The Civil Rights Movement was one of the most important movements in America, and a crucial influence on the Disney productions.
The movement began at the end of World War II, as African-Americans sought for a change for their service, many being war weapon manufacturers. Around this time, an uproar was inevitable when Disney released Song of the South (1946) a live-action animated musical film. Taking place on a plantation in Georgia in the 1800’s, where African-Americans and Caucasians live in blissful harmony. Uncle Remus, played by African American, James Baskett, sings the lyrics of his iconic ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,’ “it’s a wonderful feeling, feeling this way.” (Songofthesouth.net, 1999) This strips away any sense of history, politics or ideologies that were adjacent at that time, which is exactly where the problem lies.
The film portrays African American slaves who are more than happy to do the bidding of their masters. Remarkably, Niger Innis from the congress on racial inequality stated, “James Baskett, who was the first live black actor hired by Disney, could not go to the premiere of this film in Atlanta, as he could not get a hotel to sleep him for the night because of segregation.” (YouTube, 2016) It is ironic that Baskett would play such a demeaning role given the prevalent segregation laws in America at that time. Because of the controversy, Disney is yet to release Song of the South on any home video in America. However today, Disney has over 100,000 signatures to get the film released on a home DVD so it can be used as a historical teaching apparatus, also being described as “a cartoon gateway to real-world issues.
” (Glatter, 2018)Racism in America continued until, the 1990s, a turning point for racism in the western world. President Bush signed The Civil Rights Act of 1991, where he assured for the, “strengthening of the existing civil rights law, providing for all damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.” (Cw.routledge.com .n.d) In turn, this was also a significant turning point for Disney animation, where in 1991 Disney introduced its first Asian lead.