An open letter to Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by MatthewA, Feb 25, 2013.

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  1. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Back to the film.... I watched SONG OF THE SOUTH today and thought it was a good movie. Not a classic but there were certainly some very good moments. Re: the controversy Having now seen the film I really don't think Uncle Remus is the problem. In fact, I'd say he's one of the best roles for a black actor from this period. Several years ago I was helping out a guy who was writing a book about race in Hollywood from the silent era up to the point of Poitier. Our list was very long in regards to negative characters and the positive ones wouldn't take up enough numbers to make them worth mentioning. The Remus character was one of the best I've seen from this era so that's not the problem. Now, I can see how the animation parts might offend some. Nevermind the "happy slave" stuff that's going to offend, the vocal work on the animated characters are going to rub some the wrong way and I'd say Tar Baby isn't going to go over so well. The sequence where they're talking about hanging the rabbit will probably also rub some the wrong way. I'm not saying people shouldn't be offended but there's no question that there's some questionable stuff here. My 3-year-old watch it with me and he enjoyed it for the most part with the animated stuff being his favorite but he's a bit too young to fully understand the subject of this thread. Either way, I fully support the film getting released even though I wouldn't buy a copy. Still, no one has made a good point as to why Disney should bother releasing this knowing that backlash that would follow.
     
  2. KPmusmag

    KPmusmag Supporting Actor
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    I have had rather good luck writing to Disney. My first letter concerned the MARY POPPINS soundtrack CD; I expressed disappointment that the alternate versions of some cues that were done for the 1964 LP were not included, even with the longer running time of CD (for example, the longer Overture that is on the LP, the alternate version of "Jolly Holiday", the orchestral intro to "Supercal", etc). I received a very nice letter back from Randy Thornton. I did not address the letter to him, but it found him. This was, by the way, in the very early days of email, and my letter went by snail mail. I still think that is the better route. Then, a few years ago (2004 if memory serves), I wrote to Disney expressing my disappointment that the Buena Vista logo was missing from the anniversary DVD of Poppins and also that I did not care for the home theater sound mix, but I thanked them for including both the original stereo and 5.1 versions of the soundtrack (note: it defaults to the ghastly home theater mix; you have to choose the other, but at least they are there). I received a "form letter" in response to that one, with wording to the effect "thank you for your interest". But I have to believe that someone read it and hopefully said something to their colleagues along the lines of, "Here's another letter about that Buena Vista logo - we better think about that for the next edition." Wishful thinking, perhaps, but I don't think it is beyond the realm of possibility. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me find that letter, but I did scan the Randy Thornton letter and here it is (sorry for the poor quality, but I think it is readable). [​IMG].
     
  3. jim_falconer

    jim_falconer Supporting Actor

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    I really would like to understand this statement. What backlash are we talking about? There is absolutely nothing offensive about this sweet, touching film. Good golly, I see things being broadcast today that are a 100 times more offensive then this film (think gutter reality TV).
     
  4. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    We're obviously viewing this film with different mind sets. At no time have I ever considered the tar baby as anything negative, nor have I equated hanging the rabbit in any racial tones.
    Had I wished to truly intimidate Brer Wabbit, I'd probably have considered something far more threatening and torturous. Torture, under correct and necessary conditions can be a good thing.
    Nah, I'd never torture a poor innocent Wabbit.
    RAH
     
  5. MatthewA

    MatthewA Lead Actor

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    I was going to take the high road on this one, but this I will not ignore:


    The very first thing YOU quoted in YOUR first post on this thread was the part where I mentioned being gay, which others on this board have done before when relevant. I'm hardly breaking new ground there, and I only mentioned it because it was relevant to a scene in the movie and I attempted to draw an analogy between it, my own experience, and that of other children who have been bullied by their peers. Every time anyone mentions anything gay at all, YOU complain and have to remind us about YOUR alleged heterosexuality. Once again, I'm offended that you're offended. Did it ever occur to you that some of us are sick of seeing nothing but exclusive heterosexuality promoted at every turn in every media for thousands of years with no alternative? I also happen to think gay life is more diverse than it is depicted in the media, even in gay media, but that's not relevant because it has nothing to do with the shortcomings of Disney Blu-rays, the thing I set out to address.
    I approve of most of the work Disney's home video department is doing (I'm really torn on their philosophy towards removing grain from their animated films and the color timing issues; once again, I defer to those who know more than I do about the situation), but I have three serious reservations about their operations:
    1. Ignoring alternate cuts of specific Miller- and Eisner-era films that were made available before, while calling attention to other films with similar histories that, if possible, could be reconstructed to their originally intended versions.
    2. Their stubborn refusal to release Song of the South stateside for fear of a backlash from political activists who make a career of things like this.
    3. Dropping legacy extras from Blu-ray releases even when there is space to fit them all on a single disc.
    That is all. I'm posting these links because I'm trying to prove to others I didn't make this stuff up out of thin air and hazy memories. I also thought other members of HTF would like to know where I found this stuff out.
    I am under no delusions that Walt Disney was ahead of his time regarding gay rights, and it's likely the opposite was true. But between 1901 and 1966, almost everyone disapproved of being gay. Nevertheless, it's 2013. Times have changed, but the art created in the past has not. But we can't just hide these works of art away just because they don't fit specific, narrowly defined political goals. That degrades art and does no one, gay or otherwise, any favors.
    Perhaps it's time to save my money for some Disney stock instead of Blu-rays.
     
