American Lectures: Animation Racism

“Crises like these remind us of what it really means to be human.”
— Tipper Gore

South Park… racist.
Family Guy… racist.
The Simpsons… racist.

Hmm... racism is a precursor to Christian rock bands.

Hmm… racism is a precursor to Christian rock bands.

The last twenty years of major network animation has been full of controversy from parents, religious, and moral groups, and the topic they most commonly use is racism. Far too many programs have had instances when they may have portrayed a “minority” character in a negative or stereotypical light, or even with blatant racism, but such characteristics have been a common theme in animation since animation began. I mean, Family Guy’s depiction of Jews on “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein” isn’t the first time Jews have been the butt of an episode-long joke. Case in point: about 30% of all South Park episodes, including, but not limited to, “Jewbilee” “The Passion of the Jew”, and “Jewpacabra”.

Hell, The Simpsons, Fox’s Sunday night cornerstone and the longest-running prime-time program ever, has the largest and most ethnically-diverse (and stereotyped) cast in the history of television. No one is spared, including the clumsy, slow, Hispanic Bumblebee Guy, the angry Scotsman Willie, the Cliff Huxtable-esque Dr. Julius Hibbert, white-trash poster child Cletus, the self-loathing Jew, Krusty the Clown, and the proprieter of the Kwik-E-Mart — the show’s obvious spoof of 7-11 — Middle Eastern workaholic Apu Nahasapasapeemathisshitisfuckingracistpetilon.

Squishy jihad!

Squishy jihad!

With all the shows on TV today that come under fire because of their content, I find it interesting that it’s rare for these groups to look at the programs they all watched as children, like the explicit racist content in Looney Tunes and Walt Disney movies just somehow, miraculously, doesn’t exist anymore. Well, I’m here to set the record straight, and no, it’s not to defend the protesters positions or the positions opposite of them. The best way to summarize the intent of this entry is that racial stereotyping has been hand-in-hand with animation since the beginning.

Granted, what these images represent is indicative of the time period in which they were created. A significant portion of racially explicit cartoons from the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s were probably created because of the racism that existed in the United States at the time, making these cartoons –which we will go over in more detail soon — legitimately racist, whereas newer programs swim in the waters of social satire. Of course, according to those who overtly oppose such content, it doesn’t matter, it’s still racist and it’s “poisoning our children.”

And yet, this dude still exists...

And yet, this dude still exists…

So, Parents Television Council, if you want to parade through the media about how Eric Cartman is a hatemonger with a Nazi agenda, then perhaps we should take a look at how the previous generations were exposed to the subject of racism. You know, like a pop culture history lesson.

To paraphrase the great Seth MacFarlane, “It’s okay to be racist, because it’s a cartoon.”

The Censored Eleven and the World of Warner Bros.

One of the more interesting aspects of classic cinema was the amount of freedom early filmmakers had in their projects. The first blockbuster American film director, D.W. Griffith, made a career out of his artistic freedom, having directed Birth of a Nation, the 1915 epic that explored the bigotry and conflicts of Civil War and Reconstruction-era America, including a portrayal of African-Americans as unintelligent and sexually aggressive toward white women — played by white actors in “blackface” — and depictions of the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force. Even by today’s standards, that’s pretty fucked up.

Yeah, this isn't offensive at all...

Yeah, this isn’t offensive at all…

Racial intolerance and typecasting wasn’t just limited to the silver screen. Many directors and animated shorts skirted the line between the opinions of the times and blatant racial obscenity. Nowhere else was this more prevalent than the animation palaces of Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros.’ “Termite Terrace”.

For this section, I’m not going to go into the obvious racial typecasting of characters such as Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, and Speedy Gonzalez. Instead, the focus is on some selected shorts themselves.

Warner Bros. has brought us so many memorable animated short films and iconic characters. These films continue to stand the test of time, finding new audiences even three-quarters of a century after their conception. But, we’re not here to talk about Duck Amuck or Baseball Bugs. We’re talking about the Warner cartoons locked away in the sealed vault of questionable content — the Censored Eleven.

Cartoons, 1940's style!

Cartoons, 1940’s style!

The Censored Eleven are comprised of the following shorts:

  1. Hittin’ the Trail for Hallelujah Land, 1931
  2. Sunday Go to Meetin’ Time, 1936 (reissued in 1944)
  3. Clean Pastures, 1937
  4. Uncle Tom’s Bungalow, 1937
  5. Jungle Jitters, 1938
  6. The Isle of Pingo Pongo, 1938 (reissued in 1944)
  7. All This and Rabbit Stew, 1941
  8. Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, 1943
  9. Tin Pan Alley Cats, 1943
  10. Angel Puss, 1944
  11. Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears, 1944 (reissued in 1951)

I can’t say I’ve seen all of these. Some, yes, but only through grainy bootlegged VHS tapes and sketchy, ad-rich websites. The common theme within the Censored Eleven is the depiction of African-Americans, much in the same manner Griffith portrayed them in Birth of a Nation. Their faces are caricatured with really dark skin and massive lips and their personalities and actions are indicative of common assumptions at the time: uneducated, abusive, and shady. While we may think these must have been “rogue” shorts, as a friend of mine naively stated, the reality is that many of the Censored Eleven were directed by some of Warner Bros.’ biggest names, who also happen to be some of the most influential animators of all time.

