Song of the South and the Changing Complexion of American Film
The depictions of African-Americans in film began to change dramatically in 1942 when major Hollywood producers finally agreed to meet with the NAACP and discuss the perpetuation of black stereotypes. Thomas Cripps, who frames his argument in Slow Fade to Black around the events that occurred in 1942, explains that after months of being avoided by studio executives or handed off to their secretaries Wendell Wilkie and Walter White finally had a chance to sit down with major studio producers and discuss their concerns:
Their action resulted in a mere soupçon of good movies, but they set forth new conditions to which Hollywood was asked to conform. Variety's bannerline, "BETTER BREAKS FOR NEGROES IN H'WOOD," was echoed in the pages of the Negro Actors' Guild of America Newsletter. March 1942 became a date by which to measure the future against the past. . . . Southern exhibitors discussed ways of entertaining Negro troops. Some Southern critics treated black actors on their merit. The old roles had slipped into the B's. Tarzan shut down at MGM and went independent. More than ever the black press had begun to express systematic displeasure at stereotyped black roles and to mourn the dead end to which McDaniel's Oscar sometimes seemed to appear.(1)

McDaniel herself didn't help matters by accepting such roles as Aunt Tempy in Walt Disney's adaptation of Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus tales, Song of the South. Patricia A. Turner describes the problems with this predominantly live-action film in Ceramic Uncles and Celluloid Mammies when she writes:

Disney's twentieth-century re-creation of Harris's frame story is much more heinous than the original. The days on the plantation located in "the United States of Georgia" begin and end with unsupervised blacks singing songs about their wonderful home as much as they march to and from the fields. Disney and company made no attempt to render the music in the style of spirituals and work songs that would have been sung during this era. They provided no indication regarding the status of the blacks on this plantation. Joel Chandler Harris set his stories in the postslavery era, but Disney's version seems to take place during a surreal time when blacks lived on slave quarters on a plantation, worked diligently for no visible reward, and considered Atlanta a viable place for an old black man to set out for.(2)

Walt Disney Productions offers little evidence that refutes these criticisms in its original press material for the film. Instead, they half-heartedly announce things such as, "Animation Links Animals of Briar Patch With Human Drama Played by Living Cast":
James Baskett
The Tales were animated with their familiar animal characters, and these sequences were used with another story--the simple, heart-warming story of a boy, a girl, and the person of Uncle Remus himself, who becomes a living personality. Set in the nostalgic memorable days of the late nineteenth century, the story enacted by the living players take place on a lovely Southern plantation. It is a deeply moving, romantic account of a lonely and bewildered boy, left to his own devices when his father, an aggressive Atlanta newspaper editor, is caught between domestic responsibility and political challenge.(3)

Disney is interested in both promoting the myth of Uncle Remus while disavowing event the slightest hint of slavery. These "nostalgic memorable days" the press release refers to are a fantasy version of life near the end of the nineteenth century and although the boy's father is "caught between domestic responsibility and political challenge" it is never clear what type of politics are involved. The vague nature of the live-action tale that frames the animated sequences (proportionally two-thirds live-action, one-third animation), allows for the Disney fantasy. This fantasy, however, is not Disney's alone. James Snead explains in white screens/black images that this juxtaposition of the Remus tales with the over-arching narrative is a familiar trope since it establishes:

Familiar Coding in Disney Illustrations
a highly coded Hollywood setting, derived from a string of "Old South plantation" movies reaching back through Gone with the Wind and Jezebel. For most of the film, then, the audience must wade through the visual luxuriance of an extravagant political mythology--its excess seeming, in fact, a failed compensation for its questionable substance. The film's true narrator is, in fact, the paraphenalia of "Old South" coding that we have already seen. Once more, cinematic pleasure comes, not in recognizing the veracity or verifiability of movie events, but in applauding their very recognizability.(4)

The familiarity of the "Old South" coding is clear in the frame tale but that "Old South" seems to be framed by a new element in the mythification of black stereotypes--the fact that they are no longer needed. If the other Civil War films can be read in terms of contemporary events, then this film should be understood in much the same way. For our purposes, we should be mindful of the 1942 meetings of the NAACP and Hollywood producers and the end of World War II and the way these event might be reflected in Song of the South right from its opening sequence.