At one school I taught a storytelling class to the 4/5 grade. It was a combined grade and so I had to rotate between Cinderella stories and something else, usually fractured fairy tales. One year I did trickster tales with them and after trying to read the Joel Chandler Harris Uncle Remus stories decided instead to show Song of the South. Before we watched the film I talked with them about the problems in the movie and said that any time anyone felt uncomfortable, they could just tell me (or leave the word STOP in a note on my desk), and after we talked about what they’d seen. They understood why people were uncomfortable with the movie but thought that the way we’d approached it helped and that others should do the same.
Apparently others agree, as in this article talking about why SotS shouldn’t be destroyed. That it should be shown as part of a larger conversation about problems in older films (see: Gone with the Wind), giving context to what we see on the screen. Or maybe along with a discussion about To Kill a Mockingbird‘s racism.
I’d like to suggest that problem isn’t just with the film or book (or, in the case of Little House on the Prairie, the tv series and the books). It’s with our distaste for having those difficult discussions about what’s wrong with them, to show other points-of-view and to accept that sometimes a childhood favorite presents problems for others (Reading While White is a great resource). Banning, or removing, these cultural artifacts doesn’t help, because it creates an air of mystery about it. Teaching them in addition to other materials that show other points of view or what the reality (vs. the fictionalized version) looked like would go far further, in my opinion.
It’s Banned Books Week and it’s a great time to start these difficult discussions. I know I am.