Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Everything's satisfactual...

After yesterday's dive into the sticky debate over whether it was right for Song of the South to remain unreleased in the US, I was just itching to watch it and get my own opinion.

Well. It's hard, very hard. I almost wish this was an overtly racist piece of work, so a judgement would be easy. The problem is this - it isn't obviously cruel, but it is insensitive. By which I mean, the black characters are portrayed as nice, happy, loveable people - but in a way that could be construed as quite offensive. My mum boiled it down to the perfect phrase - "Uncle Remus is poor compared to the lead family, but rich in other ways", and it's that cliche along with a blinkered view of post-war history that makes this an uncomfortable watch at times. Certainly it wasn't intended as racist - on the contrary, the whole idea of the young boy and old man finding common ground is as a-OK as it gets - but it is spoilt by 40s attitudes which are no longer acceptable. I can see both ends of the spectrum - if you weren't aware of the controvesy, some people might not even notice - alternately, I can understand how a lot of people would see this as extremely offensive.

But I hold to my guns - overt censorship is wrong. What this film needs is honesty: a dvd release, maybe at a higher rating to indicate its controversial status, with a jolly good special feature acknowledging and tracking the film's troubled history. An adult would understand that the film says more about 1946, when it was made, than the period it is supposed to represent. And I'm fairly sure it would all go over the head of child, especially one living in our modern multi-cultural society - most kids would take the fun of the animation away with them. All the same, I would think before sitting a child in front of it. By the time they are old enough to appreciate the context, they'll have grown out of it anyway...Mum suggests that were I black, I may feel differently - maybe so. I'm certainly not denying it's a contraversial piece. But surely it's better to get the debate in the open, than Disney hiding it away and whitewashing the past. If it was any other company than it'd be fine. Pretending to be squeaky clean doesn't make it so.

My mother and I discussed whether even small parts of it could be released - maybe the cartoon segments, but the "jes sir I no think dat" language would mean it would have to be entirely redubbed as well, at which point you've got barely anything left.

Ignoring all that for just one minute, this is a wonderful film. The mix of live-action and animated segments is awfully clever, especially for the time. Especially noteworthy is Remus surrounded by flying creatures - wheeling in and out of sight, perspective perfect - and the real-dog menaced by the cartoon-frog at the end. The central friendship is very affecting, with Johnny finding someone to replace the father-shaped hole in his life - and the animated segments are great fun.

Particularly interesting was his father's role in all this. It is never clearly stated why little Johnny and his mom move to their grandmother's, nor why the father is compelled to return to Atlanta. Its only addressed in the opening scene - and barely there. It's hinted over something he wrote, but what I don't know. There is an absolutely fascinating story going on here, one Johnny (and therefore we) never fully understand.

At times I felt maybe it was cleverer than it appeared - or perhaps this is the response of any 18 year old over-analysing something made for the under 10s? Remus hints at troubles every now and then - it could be read, by your bored intellectual, maybe a child's-eye-view argument could excuse the whole film. Because what would a 6-year-old kid dragged away from his home care about the sociopolitical context? I'm probably grasping at straws here - all I'm saying is I wanted to know exactly what his father had done.

All in all, an utterly charming film. It's just a pity that its fortunes are so interlinked with this whole horrid issue, because you can't judge it on its artistic merits alone.

PS, while we're talking racism in Disney, give Peter Pan a whirl. Now arguably these are "injuns" the same way the pirates are pirates - the villains of childrens games enlarged into life - but still...I did a study of it for my Native Peoples of the Americas project about five years back, and picked out everything that's wrong with it - and that's so much it's not even worth separating. Is it offensive? To be honest, it's so OTT I'm not sure it counts. Should Peter Pan be banned? Why are you even asking me this...


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