From Issue 15: "Song of the South, Reprise" (Nonfiction)

Song of the South, Reprise                                                                    

Sean Enfield

Reading Time: ~21 minutes

"Song of the South, Reprise" originally appeared in Issue 15 of Tahoma Literary Review. I was immediately struck by Sean Enfield's use of the word "reprise" in the title, and in the way he magnifies that word via personal and familial exploration and speculation, as well as cultural interrogation. Like the Disney movie he dissects, the movie's signature song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" sets a jubilant tone. Yet, as Enfield writes, "That harmony [flies] in the face of abject division and subjugation." If you're looking for an example of how to weave powerful personal reflection into equally powerful cultural criticism, this essay fits the bill.

What about this essay grabs your attention? Chat us up over at our Facebook page, or reach out to us on Twitter. Thanks so much for reading.

Ann Beman
Nonfiction editor

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I have this recurring dream—call it a fantasy if you want—in which I travel back in time to 1940s rural Mississippi and tell my white grandma that I’m her future black grandson. We call her Memaw, but she’d have been Irma then. She wouldn’t have the wrinkled, sun-splotched skin or the short, wavy white hair we know her by now but would be the country girl wearing the long plaid skirts in the old black-and-white photographs she used to send me.

I picture it like this …

She faints almost immediately, confused both by the marvel of time travel and the horror of the brown-skinned young man proclaiming himself her kin. I picture us by a creek, because all of her childhood stories seem to take place by a creek, or maybe they don’t and maybe I just picture the Mississippi of Memaw’s youth as a network of creeks and streams, weaving around ghost towns. After she tips over, I find a seat on a nearby log and wait for her to come to. I want to talk, about what I’m not sure. Mainly, I want to see if she’d love me without having given birth to the son that I call Dad. I want to see if she could even conceive of loving me at that time in her life—growing up in the Deep South and attending a whites-only school—at a time when her favorite movie was Song of the South, the long forgotten Disney film in which a docile, servile Negro tells happy stories and sings happy songs and makes the movie’s white children, well, happy.

In the commotion, however, Memaw’s brothers[1]come running from the house up the hill, and being from the future, I’d know this scene from history books. The young black man hovering over the incapacitated young white girl can only mean one thing, and so I start clicking my heels, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home,” or hop in the DeLorean or however I travelled through time. The conversation, even in my dreams, still goes unspoken; once again, I’m left wondering if it’s only the blood in my veins, proof of a lineage, that compels Memaw to love me even as it runs beneath a skin tone I know frightens her.  

 

Released first in 1946, and re-released in the ‘70s and ‘ 80s, Disney’s Song of the South once had a reputation as a landmark film, though it has since been spurned and locked away deep, deep, deep in Disney’s hallowed vault. Its song, “Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah,” won the Academy Award for Best Original song and can still be heard while rushing down the waters of Splash Mountain, which also features characters from the movie, in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Though initially a commercial disappointment, in part due to its regressive racial depictions, the film eventually earned Disney quite a bit of money during its 1972, 1980, and 1986 theatrical reissues, and until 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, no other Disney theatrical film featured a black character in a lead role besides Song of the South.[2]

Still, the movie is mostly known as one of those notoriously racist films of yesteryear, like Birth of a Nation before it, the blemish on a Hollywood with a face like a pubescent teenager. As such, Song of the South has never seen a release on either VHS or DVD and hasn’t been screened since its fortieth anniversary in 1986, though there are those who advocate for the movie’s re-release—out of morbid curiosity, maybe, nostalgia, certainly, but mostly because they see some value in the movie and its depiction of race.[3]

Somehow, however, Memaw possessed a bootlegged copy of the movie on a beat up old VHS tape, and one summer, trapped in her Arizona home in a little city outside of Phoenix, she presented it to my sisters and I as some sort of marvel, a cultural relic which, I suppose, it was.

“This was one of my favorite movies growing up,” she told us.

This was in 2004, eighteen years after the movie had last been given a proper release. I was twelve and my sisters were eleven, and already we were forgetting about the medium of VHS tapes, our parents having donated all of ours in favor of a growing DVD collection at our house back home in Texas. On the front of the tape, the title, Song of the South, was scrawled on a white sticker with a big, fat black marker and gave it even more the appearance of some strange, forgotten artifact.

We were used to Memaw showing us old movies she loved—The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, and a whole bunch of movies starring Shirley Temple. Arizona summers are unbearably hot, and aside from swim team practices and swim meets, we spent most of our summers visiting Memaw and Pepaw indoors, watching TV and playing video games. Every now and then, Memaw would walk into the living room, horrified by whatever cartoon[4]we were watching, and pull a tape out for us to watch instead.