  6. Lromero1396

    Lromero1396 Supporting Actor

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    It's sad that in this day and age of media which allows greater access to content then ever before, Disney keeps treasures locked away for fear of offending people. The only thing I find offensive here is how everyone seems to be offended by everything. All of the movie studios are guilty of this in some form or another I feel.
     
  7. Ejanss

    Ejanss Banned

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    Oh, dear lord. :rolleyes: I can appreciate that the "Tar baby" (which was, in fact, a trap made out of tar, with which to get Br'er's hands stuck) can have negative connotations because of how the term went on to be used... But PLEASE don't tell me there was someone at some point race-paranoid enough to think of Br'er Fox's rope trap (which, to his credit, BR escapes through his cleverness) as "lynching metaphor". That's just at the point where folks start bending reality to fit the argument. A lot of the Song/South arguments date back to the 70's and early 80's, when a universal blanket of misdirected Disney hate was at its highest (in the 70's, we made a big show of hating them for being "outdated" and "culturally monolithic", and in the 80's, we all just wanted to beat up on Eisner), any fight-the-power excuse was found to publicly embarrass mainstream-family-responsible Disney, and it seemed cool to pick anything apart. But, um...WOW. :eek: Such flights of pipebomb-throwing fancy were common (like the idea that the Song characters were "slaves" at all), but the field can be pretty wide at its farthest edges.
     
  8. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Agreed. Some arguments become even more obtuse, presumably with some forgetting that SotS was not the product of white supremists, but rather dating back to the early 1880s and the Uncle Remus stories of a brilliant black author, Joel Candler Harris.
    Lincoln helped to free the slaves. Now it's Disney's turn to free a brilliant work of art.
    As has been quoted in the past, "It's only a matter of going."
    RAH
     
  9. MatthewA

    MatthewA Lead Actor

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    I was going to mention the "Tar Baby" sequence because I did read the phrase used as a racial slur once: in the book "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." And I don't deny Disney foresaw problems with the film. Some black critics were bothered, but others weren't. But even today, this debate rages on and it's not limited to this one film. Disney could release it and use it as an opportunity to address the issues head on in order to educate its youngest audience members about the difference between fantasy and reality. But I can't tell you what's appropriate for your child because he isn't my child.
    BTW, all the voice actors were black, unlike the crows in Dumbo. I mention this not to dismiss any of the concerns but to address them head on. It's time Disney defended its own cinematic legacy. They have tried to hide the film in a matter that treats all of us like children. Perhaps if Disney had a collector's label for adults, similar to Twilight Time or Kritzerland (this would also be perfect for niche material), but then the disc would sell out instantly if it were limited.
    Disney, who has always idealized the past, present and future, is afraid of a backlash over this film because they are prejudging its audience. Prejudice is also a fear: fear of the unknown. We don't know how the public will react to a release unless it actually occurs. Until then, it's all speculative. All I'm saying is that they should do it and do it WELL.
    How faithful is this film to Joel Chandler Harris's original stories anyway?
     
  10. MatthewA

    MatthewA Lead Actor

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    For once I agree with you. The film's lack of availability has led to these misconceptions, compounding the problem.
     
  11. Pete York

    Pete York Supporting Actor

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    For what it's worth, Matthew, I not only understood what you were trying to say, but as a result, you also made me consider the film in a way I never would have before. In addition, not having any previous knowledge of it, I looked up the 'Tommy Kirk story'. And it seems to me that what you identified with in SONG OF THE SOUTH, in whatever small or brief way, is the kind of thing Kirk didn't see much of in his contemporary culture at large, which led to his coming of age to be a tortured and damaging experience. So if you found something in the film affirming in a way (the boy eventually triumphs over his tormentors), I think that's relevant and interesting to a discussion of the movie.
     
  12. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    There's not really any mindset. I personally wasn't offended by a single frame of this film. I was pointing out what others would find offensive about it. I don't think the animators were saying "lets bring up hanging as a point to say we want to hang black people" but some will certainly not enjoy a hanging scene with stereotype black characters. I've seen enough "classic" films and especially animated ones where there are jokes aimed by putting tar, paint or mud on someone to make them appear black. There have been countless tar jokes aimed at blacks. This character seemed to really stick out for me but then again, I went into the film knowing it was controversial so perhaps if I was seeing it with fresh eyes I never would have made any sort of connection.
     
