The latest series from the long-running podcast You Must Remember This concluded last week.
The six-part ‘Six Degrees of Song of the South’ was released to coincide with the arrival of the Disney Plus streaming service — Song of the South is a film conspicuous by its absence from the archive.
The racially insensitive film is still hidden in the Disney vault, says podcast host Karina Longworth, even though it was rereleased four times over the decades following its original 1946 outing — indeed its most successful run was in the 1980s.
It probably never will be released, she says, quoting Disney CEO Robert Iger from 2011 who said he had decided the film “wouldn’t feel right to a number of people today” and that “it wouldn’t be in the best interest of our shareholders to bring it back even though there would be some financial gain”.
The film was visually impressive, mixing live action and animation, but overtly racist, suggesting black characters were actually happy with plantation life.
Longworth is a strident, clear host, comparing and contrasting certain defensive reactions with the far-right movement today.
The first episode explains the plot and problems with Song of the South. Episode two is a biography of co-star Hattie McDaniel, the first black performer to win an Oscar for her role as ‘Mammy’ in Gone with the Wind.
The third concerns its theme tune, ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’, which has as its origin Minstrel music (one curiosity is that it won best song at the Oscars in 1948 despite its 1946 release — Longworth can’t figure out this anomaly; we’re left to believe it’s all part of Disney’s electioneering).
At times, it sounds like Longworth is reading a thesis — one that occasionally meanders, such as its diversion to the blaxploitation films of the 1970s — but it’s always shockingly entertaining.
Indeed, it’s hilarious in parts. For example when ‘Commie-hating’ Walt Disney, fearful his film might be perceived as racist, hires known Communist Maurice Rapf to rewrite the script.
You Must Remember This is a treasure trove of 20th-century Hollywood stories.
YOU’VE GOT TO HEAR THIS: Prince: The Story of 1999 — an official four-part series, from the Prince Estate, on one of his most renowned albums, which has just been reissued.