Monday, January 21, 2013

In Honor of Martin Luther King Junior, Song of the South

In Honor of Martin Luther King
Song of the South

              Song of the South as often been called a racist, in my opinion that couldn’t be further from the truth. For political correctness Disney decided not to release Song of the South for home viewing in America. People in other countries can have this movie, just not Americans. I guess they believe Americans are less tolerant than people of other countries. I know they’re wrong!
            If taken in the right context, realizing the culture of the time it was made and when the original stories were written this movie can be used as a tool to show further generations how far we’ve come in racial equality and cultural understanding. We can take the best from it and use it as a standard. We can take the worst from it and learn not to make the same mistakes.
            After the Civil War many freed slaves stayed on with their former masters. They knew of no other way of life and had nowhere to go. Ignore the fact that it was a freed slave telling the stories and just accept it as one kindly man telling stories to children, teaching them life lessons and guiding them to good choices. Does that change your opinion of the movie? For truly that’s what it was. This movie can be used to open dialogue about the reconstruction of the South after the Civil War.
            In my opinion Uncle Remus was the most intelligent character in the movie, black, white or animated. Uncle Remus showed compassion, wit and an ability to relate to both children and adults alike. He taught life lessons with whimsy. He was able to teach the children one lesson while he taught the adults another. He encouraged acceptance and tolerance.
            In 1948 a special Academy Award was given To James Baskett for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus. Walt Disney campaigned for this special Oscar for Mr. Baskett. Walt Disney said that he worked without direction and developed the character of Uncle Remus himself. He told his sister, Ruth Disney, that Baskett was "the best actor, I believe, to be discovered in years." Even after the filming Disney remained friends with the actor. When Baskett died, in 1948 his wife wrote Disney and said, “you have been a friend indeed and we have been in need.”
            To ignore this movie is to ignore James Baskett, his skill as an actor and his achievement as the first male American of Black heritage to receive an Oscar. Hattie McDonald was the first female American of Black heritage to receive an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, in 1939. To ignore this movie is to ignore the life lessons of the wonderful stories that are combined to make this movie. To ignore this movie is to ignore the reality of slavery, the aftermath of the Civil War and the cultural changes that have happened since.
            People like James Baskett and movies like Song of the South opened the door for amazing men like Dr. Martin Luther King. Before Dr. King there was a gentle soul of James Baskett nudging us to acceptance and equality. He took pride in the work he did and gained the respect of those he worked with. Baskett opened the door for people like Sidney Poitier to be awarded the Oscar 11 years later.
            I hope that someday Americans will be considered open-minded enough to be able to have the Song of the South be released to Blu-ray or DVD. We need to get over this black versus white mentality and accept people as people. I honestly believe most people do accept others regardless of skin color. We need to remember the past and the wrongs done and learn the lessons from the history but not live as if it was 150 years ago. Slavery is wrong, bigotry is wrong and ignoring beautiful stories written during the reconstruction of the South designed to encourage reconstruction and unification is just as wrong.
            You will note earlier I did not say African–American. Instead I said American of Black heritage. To me the difference is clear, African–American says American but different, possibly less. American of Black heritage says American, but yet remembers the heritage of the person. I am American, I happen to be of English-Welsh- Irish-French-Canadian heritage. I am no more or no less an American than my adopted daughter and others who just happen to have a darker skin. Also to say African–American says just because a person has dark skin their ethnic heritage is from Africa, that is not always true and just plain rude. If someone is known to be of African descent then it is American–African or American of African descent.
            We need to get over the pettiness of color of skin and realize that we are all the same. No matter what our ethnicity, no matter our income, no matter our physical abilities we all have the same wants, needs, dreams and desires. As Dr. King said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character". I do believe that is a dream he had for all. We should not judge a white person has racist just because their skin is white. We should not judge a person’s ability or lack thereof because their skin is brown/black. Judge a person by their actions and abilities rather than the color of their skin, eyes, height or weight. People are more than what you see with your eyes. Beauty is more than skin deep. Look beyond the surface.
          We should not judge a movie as racist just because it speaks of a hard and divisive time in history. We should not judge a movie as racist until we look at the heart of the movie, the moral it’s trying to share and the culture at the time it was made. We should look at the movie as a whole and see if it is trying to portray, convey or teaching negative lesson or positive one. If the lesson is positive embrace it. If the lesson is negative learn from it.

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