“Here,” she would say, “this is much better.”

Out of all those movies, however, Song of the South stood out as being particularly removed from a time and place we recognized. The movie, based on black folklore written by a white man, Joel Chandler Harris[5], takes place on a Georgia plantation, set in a South that is somehow simultaneously pre-and post-Civil War. Johnny and his parents move to this magical plantation where the help looks and acts like slaves but are never once called slaves. While there, the young Johnny befriends the kindly old Uncle Remus,[6]who could just as easily be named Uncle Tom. Uncle Remus is the picture-perfect definition of the Magic Negro archetype, imbued both with an otherworldly wisdom and a self-effacing humility, that allows him to regale Johnny with tales of Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear and Br’er Frog, all while a cartoon Mr. Bluebird whistles away on his shoulder. In what was cutting edge at the time, the movie blends live action performance and animation—Uncle Remus and Johnny inhabiting the world of reality whereas the cartoon critters from Remus’ tales are rendered in a deliriously delightful animation.

The movie presents a racial harmony that seems as if it should’ve appealed to three mixed-race children, but being mixed, we’d already begun to find that harmony suspect. Being mixed isn’t to see the world in some marvelous, harmonious shade of gray, like the two races that give your skin that natural and oft-desirable tan. Being mixed, instead, is to see everything in a stark black-and-white, except for yourself who hangs perilously from the line of division. So even then, before I knew much about the condition of my skin, I watched the movie confused by its sing-along depiction of a plantation. I didn’t yet have the language to classify this confusion, only a feeling that something was awry about Memaw’s singsong version of history. I saw with “double consciousness,” though I wouldn’t encounter DuBois’s term for at least another decade. 

Song of the South reminded me of Gone with the Wind, another movie Memaw had put on for us, but this timewith cartoon musical numbers instead of death and miscarriages. Nonetheless, blackness occupied such a horrifying and yet cheerful space in both movies—the happy-go-lucky slave in Gone with the Wind’s periphery is foregrounded in Disney’s film and even given songs to sing. I knew the movie, and all its uplifting music, wanted me to feel warm, but glancing down at my brown skin, I never felt more cold and alien. As the film neared its end, Memaw hummed along to its most famous of songs, “Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah,” while Uncle Remus, Johnny, and the cartoon critters sang us into the credits, “My, oh my, what a wonderful day.”

“Don’t you just love it?” she asked us, beaming as she removed the tape from the VHS player, and we nodded yes, unsure if we were allowed to answer any other way.

 

I didn’t intend to write about Memaw, only about that curious tape of hers. In fact, not until a decade after we had watched the movie did I realize how scandalous it was that she even had that tape and that she screened it for us, her black grandchildren. I was listening to a comedy podcast and the host made an offhand remark about a movie locked forever in the Disney vault, Song of the South, and that part of my brain where I stored all of Memaw’s peculiarities lit up and started flashing and gave way to the obsessive, research-oriented part of me I was then indulging in my studies at the University of North Texas.

Article after article returned me to that Arizona living room and provided names for the strange feelings that overcame me as I sat watching the kindly, old black man sing songs of joy to and with his oppressors. And the more I read, the more I realized how peculiar it was that I had even seen this movie at all and that it had been presented to me, not as a relic of racism past, but as a darling part of Memaw’s childhood, something to cherish even though the studio that made it had tried to bury it six years before my birth. I felt angry, but what angered me seemed so absurd that it felt useless to try and make sense of any of it, so I let it hang over me instead, like some cosmic void to which I might credit my existence.

In that entanglement of absurdity and anger I see Memaw who loved us, her black grandchildren, and who lovedSong of the South, the Disney movie that horrified us. In college, I’d learn from my mother that Memaw ignored the fact of my father’s marrying a black woman for two years. She wouldn’t mention my mother at all to any family member who hadn’t received a wedding invite. Sometimes, I wonder how my mother wore those two years, a literal black sheep. Did she doubt the love my father felt because of the hate from the woman who made him? Probably she tried to block it out, the way Memaw had tried to block her out. I suppose Memaw hoped my father’s jungle fever would pass, but once it bore fruit, she had no choice but accept the relationship as something more than a phase. There was a grandson now whose skin was forever evidence of the transgression, and she became the good, Christian grandmother I presumed she envisioned herself to be. 

