When Disney+ launched last November to a smashing success, the overwhelming excitement surrounding The Mandalorian, the first live action Star Wars series, fueling much of that. With a second season still a ways off, one of the service’s sources of appeal in the meantime is the treasure trove of past Disney content.
From the earliest of the Silly Symphonies to modern classics like the soon-to-be-adapted Mulan. The Disney Vault is rich with films and shorts, seemingly covering all of the iconic animation house’s material. With one notable absence.
Song of the South, originally released in 1946, has always been a source of controversy and criticism for Disney due to its depiction and perpetuation of negative African American stereotypes in its visuals and dialogue. Upon its initial release, the NAACP expressed public concern over the film and its depictions, as well as the Hays Office, which governed motion picture ethical guidelines from the ’30s to the ’60s.
Outdated and morally misguided as it may be, Song of the South is seen by many scholars as an important part of the Disney catalogue, much in the way a film like DW Giffith’s The Birth of a Nation is widely condemned today for its positive depiction of the Ku Klux Klan, yet still studied for its filmic qualities. Its absence from the Disney+ catalogue has been addressed by many, including Disney Legend Whoopi Goldberg, who expressed the value in “[talking] about what it was and where it came from and why it came out.”
Even with the disclaimer that appears before some older Disney programs, warning of their outdated content (“This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions”), Song of the South remains in a locked box, and would appear to be staying that way.
In an annual address to shareholders, Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger confirmed that Song of the South would remain excluded from the streaming service, calling the film “not appropriate for today’s world.”
Iger’s word seems final in this context, and in a world where Disney’s success grows with each Marvel and Star Wars release and Disney+ going strong, it seems unlikely that they’ll be made to budge on Song of the South. But stranger things have happened!