Oh, I just hate it when another studio one-ups my favorite studio, Disney ! But credit where credit is due. It goes to the Warner Brothers Studio for releasing a controversial film. And how did they manage such a tricky and potentially explosive feat and preserve a piece of cinematic history?
By using four title cards. My question: Why couldn’t Disney do this with Song of the South?
But first, the Warner Bros. movie: Irving Berlin’s This Is the Army (from 1943)
And yes, that’s a very young Lt. Ronald Reagan, actually in the army during production
Reagan again on the left with George Murphy on the right, playing his father
This film was called “buoyant, captivating, as American as hot dogs or the Bill of Rights” by Theodore Strauss of The New York Times. He left out racist and highly offensive. Or maybe he missed this part of the picture:
A Minstrel from a number with white actors in blackface
But with Hollywood, one is never enough, so why not fill the entire stage with highly offensive stereotypes:
Yes, that’s an enormous banjo in the background
If five Minstrels in the background weren’t enough, how about twelve in the foreground dancing and singing ‘Mammy’ with another twelve guys dressed in blackfaced-drag with an additional six banjo-playing Minstrels, three to a side? If only they could have worked in a plate of fried chicken and collard greens somehow.
There were actual African-American singers/dancers in this picture, but they were used in a typically exaggerated way for comic relief. However, a Fun Fact: The Army was still segregated at this time (WWII) and so the production of this film, with a predominantly all-army cast, was the only integrated deployment of men during the war.
So, again, how did Warner Bros. manage to get this film released in 2014 on DVD? Answer:
T I T L E C A R D S
So it made a lot of money for charity. But still unacceptable.
Open acknowledgment of the mistaken views held at the time.
Point: Does banning movies with this stuff in them mean the stuff never happened?
Blackface Minstrelsy has a long history and is not practiced today, even in jest. But it is a large part of American history and won’t go away simply by burying movies that contain sequences depicting it.
With that in mind, couldn’t Disney place similar Title Cards at the beginning of a DVD release of Song of the South and let the scenes depicting the attitudes of the freed slaves and their interaction with former masters speak for themselves, also speak to the history of the period, and allow such scenes to “remind all how far we have come as a nation”, or nations?
I’ll leave this thought here and end this post on a lighter note. Did you know that The Skipper’s dad was in this movie too? Yup, Alan Hale Sr. played a key role in many movies long before his son, Alan Hale Jr., became Gilligan’s buddy:
A l a n H a l e S r.