Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Heinous Criticism of Patricia Turner

(A contributor to the Tuskaloosa Independent Monitor recently submitted this email to Patricia A. Turner, professor of African American and African Studies at the University of California-Davis ( Ms. Turner authored a book entitled Ceramic Uncles and Celluloid Mammies in which she attacked the long beloved and now banned Disney movie Song of the South ( This email rebutts her criticism of the movie. )

Ms. Turner,

Have you actually read Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings or seen Song of the South? I think much of your criticism of the movie stems from your preconceived notion that the movie is set in antebellum Georgia (it was not) and that US slavery was a universally cruel institution (it was not). If you had researched original contemporary sources, rather than modern history rewrites, you might have found that Joel Chandler Harris knew far more about the true nature of the relationships between Southern blacks and whites than did abolitionists like Harriet Beecher Stowe, who probably never saw a slave until after the war when she turned her own hand to exploiting them. In case you didn't know, in typical carpetbagger fashion she bought a plantation in Mandarin, Florida, in 1867 with the proceeds from her fiction, and hired black tenant farmers to work it. The comments you made about Song of the South are ill founded and you need to avail yourself of more facts before writing more tripe. Please review my emboldened intralinear comments on your essay.

Disney's 20th century re-creation of Harris's frame (?) story is much more heinous than the original (It was heinous? In whose uninformed opinion?). The days on the plantation located in "the United States of Georgia" (Just a little humor, but the reference to the "United States" suggests that this was after the war.) begin and end with unsupervised Blacks (Why would they be supervised if they were free?) singing songs about their wonderful home (They were thankful they didn't live in Boston.) as they march to and from the fields. Disney and company made no attempt to render the music in the style of the spirituals and work songs that would have been sung during this era (Which Disney movie featured authentic period music? Davy Crocket? Ol' Yeller?). They provided no indication regarding the status of the Blacks on the plantation (Why is this relevant to the story?). Joel Chandler Harris set his stories in the post-slavery era, but Disney's version seems to take place during a surreal time when Blacks lived on slave quarters on a plantation (Apparently unrecognized by you, the movie also was set in post slavery times. Didn't tenant farmers continue to live in the former slave quarters?), worked diligently for no visible reward (They were fed, clothed, and sheltered.) and considered Atlanta a viable place for an old Black man to set out for (If he was free, why not? This sentence ends with a preposition.) Kind(ly) old Uncle Remus caters to the needs of the young white boy whose father has inexplicably left him and his mother at the plantation (I think his father said he was going to the city on business, probably something to do with carpetbaggers, sheets, tar, and feathers.) An obviously ill-kept (unkempt?) Black child (Johnny would rather have been dressed like him) of the same age named Toby (I think he grew up to be in a mini-series) is assigned to look after the white boy, Johnny (Why do you capitalize black, but not white?). Although Toby makes one reference to his "ma," his parents are nowhere to be seen (Why is this relevant to the story? Were you insinuating that he was sold away from them?). The African-American adults in the film pay attention to him only when he neglects his responsibilities as Johnny's playmate-keeper. He is up before Johnny in the morning in order to bring his white charge water to wash with (this clause ends with a preposition), and keep him entertained (Maybe those were his assigned chores. I had chores when I was a child, didn't you?).

The boys befriend a little blond girl, Ginny, whose family clearly represents the neighborhood's white trash (Where's the compassion for them? Didn't Hattie McDaniel commit a hate crime when she called them "trash"?). Although Johnny coaxes his mother into inviting Ginny to his fancy birthday party at the big house, Toby is curiously absent from the party scenes. Toby is good enough to catch frogs with, but not good enough to have birthday cake with (Social events were seldom integrated before 1970. Aren't we looking for realism here? This sentence ends with a preposition.). When Toby and Johnny are with Uncle Remus, the gray-haired Black man directs most of his attention to the white child (He was a fresh audience, the black kids had already heard all his stories eight times. ). Thus Blacks on the plantation are seen as willingly subservient to the whites to the extent that they overlook the needs of their own children (That's a really convoluted stretch). When Johnny's mother threatens to keep her son away from the old gentleman's cabin, Uncle Remus is so hurt that he starts to run away (Walk away, remember, he was free). In the world that Disney made, the Blacks sublimate their own lives in order to be better servants to the white family (That was their job. Employees typically "sublimate their own lives" to their employers for part of the day). If Disney had truly understood the message of the tales he animated so delightfully, he would have realized the extent of distortion of the frame story (I don't think I truly understood this sentence).