash Mountain ride is only loosely based on Song of the South's Uncle Remus stories anyway, I can understand the differences and liberties that were taken.

11. I've mentioned "SOTS" to many of my friends and they have no idea what I'm talking about. Do you ever come across this?

I come across this all the time. Many of my friends and even younger relatives were completely unaware of this movie... that is, until I said something of course! But then again, a lot of my un-Disney-savvy friends aren't familiar with half the old Disney Classics anyway.

12. What steps should folks take to get Disney to change their policy regarding "SOTS"?

I've outlined four important steps in my FAQ (http://songofthesouth.net/faq/) on how we can let Disney know we want this movie released. These include adding your name to the Song of the South Petition set up by my friend James at www.uncleremuspages.com, contacting Disney and Buena Vista directly to request the movie on VHS and/or DVD, voting for Song of the South on Disney.com, and nominating Song of the South to be added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

13. How can folks go about obtaining a copy of "SOTS"? What are the challenges in doing so? What are the legal problems? Do you sell "SOTS"?

There are several sources for obtaining bootleg copies of Song of the South out there, but I don't recommend or condone this, as it is not only illegal, but it does not help our issue at hand. There are other alternatives, like finding the Japanese laserdisc that was released in Japan in 1988, which can fetch up to $300, or obtaining a now out-of-print Great Britain PAL format tape and having it converted to NTSC format by a local video service. On my web site I do offer a link to a supplier in Great Britain whom you can purchase the Great Britain PAL format tapes from, and they will arrange for you a free NTSC copy that can be played in U.S. VCRs, but it has become increasingly expensive due to the limited quantity of tapes left on hand and the overall demand for this movie. Hopefully the higher price will also drive the public to press even harder for an official release.

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