Those summers in her house were like church camps only my sisters and I attended. She taught us to cook, drove us to our swimming lessons and swim meets, and enrolled us in week-long Sunday school classes called Vacation Bible School. Worried our mother was letting us get too fat, she would hide artificial sweeteners in our Kool-Aid, and then say, grinning, “You couldn’t even tell,” as we struggled to sip our cups empty. That was Memaw for us, a glass of Kool-Aid made bitter.

I didn’t intend to write about Memaw because I never thought I would or could write about her. Maybe, after she passed, I could hide her likeness in a work of fiction—some kooky old lady ranting to her colored daughter-in-law and grandchildren about the new “colored” folks who moved into her neighborhood. Even then, I think I would refute any family member who tried to say that, hey, that’s exactly what Memaw did! Its fiction, I’d insist, completely fabricated. Some things work better when you frame them as fictional, true though they may be.

And yet, here I am, writing about her by the name she prefers, Memaw, because she thought grandma sounded too old.

During my undergraduate studies, she would call me often, tell me stories from her childhood, apologize for taking up so much of my time, suggest she should hang up, and then tell me more stories from her childhood. She almost always ended the calls by reminding me that I was a writer. “One day,” she’d say, “you might be able to use my stories.” And the words, though always framed as a suggestion, had the charge of a command. You will tell my story, grandson.

Showing us Song of the South was preparation for these stories. The issue of race likely never occurred to her, as it never occurred to her that children could tell the difference between artificial and real sugars. She wanted to give us a glimpse into a past as she viewed it, but her nostalgia didn’t line up with the history.

Her stories became more and more urgent as she got older. After a brief skin cancer scare that ended up benign, she framed almost every conversation as potentially one of her last, despite her otherwise clean bill of health. I guess this is something we do as we age. Eventually, our every conversation circles back to our eventual deaths, and we want to make sure someone remembers us, even those like her who lived devout Christian lives and believed that Jesus knew her name in life and would in death, too. For Memaw, this shift occurred in her seventies. And so the line, “You might be able to use my stories someday,” grew an ugly, morbid appendage, “Hopefully, I’ll be around to read them!” Her Christmas letters and birthday cards, too, became filled with her childhood stories, and with pictures of her and her family, sometimes copies and sometimes the original print. I kept them for a time, a possibility.

She called again in 2012, my first presidential election. I paced around the yard outside my apartment while she tried to convince me not to vote for Barack Obama. I hadn’t, at any point in the conversation or in any of our conversations, told her that I planned to vote for Obama; I knew better than that, and yet she felt compelled to make sure I made “the right vote.” She had made the same call to my mother four years prior. “I know you’re black,” she began, “but you can’t vote for that Obama.” For me, however, she simply began, “That Barack is the Antichrist.” The rest of her argument followed suit, typical right-wing conspiracy theories—Barack was a secret Muslim, wasn’t an American citizen, was a socialist. She said nothing about his policies, his imperialist strategies overseas, his massive deportations of which I suspected she might’ve approved, and she never mentioned his, or my, race. Still, I couldn’t help but see Obama’s light-skin and, by extension my own, as she talked. I stared into the sun and wished she would switch into one of those Mississippi stories or something. As usual, however, I simply listened and clenched my fist all the while.

I’ve never wanted to write about Memaw because I knew I couldn’t do it the way she wanted me to. If I ever started her story, I’d hear the old woman who called to warn me about the villainous black man who wanted to destroy America. I’d hear the old woman who, as we sat in her living room watching news reports on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, proclaimed aloud, “Finally God is punishing those people for living in sin,” as the TV showed black bodies crying over their broken homes. I’d hear the old woman who warned me to steer clear of Mexicans, who couldn’t distinguish between immigrants and invaders, and who warned my sisters not to marry a Muslim man minutes after they’d graduated college. I’d hear her call the first black president The Anti-Christ, and the story would never take shape. Always, I nodded along, silently, suppressing the anger and confusion mounting within. I can’t see the young woman in her stories, who sang “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” while she fished with her brothers, not through the bitter, ignorant, and sometimes hateful old woman she’d become, and I struggle to see the kind, Christian woman she perceives herself to be.

“He’s the Antichrist, I tell you,” she concluded, “Romney, on the other hand, is a fine Christian man.”

“Yes, Memaw,” I said, “I’ve gotta go. Love you.”