  13. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    I think I probably watch more Hollywood films from this era than anyone I know. I've also gone through enough race films from the 1920s to the 40s and I'm being 100% honest when I say this was great for black actors at the time. I think the film was rather clean compared to many of its time and I think the Uncle Remus role was a great one for an actor of this period. I think it's somewhat of a shame that the film is being hidden because you really could show this as something being done the correct way. SOTS might have items that some find "evil" but at the same time most people will see that it actually gave a black actor a great role for the time it was made. Back to Spencer Williams, the chat I had with his relative made this point very clear. When the show got canceled it did nothing but put black families out of work. Williams and his partner didn't find nothing bad in the material. The people watching didn't find anything bad in it. Even those operating the cameras, handling production or any other aspect found nothing wrong with it. This is still pretty much not talked about today and this too features an "educational" moment people could have but I think most just want to bury it. We can talk SOTS, THE BIRTH OF A NATION, Our Gang, the work of Oscar Micheaux or Amos and Andy. The educational value to these works are important but to film buffs only. I just don't think the public really cares one way or another. By saying this you might ask what the problem of releasing them will be. To me the problem would be certain groups (who need publicity) coming after Disney just to get money and attention. After all, the original NAACP reviews of BIRTH were very positive and even told black people that the film was worth going to watch. It wasn't until later that they realized protesting and anger was going to get the media, which in turn was going to get them more money. It even got them into the political game. I'm certainly not trying to compare the two films but Disney has a lot more to lose.
     
  14. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    I'm not sure if you're being serious with this point or not but I'm pretty sure an eventual backlash is why we're talking in this thread and not in an "Official Review" thread. Again, to me it showed more good than bad but people in today's world aren't going to look at the good of it. They're going to attack it for the bad or negative. I personally don't agree with this but there's really no way around it.
     
  15. Ethan Riley

    Ethan Riley Producer

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    At this point, there's been so much online controversy about SOTS that if they ever actually do release it, there'll probably be a huge fuss simply because people are talking about it all the time. The awareness of the "censorship" of this film is probably more of a hot button item than the film itself. There'll be plenty of outrage on both sides if they release it; half the people will buy it just to see what all the fuss was about; some black groups may feel betrayed. I don't think anyone will feel indifferent to it. The backlash will die off, but Disney isn't the kind of company to invite any kind of scandal in the first place, if they can help it. The only thing to do would be to release it very quietly--not in retail outlets like Walmart--online sales only, and keep in stock and just sort of point out that it's there for study and that they're not advocating anything in that movie, or celebrating its merits (as a wide release would do). But then--this is also something that Disney doesn't really do. Any kind of release would have to be handled so sensitively that it may never be worth it to them to try. But again--as I said--it's not the film. At all. It's all the endless controversy and mystery surrounding it. After all, there are far more racist and uncomfortable moments in say, Gone With the Wind, and that's been in perpetual home video release since day one. Same with the Little Rascals. And nobody really freaks out over those; they're just there. By keeping SOTS vaulted for so long, Disney has done itself and the film possibly irreparable damage. That film is nothing compared to portrayals of blacks in other 1940s films.
     
  16. Ejanss

    Ejanss Banned

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    Like the fact that most of the black animated voices on Song of the South were popular black radio stars from Amos & Andy. (James Baskett's motormouth on Br'er Fox and Johnny Lee's panicky Br'er Rabbit voice were already radio shticks well-known to most of the audience. Yes, the radio A&A circa 1946 is some of the flat-out funniest old-radio on the air. :D )
    Back in the 70's, before we got the affirmative-action of Mulan and Pocahontas, the big fight-the-corporate-cultural-power cliche' was that Disney "only" had white blond princesses, and only whitebread actors showed up in the live-action films (back when the live-action films had Dean Jones). Easy, easy, easy target, for those who had enough issues to make it one. Downright lazy, in fact. :rolleyes:
     
  17. John Weller

    John Weller Stunt Coordinator

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    It's funny how SotS has so much controversey, yet Peter Pan's depiction of Native Americans seems to get by ok.
     
  18. bob kaplan

    bob kaplan Supporting Actor

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    Perhaps Disney could release SONG OF THE SOUTH and SO DEAR TO MY HEART (the two are so similar in structure and execution) as a blu ray package with a minimun of extras charging an exorbitant price. That way only collectors would purchase it. Thus keeping it out of the hands of "family" environments!! :)
     
  19. marshman1138

    marshman1138 Stunt Coordinator

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    I support this initiative. Very well put.
     
  20. Lromero1396

    Lromero1396 Supporting Actor

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    Agreed. Perhaps make it an online exclusive as well. That way less money would be spent dealing with retailers and mainstream families would be less likely to come upon it one day at the store.
     

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