Whoopi Goldberg was named a Disney Legend at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California yesterday, and she made the most of the opportunity by telling a news reporter that she wants the Walt Disney Company to make available its groundbreaking 1946 effort, Song of the South.
The live-action/animation hybrid, set in the Reconstruction Era following the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery, was taken out of circulation by Disney following its 1986 theatrical re-release, due to the perception that it was racially insensitive toward African-Americans.
There’s a good deal of hypocrisy in the Disney Company’s stance toward the film. Though it has hidden the film in the States, Disney has continued to make Song of the South available in foreign countries, which is even more bizarre considering that its subject matter is so deeply rooted in American history. Further, Disney continues to promote various characters from the film, most notably in its Splash Mountain theme park rides, and the song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from the film continues to remain an iconic part of the Disney musical canon.
Goldberg believes that it’s time the film was made available again to American audiences in its entirety. “I’m trying to find a way to get people to start having conversations about bringing Song of the South back, so we can talk about what it was and where it came from and why it came out,” she told Yahoo Movies.
In the same interview, which can be seen below, she goes on to say that she wanted to see new merchandise featuring the jive-talking crows from Disney’s 1941 classic Dumbo. “I want people to start putting the crows in the merchandise, because those crows sing the song in Dumbo that everybody remembers [“When I See an Elephant Fly”]. I want to highlight all the little stuff people sort of maybe miss in movies.”
It’s not inconceivable that Goldberg’s involvement could someday pave the path for an American release of Song of the South. Goldberg is a well known fan and advocate of classic Hollywood animation (including certain cartoons that are now considered racially insensitive), and she has previously helped clear the way for other corporations, like Time Warner, to release classic cartoons that may have otherwise been edited or kept out of circulation.
A little over a decade ago, Goldberg appeared at the beginning of Looney Tunes dvds, to deliver the message that it’s possible to enjoy the Warner Bros. cartoons, without necessarily endorsing their outdated characterizations. In that video, she says:
“Some of the cartoons here reflect some of the prejudices that were commonplace in American society, especially when it came to the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities. These jokes were wrong then and they are wrong today, but removing these inexcusable images and jokes would be the same as saying they never existed, so they are presented here to accurately reflect a part of our history that cannot and should not be ignored.”