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As it leans into a seemingly infinite catalog of classic titles, Disney+ is warning (or reminding) its users — 10 million strong and counting — that certain parts of their most beloved films haven't aged very well.
The newly launched streaming services has prudently added a disclaimer to such animated favorites as Dumbo (1941), Lady and the Tramp (1955) and The Jungle Book (1967) that reads: “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.” Dumbo is notorious for the film's "vocal blackface," Lady and the Tramp exploited Asian stereotypes for the song “We Are Siamese” (which is not included in Disney+’s new live-action remake), and The Jungle Book is known to contain racist caricatures in its depiction of certain animals.
Other films remain locked deep in the vault with no signs of ever surfacing on Disney+: most notorious of them is all is 1946's Song of the South, which features racist portrayals of African Americans during the Reconstruction era. And while the Mouse House steadfastly refuses to re-release the film, which is based on the “Uncle Remus” folk tales and best known by contemporary audiences as the source of the Oscar-winning ditty “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” there has been at least one vocal, and perhaps surprising, advocate suggesting the studio not hide from its problematic past: Disney Legend Whoopi Goldberg.
The View co-host and EGOT winner raised some eyebrows in 2017 when she told Yahoo Entertainment that the film, which hasn’t been aired in any format since 2001, should be unleashed from Disney’s vault.
“I’m trying to find a way to get people to start having conservations about bringing Song of the South back,” she told us at the D23 Expo (watch above), where she was being honored as a Disney Legend for her work in The Lion King as well as Buena Vista's Sister Act movies and ABC's The View. "So we can talk about what it was and where it came from and why it came out."
Goldberg took her stance a step further by opining that Disney should feature some of its most controversial characters in its product lines.
“I want people to start putting crows in the merchandise, because those crows sing the song in Dumbo everybody remembers,” she said, referencing the “jive-talking” crows who belt out the tune “When I See an Elephant Fly,” a scene that was not included in Tim Burton’s live-action remake released last March.
“I want to highlight all the little stuff people maybe miss in movies.”
Disney is clearly not interested letting Song of the South see the light of day again, likely aware that the fiery backlash it would draw outweighs its potential role as a historical document and sociopolitical touchpoint in exploring the deep stain of American racism. If anything, Disney appears to be going too far in the opposite direction, disclaiming, editing and even censoring older films and shows that have the slightest whiff of controversy.
It would be a conversation starter, no doubt, but likely one Goldberg and her cohorts will be left to take on during The View.
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