I couldn’t write her story. After that call, I took those old letters, those old photographs, and all the memories that they contained, and I tossed them in the trash, and I pulled some old, rotten leftovers from the fridge, and as those stern, white faces peered up to from the trash and from decades ago, I dumped the stinking food over top, hitting the bottom of the plastic container so that every drop of mildewed juice drizzled into the bin, in case I got the urge to undo what I should’ve done some time ago. 

 

What do we do with a history we’d rather forget? And what if that history is your ancestry, an irremovable part of the lineage that made you? Are we justified to lock it in a vault as Disney has done, never to be seen again? I do not challenge Memaw’s hate, and I can’t say if the inaction is a result of love or fear or some curious blending of the two. When she warns me of “Mexican cartel members smuggling drugs in the diapers of babies crossing the border,” I nod and change the subject. Perhaps, it’s learned behavior—conditioned from summers at her side mouthing along to Baptist hymnals that seemed to me antiquated and false. Always, I assume the role of dutiful grandson in her presence.

The first summer we spent with her, when I was eleven, I bowed my head when the pastor visiting her church said so. I could feel the light coming in from the pulpit. “Would anyone here like to know the loving grace of Jesus?” the pastor asked the whole congregation. “Then raise your hand. The Lord sees you.”

Memaw patted my back when he instructed the unsaved to raise their hands, knowing we’d yet to be baptized, and I know what she expected of me, and so as I would do time and time again afterwards, I shrunk myself on her behalf. I raised my hand dutifully and would be baptized that summer.

And when she calls, more than a decade later, to see if I’ve found a church in Fairbanks, Alaska, where I’m working toward my Master’s in creative writing, I tell her, “Yes, a Baptist one too.” And when she asks that I pray for our president, the man supported by white nationalists and the Ku Klux Klan alike, I tell her, “Of course, I do every night,” which isn’t a lie technically, though our prayers take on different forms. She prays God’s wisdom for him as he “makes America great again,” and I pray for him and all those red hats make a swift exit from the political stage and into the Disney vault, a curious relic of history.

But maybe it’s better to face these demons head on. There’s no reconciling with the monster concealed behind concrete walls, only a perpetual terror that it might one day (that it will one day) reveal its ugly head again. In the post-1945 Germany, there is a word, Vergangenheitsbewältigung,which translates to “coping with the past,” that has become a key concept in the discourse around German culture in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Another translation reads “a public debate within a country on a problematic period of its recent history.” We have no such word for our many moral failings, for our troubled history. In the absence, we have a silence that demands nothing of us, a quiet concession to the grandmothers that supposedly have the best interests of our souls in mind in spite of the soil of our skin. We must cope with our Holocaust or else, as Baldwin warned, fulfill the prophecy, “No more water, the fire next time.”No future can emerge from a nostalgic past, from an America ever considered “great,” only a ceaseless and consumptive burning.

I’ve seen firsthand the devastation of the fire from Baldwin’s vision. I’ve born witness to a small, powerful glimpse of a Germany that hasn’t coped with the past. I’ve met a Holocaust denier, and I observed in her a pattern not unlike that which governs my grandmother’s own ignorance. Her name was Helga, and she was an old German woman, either in her seventies or eighties, who moved to the United States pre-reunification of Germany. She attended our family’s church, the little storefront church we started going to shortly after the summer I got “saved.” After a sermon in which the pastor quoted psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, she proclaimed loudly in the church lobby, “That man”—referring to Frankl—“is a liar. He wants only to besmirch our great Germany.”

The Frankl quote had been a harmless one, a bit of inspirational wisdom elevated by the knowledge of its speaker’s past sufferings, “If you’re alive, you can find something beautiful in the world,” and yet Helga needed to refute it, Frankl’s very existence a threat to her vision of a great Germany that never was. I don’t know much about Helga—why she left Germany for the US, how she arrived at her denial. She came to church sporadically, brought by a younger relative, presumably a granddaughter, who seldom spoke to any of the other congregation members. Helga herself usually sat quietly in the back row and nodded with a spurious smile whenever spoken to. I had never heard her string together more words than when she chose to denounce Frankl, and I never would again, even though she continued her sporadic attendance.

I know that she would’ve been a young girl in in Nazi Germany just as Memaw was a young girl in the Jim Crow South, and I know that she needed Frankl, and all other Holocaust survivors, to assume a villainous role in order to preserve an idyllic Germany that never was. When Memaw proclaims Obama the Antichrist, she might as well deny the fact of slavery, the fact of segregation, the fact of black mass incarceration, as Helga denies the fact of the Holocaust in calling Frankl a liar. To accept the significance of a black president is to accept an America that has long profited off the subjugation of black bodies and is to ruin the history she thought she knew, the story she’d like her grandson to write.

