The Secret of The Song of The South

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Updated: Thu, 01 May 2014 11:42:37 EST

The Walt Disney animated films are considered classics, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia. But there's one classic Disney film that many consider unreleasable today, and it's got its roots right here in middle Georgia. It's called the Song of the South.

The film was based on a series of newspaper columns and books written in the 1870's by Joel Chandler Harris. Harris was born in Eatonton, worked on a plantation in his teens and then in a series of newspaper jobs at the Macon Telegraph and in Forsyth and Savannah before moving to the Atlanta Constitution, where the stories first appeared.

"And Harris had, must've had a remarkable ability to remember things because he listened to the African folk tales that were told by the slaves and years later wrote those after his newspaper career had taken him to the Atlanta Constitution. He first ran them in serial format and they were so popular that there was an outcry for him to publish those in a book."  -James Marshall/Historian

The original stories were written in the authentic dialect, or vernacular, much the way the characters in Mark Twain's books talked. And the stories themselves were originally folk-tales passed along in the oral tradition among Africans brought here as slaves. This caused some controversy when the book series was published because people thought it was wrong for a white man to profit from retelling stories originated by African Americans. But the popularity of the stories led to Harris's induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and an invitation to the White House of Teddy Roosevelt.

In 1946 Walt Disney produced the film version of several of Uncle Remus' stories. The film depicts the character Uncle Remus, a black former slave, cheerfully relating to several children-including the film's white protagonist-the folk tales of the adventures of Bre'r Rabbit and his friends. The Song of the South was Disney's first feature film using live actors, who provide a sentimental framework for several animated segments. The film's song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Song.

Originally the film was considered a classic but the film's depiction of former black slaves and of race relations in Reconstruction-Era Georgia has been controversial since its original release. It is now commonly regarded as racist. Because of that it has never been released on DVD in the United States...until recently.

For a long time the only way to get a copy of the film was on bootleg VHS or DVD. Those bootlegs were copied from the Japanese Laserdisc of the movie. The quality was not great, and the songs featured Japanese subtitles. Also, in the middle of the film the screen turns blue and the instructions "flip disc to side b" appear.

But recently Disney struck a deal to release the movie on DVD. The print is from the original master and there are even special features, including an interview with Walt Disney about the movie. But you won't find the DVD at Best Buy or Wal-Mart or even is sold exclusively by only a few museums and historical shops.

"Today it's one of the best sellers here at the museum. Many people can relate to growing up in small southern towns and having good relationships with the black community and love the stories just like the people who first read them back in 1881."-James Marshall/Historian

The DVD is available at the Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton....where the story all began.

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