Disney's Most Notorious Film: Race, Convergence, and the Hidden Histories of Song of the South

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University of Texas Press, Dec 1, 2012 - Performing Arts - 295 pages
The Walt Disney Company offers a vast universe of movies, television shows, theme parks, and merchandise, all carefully crafted to present an image of wholesome family entertainment. Yet Disney also produced one of the most infamous Hollywood films, Song of the South. Using cartoon characters and live actors to retell the stories of Joel Chandler Harris, SotS portrays a kindly black Uncle Remus who tells tales of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and the “Tar Baby” to adoring white children. Audiences and critics alike found its depiction of African Americans condescending and outdated when the film opened in 1946, but it grew in popularity—and controversy—with subsequent releases. Although Disney has withheld the film from American audiences since the late 1980s, SotS has an enthusiastic fan following, and pieces of the film—such as the Oscar-winning “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”—remain throughout Disney’s media universe. Disney’s Most Notorious Film examines the racial and convergence histories of Song of the South to offer new insights into how audiences and Disney have negotiated the film’s controversies over the last seven decades. Jason Sperb skillfully traces the film’s reception history, showing how audience perceptions of SotS have reflected debates over race in the larger society. He also explores why and how Disney, while embargoing the film as a whole, has repurposed and repackaged elements of SotS so extensively that they linger throughout American culture, serving as everything from cultural metaphors to consumer products.


The Disney Studios Postwar Thermidor and the Ambivalent Origins of Song of the South
Postwar Racial Consciousness and Disneys Critical Legacy in the 1946 Reception of Song of the South
Media Convergence Black Ambivalence and the Reconstruction of Song of the South
Coonskin Postracial Whiteness and Rewriting History in the Era of Reaganism
Splash Mountain ZipaDeeDooDah and the Transmedia Dissipation of Song of the South
New Media Nostalgia and the Internet Fandom of Song of the South
Conclusion On Rereleasing Song of the South
Appendix Timeline for Song of the South and Its Paratexts
Selected Bibliography

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About the author (2012)

Jason Sperb is a lecturer in the Department of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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