I’ve let most of Memaw’s stories slip from my mind. I can tell you that race doesn’t factor into them. They are nebulous affairs, harmless gallivanting about the Mississippi delta and the trouble that ensues. In this regard, they aren’t much different than Uncle Remus’s Br’er Rabbit tales. Br’er Rabbit attempts to run away from home. Br’er Rabbit outsmarts Br’er Fox with the “Tar Baby.” Br’er Rabbit goes to his “laughing place.” Fun stories meant to charm and entertain and teach and placate the young, white boy, and in them everyone is happy and all is well and no one hurts when they’ve ended. There’s a reason she loves Song of the South, why it’s resonated with her across decades and why she chose to show it to us that summer, and it’s right there in the title song:

I seem to hear those gentle
voices calling low
Out of the long long ago
This heart of mine is in the heart of Dixie
That's where I belong
Singing a song, a Song of the South.[7]

 

She needs these stories; she needs them to bring her back to a south she remembers not as a story, in fact—because stories require conflict, complexity—but as a simple song. As such, she needs to ignore that they are told on a plantation and by black man, a servant of the seven year old boy to whom he tells them. She needs to discredit and dehumanize anything that threatens the validity and the purity of those stories. She wants only those “gentle voices” from the “long long ago,” mystical, fantastical voice; whereas, I hear the low singing of slaves in the song of the South, not to pass the time but to mask an anguish—the voices that say, when she insists America was once as great as “Song of the South” suggests, but c’mon … what about the “Tar Baby” though?

 

Whether you’ve seen Song of the South or not, and more than likely you have not, you may have heard its pivotal song, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” a song that feels like a precursor to The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata” in its sheer, unwavering pleasantry and everything-is-going-to-be-all-right ethos. I had even heard it prior to having seen the movie. When I was around ten years old, Memaw and Pepaw paid for the whole family—themselves, my parents, my sisters, and I—to go to Disneyland, and there we rode Splash Mountain. The characters—Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, Br’er Frog, and the like[8]—are goofy cartoon animals that greet us with smiles as we approach the ride proper. We don’t recognize them from the pantheon of Disney films, having not yet seen the movie, and so they seem innocuous, invented for the solely for the ride. In fact, Br’er Rabbit and his ilk barely register to us, especially after the excitement of taking a photos with Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear on the walk up.

On Splash Mountain, a log flume pulls you through a cozy, Southern scene. Animatronic critters engage in all manners of goofy shenanigans, and eventually the flume descends into a slow exit back into daylight. As the ride ends, you come upon Br’er Rabbit, leaning casually against a tree trunk, whistling “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” to himself and to the passersby. The melody is so overwhelmingly jubilant that, once heard, you’ll hum it for the remainder of the trip, even as Memaw complains constantly about your mom’s, her daughter-in-law’s, supposed laziness on display. The humming is eventually deployed in an attempt to tune out the growing dissention. This is supposed to the happiest place on earth, the humming insists, so why is Mom insisting that she’d rather walk back to Texas than endure another moment with Memaw?

In his “Humble Defense” of the film, first published online in 1999,[9]Christian Willis writes,

At least Song of the South made an attempt at showing harmony. And not only did it attempt at showing harmony within a family, but harmony between races as well; I think that's a big accomplishment for a film made in the 1940's when segregation was, sadly, still very much a part of life.[10]

That harmony in the face of abject division and subjugation, more than anything, is what irks me about this movie and my grandmother’s love of it, and it is that harmony, the Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah attitude, that leads me to believe that we are right to leave this movie locked away in Disney’s vault. The movie has never seen a home release, on VHS or on DVD and not now on any streaming platform; I do not know how Memaw happened upon a tape, though it must’ve been hard to obtain, but having seen the movie, I say leave it in the cellar where it belongs. Let it drift away to a space outside of memory.

To watch this movie isn’t to grapple with a real and present racism, to struggle with the horror palpable in the fact of American slavery, or to contend with the segregated society into which the movie entered. No, watching the movie only perpetuates the silence that sustains the othering required to preserve the “American Dream,” the song of the South. It opens up no conversation; rather, it closes any and all discourse with the delight of nostalgia. 

