Humanity week isn’t just about celebrating how awesome it is to inherit the legacy of the billions of people who came before us. It isn’t just about celebrating how grateful we are for the billions of individuals we currently share this planet with. Humanity also includes the contentious parts of our time together. The rough edges that still need understanding or smoothing.
Rough edges aren’t bad in all situations. A single grain of sand has 16 cutting edges. This allows it to have great application in several industrial processes including sandblasting to remove material coating or as a key ingredient in the concrete we all walk on at some point in the day. Diamonds also have rough edges. Even when a few of them are knocked off to shape it to a specific cut that cut still has rough edges. As one of the hardest materials on earth diamonds can not only look beautiful but they can also be functional.
One way diamonds are different than sand is the way the expose the light that passes through them. We say that diamonds sparkle because of the way they bend the light around them.
We wouldn’t want to get rid of these rough edges. From the purpose of giving us solid foundations or the sparkles that we find beautiful.
Song of the South is one of those rough edges of our humanity. Like sand and diamonds it has a practical purpose in our society. It can be used to remove a coating, mixed with other things to build a foundation, or twinkle. In fact it might be able to do all three.
Since there’s lots of people who aren’t even aware of the work, let’s take a look at the Wikipedia description to help align to what it is generally:
Song of the South is a 1946 American live-action/animated musical drama film produced by Walt Disney and released by RKO Radio Pictures. It is based on the collection of Uncle Remus stories as adapted by Joel Chandler Harris, and stars James Baskett as Uncle Remus. The film takes place in the southern United States during the Reconstruction era, a period of American history after the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. The story follows seven-year-old Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) who is visiting his grandmother’s plantation for an extended stay. Johnny befriends Uncle Remus, one of the workers on the plantation, and takes joy in hearing his tales about the adventures of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear. Johnny learns from the stories how to cope with the challenges he is experiencing while living on the plantation.
That Wikipedia description listing Uncle Remus as one of the workers on the plantation is an overly polite description. Slavery wasn’t something that was just done with after the war. The culture of ownership was still a component of the post civil war society even as the legal foundation for ownership had been stripped away. We shouldn’t expect it to be any different. People don’t like being told what to do, and it takes us a while to go through our own individual change journeys. So, a scene set up in the post civil war south should include elements that very nearly look like they might have under slavery.
While the film does depict the society at the time, the stories it also depicts were things that clearly emerged out of a society that included the racially supported slavery as it existed in the United States at the time. I like to bring this up because it helps to show one of the most magnificent trends in our humanity—the overcoming opposition.
I do not condone slavery—but I love to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit from those who survived its horrors. We’re quick to celebrate Viktor Frankl’s work—especially Man’s Search for Meaning—which would not have been possible had he not experienced and survived the horrors of the holocaust.
Welcome to another aspect of our humanity. We’re complex!
I’m passionately against inflicting horrors on others but want to passionately celebrate many of the work that comes from those horrors. This website (to a much lesser extent) is an expression of my thoughts as I work through PTSD and anxiety. It helps me mentally resolve the the challenges I deal with daily. Seeing the examples of how others allowed their humanity to shine forth through their challenges is a way for me to connect with the examples I need to encourage me to keep going.
Let’s use another example that doesn’t include oppressive societies… Does Beethoven’s 9th sound better knowing that its composer was completely deaf and never heard the piece?
For me the answer is yes. The challenges we face help us rise to be our best.
Song of the South is among one of Disney’s best works. For James Baskett it may not only be his most famous work, but it may very well be his best. He was cast as Uncle Remus after auditioning for the voice of a talking butterfly. Disney liked Jim so much that he described him as the best actor ‘to be discovered in years.’ Jim’s story on working in Hollywood and the challenges for people of color can’t be told if this movie remains locked in the vault.
Song of the South is not available on Disney+. It was released in theaters in the US but by the time video emerged as an distribution method Disney began to distance itself from the work at least in the US. It has been released on video overseas and broadcast in the US and international markets several times over the years.
Disney works hard as an organization to make sure that its reputation is palatable to widest possible audience. Bringing this forward would have an impact on the at brand. I think it could have a positive one. If they did it to honor Jim’s legacy I think the public would appreciate it.
Personally, I think we’re ready to have the conversations that a film like this could help bring forward. Certainly it’s a rough edge of our humanity—but rough edges have a purpose—and when it comes to diamonds the edges help things sparkle.
My opinion isn’t as unpopular as it might sound. As recently as 2017 Whoopi Goldberg was advocating for the same thing. I hope Disney will release Song of the South and give all of us the opportunity to burst out into song… Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah sounds like a good one to celebrate with.