Hittin’ the Trail for Hallelujah Land was directed by Rudolf Ising, who is best known for his work with partner Hugh Harman. Not only did the pair create the celebrated 1939 antiwar MGM short Peace on Earth and the Oscar-winning The Milky Way, but the duo actually founded the Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer animation studios. These two men are responsible for nearly everything America in regard to early-and-mid 20th Century cartoons!

The Wozniak and Jobs of the animation world.

The Wozniak and Jobs of the animation world.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about animation has heard of such names as Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, and Bob Clampett. These legends within the animation world also contributed to the Censored Elven. Jones, who brought us such classics as Duck Amuck, One Foggy Evening, and What’s Opera, Doc? — all of which are in the National Film Registry — also directed 1944’s Angel Puss, which features a caraicatured, young black boy named Sambo who is haunted by the “ghost” of a cat he was supposed to drown. Bob Clampett, who put the studio on the map with Porky in Wackyland, also directed the censored shorts Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs and Tin Pan Alley Cats, a re-telling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves featuring an all-black cast, and a jazz, Afro-culture, and World War II focused piece with a caricature of Fats Weller portrayed as a cat, respectively. Tex Avery, considered by some to be the “real” creator of Bugs Bunny, contributed Uncle Tom’s Bungalow, The Isle of Pingo Pongo, and All This and Rabbit Stew, while Friz Freleng, a four-time Academy Award winner and the man who directed more Warner Bros. shorts than anyone else in the history of the studio, contributed the remaining four — Sunday Go to Meetin’ Time, Clean Pastures, Jungle Jitters, and Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears — making him the man who has also directed the most out of the Censored Eleven.

You racist son of a bitch!

You racist son of a bitch!

Alas, the obscene Warner Bros. shorts don’t even really stop there. Many other have also been removed from circulation for their portrayal of African-Americans and other races, including Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising’s Looney Tunes that feature blackface caricature Bosko, the Inki shorts by Chuck Jones, as well as many World War II-era pieces concerning the Japanese, such as Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips and Tokio Jokio. Three more Freleng cartoons — September in the Rain, Confederate Honey, and Which is Witch also portray African-Americans in the blackface look.

Native Americans also wouldn’t escape the incessant typecast of Warner Bros. directors. 1952’s Tom Tom Tomcat and 1960’s Horse Hare portray Native Americans in caricature, as well 1968’s Hocus Pocus Pow Wow, directed by Alex Lovy, and Injun Trouble, directed in 1969 by Robert McKimson who, along with the stereotypical portrayal, included excessive amounts of racially-motivated jokes.

Way to go, McKimson. You killed Looney Tunes.

Way to go, McKimson. You killed Looney Tunes.

It would be the last animated short Warner Bros. studios would make for nearly twenty years.

Walt Disney: America’s Racist

significant amount of Disney Animated Classics contain racial stereotyping. In 1992, Disney released Aladdin to a hail of controversy over the portrayal of Middle Eastern culture. Aside of the blatantly obvious — the song “Arabian Nights” contains the lyric “Where they cut off your ear / if they don’t like your face / It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home” — the animation itself went under fire. Aladdin and Jasmine, the film’s main protagonists, are pretty generic (aka Caucasian-looking) in how they’re drawn, whereas the film’s antagonists, such as Jafar, are very Middle Eastern looking characters. Think about that for a moment.

Disney jihad!

Disney jihad!

Asian caricatures are prevalent in Disney animated films as well. In 1955’s Lady and the Tramp, we were introduced to the Siamese cats, complete with slanted eyes, buck-teeth, and ridiculously exaggerated accents. 1970’s The Aristocats also features an exaggerated character named Shun Gon, voiced by the legendary Paul Winchell. In the song “Everybody Wants to be a Cat”, Shun Gon contributed the following lyrics:

“Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg Foo Yong
Fortune cookie always wrong”

Vocally brought to you by the same guy who voiced "Tigger" in Winnie the Pooh. Go figure.

Vocally brought to you by the same guy who voiced “Tigger” in Winnie the Pooh. Go figure.

Yeah, it’s that obvious.

As if taking a page from Robert McKimson and Alex Lovy, 1953’s Peter Pan is completely riddled with Native American stereotypes. I don’t even have to explain it in detail. Every single Indian character in Peter Pan is an overly-manifested caricature, from howling to bows and arrows and dancing around fires. Hell, