I had heard for a long time how awful and offensively racist D.W. Griffith’s landmark 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, was. It’s good that I saw it, but I’m glad it was as an adult, so that I could appreciate it in the historic context in which it was made. I’m not much on banning movies, but there is something to be said about seeing it at the right point.

A couple blog posts I’ve seen recently reminded me of this point. Ann from Tin and Sparkle used Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah for her ABC Wednesday post. I have never actually seen the 1946 Disney film Song of the South, and it has been quite difficult, at least for me, to get a chance to view it. The website dedicated to the movie describes the controversy. I think I’d be interested in seeing it. Incidentally, the very first version of Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah I ever owned, or maybe it was my sister’s album, was by the Jackson Five [LISTEN] from their 1969 debut, a swipe of a Phil Spector arrangement for Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans in 1963.

Conversely, about 15 years ago, I got to see the 1942 film Holiday Inn for the first time, which stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. I had, in a bad way, a jaw-dropping reaction to the Lincoln’s Birthday segment. SamuraiFrog had seen it recently, and described the song “Abraham” as “the most bizarre outpouring of disturbing blackface [by Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds and others] I’ve ever seen. Surprised to see that. I mean, I know it’s of the time and all that, but I just found it deeply, deeply unsettling.” Yeah, that was MY reaction, too, plus historically inaccurate portrayal of the 16th President, to boot. I’m just not ready to let my daughter see it. But if YOU want to see it, click HERE, and go to the 44:50 mark; better still, go to the 42:30 mark to get a little context.

Roger Ebert wrote about the recent death of Jeni le Gon: The first black woman signed by Hollywood was livin’ and dancin’ in great big way. I have seen her work, but never knew her name. A telling anecdote about Ronald Reagan is included.

ColorOfChange notes Sundance winner “Fruitvale” examines last days of Oscar Grant.

I was contemplating whether to go see the controversial current movie Django Unchained. It’s gotten some pretty good reviews, and Oscar nominated for best picture, among other categories. I’m thinking that I probably won’t, at least for a while. It’s not that it’s too long. It’s not the apparently frequent use of the N-word. It’s my, and my wife’s, aversion to lots of cinematic violence. We saw both Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown by Quentin Tarantino, but this sounds like a new level, and we are just not ready for it.

From Roger Ebert’s review: (This is a spoiler, I suppose, so you can use your cursor to highlight the text, if you want) …we visit a Southern Plantation run by a genteel monster named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who for his after-dinner entertainment is having two slaves fight each other to the death. It’s a brutal fight, covered with the blood that flows unusually copiously in the film. The losing slave screams without stopping, and I reflected that throughout the film there is much more screaming in a violent scene than you usually hear. Finally the fight is over, and there’s a shot of the defeated slave’s head as a hammer is dropped on the floor next to it by Mr. Candie. The hammer, (off-screen but barely) is used by the fight’s winner to finish off his opponent.

That’s the kind of scene after which I might want to get up from the screen for a while and take a time out.

Incidentally, the movie is mentioned in this article about the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, being ratified to preserve slavery.

6 Responses to “Film and race: Song of the South, Holiday Inn, Django Unchained”

  • I watched the “Holiday Inn” clip as you suggested, and FFS: The only thing that could make it worse if if the kids were eating watermelon. I mean, seriously, WTF?!

  • ann says:

    Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah I remember hearing this song on Canadian TV.

  • That “highlight the text to avoid an accidental spoiler” is absolutely brilliant.

  • To be an Anglo-American and watch films including horrible stereotypes about blacks, Asians, Jews, women… it’s hard to write it off as “history.” Fact is, “Birth of a Nation” was D.W. Griffith’s defense of the pre- and post-war South and their “peculiar institution,” slavery, from which the North benefited greatly.

    Lincoln viewed the Civil War as a need to preserve the Union and didn’t come around to understand the evils of slavery until later. He EVOLVED. This is not told in our history books. Quite like Pres. Obama’s evolving concerning his support of same-sex marriage. We like our presidents to be rock-solid and unwavering in their core views. The Reagan part of Jeni’s story, not surprising. He, like Burl Ives, sang like a birdie to Joe McCarthy. Gee, then he wasn’t blacklisted and we got “Bedtime for Bonzo.” Such a gift to our culture, not to mention how Reagan ignored AIDS when he could have helped nip it in the bud.

    LOVED the clips on YouTube, especially how Jeni danced with Bill Robinson in a pair of pants and matched his every move. What an amazing talent. Of course she moved to Canada, just as J. Baker fled to Paris… to have a career, not as a Black entertainer, but as an entertainer.

    The “Holiday Inn” scene? Lex and I have to jump it because it makes us sick. Ditto Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in blackface… I think it was for “Franklin D. ROOOOOOS-evelt Jones.” Get the name? Dig. Puke.

    Thanks for another rousing post. And Quentin Tarantino? He’s a wannabe who steals his best stuff from other directors and looks like Mugsy from the Dead End Kids. Yikes, what a sad mad. He may have talent, but Pulp Fiction made me so uncomfortable (the Geek) I swore off him for good. Thanks, Rog! Amy

  • Scott says:

    I have wanted to see “Django Unchained” since I saw the first trailers this past summer. Other than finding the time, and a babysitter, the violence has kept me from seeing it. I’ll probably rent it though when available.

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