Disney Movie Club on Black History Month

25 Feb

Like many a Disney fanatic, I’m a member of the Disney Movie Club. And most of the time, it’s strangely fun and comforting to page through the monthly mailings, with ads for movies like Stub: The Best Cowdog in the West and Donald in Mathamagic Land. (A gold star to you if you can guess which of those movies I actually do own!)

But once a year, the mailings really irk me. And when would that be? February, which is not only the shortest month of the year but also Black History Month.

Disney has some odd ideas about what it means to celebrate “Black History.” Sure, I can see the relevance of Selma Lord Selma or even Glory Road. But Twitches? The Haunted Mansion? Jump In? I would no more consider these representation of Black History¬† than I would consider American Pie or Fast Times at Ridgemont High to be representations of White History, whatever that is.

And you see, this is my problem with Black History Month: It encourages us to think about Black History as separate from American History, or “our” History, whoever “we” are if we’re not Black. And that implies an “us” and a “them” which I’m not particularly comfortable with. What is there in Black History that is not also my history? What is there in Women’s History that does not also belong to my son and husband? And what is this apparently “regular” history which we’re distinguishing it from?

Selma isn’t Black History…it happened to all of us, affects the world in which all of us live today. So did the Nineteenth Amendement. And the American Civil War, and the Great Depression, and the fall of Troy.

Think I’m crazy? Listen to what Morgan Freeman has to say about Black History Month.

Now, I understand that from a pragmatic point of view, Black History Month might just ensure that a few schoolkids learn about the Tuskegee Airmen, or Loving v. Virginia, or any number of events in our collective history that have been segregated out of the curriculum. But in my crusty old leftist heart, I can’t help hoping that someday we could truly integrate the curriculum. I’ve seen it done, albeit on relatively small scales, and when it works, it’s beautiful.

Now, if you’re determined to celebrate Black History Month and want a Disney movie to focus on, might I suggest tracking down a bootleg copy of Song of the South? Especially if you yourself are not African American, this film can provide an interesting jumping-off place for a discussion of the unfortunate stereotypes and dynamics that color our collective past, and still exist today, though perhaps in modified and sometimes lesser forms.

And hey, if you watch The Haunted Mansion or Jump In! right after Song of the South, you’ll probablynotice some genuine changes in the way that people of color are represented. So maybe there’s good cause for a filmfest after all. Just don’t go thinking you’re gonna get me to watch Twitches Too in the name of history or civil rights.

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