The movie is a falsehood. In this regard, it is no different than those goofy red “Make America Great Again” hats, or the confederate statues the hat wearers want to preserve. Like the statues, most of which were erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy during the Civil Rights Era, Song of the South didn’t emerge from the period it depicts but from white fearof black advancement. The movie saw its re-releases in the ‘70s and ‘80s to comfort a white populace still reeling from the movements of the decades prior, and to terrorize a black populace who had forgotten its place. Its nostalgic, or in Willis’s words, “harmonious,” depiction of the South lends itself to the lie that America has dealt with its past, that we’ve confronted our grandmothers and grandfathers, that we’ve coped with their violence. To watch the movie is to walk through “The Happiest Place on Earth,” humming a ditty while your grandmother bombards your mom with racial stereotypes to the point that your mom starts looking up flights back to Texas days before the trip is supposed to end. It doesn’t suggest that racial divisions can be healed; it suggests there’s no rift at all and that there never has been. If Uncle Remus can sing, “Plenty of sunshine headin' my way,” as he waltzes over the black blood in the Georgian soil, then the wound hasn’t healed or scarred but has, instead, been scabbed over and picked at with a fingernail. It bleeds as he whistles, and I recoil in horror at the so-called harmony.

In that recurring dream of mine, I have never once had a conversation with Memaw, never once gotten to tell her that I’ll be her grandson, because to do so would give way to the same Technicolor fantasy in Song of the South that dismays me. Whether in reality or in dream, I do not exist in that time of her life, and she would never love me then, could never be made to love me then. The history remains and always will remain as it was. No use trying to change it. Instead, we can engage it for what it was, is, and will mean for our future. Neither I nor my mom have confronted Memaw when she calls into question our black skin or the black skin of others, but have instead suffered the same silence.

Still, I’d like to believe there’s some part of her, even through all the bitterness and hate, that could see past the nostalgia for the horrifying reality it masks. Maybe that’s the part of her that loves us, her black grandchildren, but I don’t know what reconciliation Memaw has made with our black skin or if she’s reconciled with it at all. I suspect she has whistled it away, pretended it doesn’t exist, proclaimed that it doesn’t matter, and yet I have a new fantasy—call it a reoccurring dream—in which we, she and I, cope with our past and come to love each other not in spite of that great and heavy history, but with an awareness of it that lodges its way into memory like a melody you cannot shake. 

[1]I’ve never met any of Memaw’s immediate family, most having died before my own consciousness, but in the photos she’d send, they all looked like the stoic, strong-chinned men from Civil War photos, staring into some distance I’d never see. Of course, these photos would’ve been taken more than eighty years after the Civil War. 

[2]Jason Sperb. Disney's Most Notorious Film: Race, Convergence, and the Hidden Histories of Song of the South, University of Texas Press, 2012.

[3]Christian Willis is one such fan of the movie.  Since 1999, he has maintained the domain, songofthesouth.net, to keep an online repository for all things Song of the South as a testament to all things past, present and future about a movie infamously associated with the past because, in his words, “Song of the Southwill always have a future to be recorded, and I'll be keeping track of it!”

[4]She particularly hated Spongebob Squarepants.

[5]A writer for various local newspapers in Georgia from 1862-1900 whose collection, “Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings,” based on his interactions with and the folklore gleaned from black slaves on the Turnwold Plantation, was adapted into Song of South.

[6]Portrayed by New York actor, James Baskett, who could not, due to segregation laws, attend the movie’s Atlanta premiere but later won a “special Oscar” for his “able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus” two years after its release.

[7]Sam Coslow. “Song of the South.” Song of the South. Walt Disney Productions, 1946.

[8]Thankfully, the Tar Baby doesn’t make an appearance.

[9]The stated purpose of Willis’s website is to “provide the public with the most information possible on Song of the South,” though it functions primarily as a testament to why the film should be re-released in some capacity, Willis being an admitted fan of the movie.

[10]Christian Willis. “In Humble Defense,” SongoftheSouth.net, 30 July 2008, http://www.songofthesouth.net/movie/overview/defense.html

***

Reprinted with permission of the author

Enfield had this to say about the piece:

Trump has given a new voice to tensions deeply ingrained in our nation, but the racism inherent in his presidency is also inherent to America, itself, hence his nostalgic campaign slogan. This piece started as investigation into a particular manifestation of racism and nostalgia—Song of the South, a movie locked in Disney’s Vault. My grandmother screened it for me when I was a boy, and the more I researched and wrote about the movie, the more I began to see how my family, interracial as it is, also fit into a legacy of racism and its supportive silences.

Sean Enfield is an MFA student at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks; his work can be found at seanenfield.com (Instagram/Twitter handle: @seanseanclan)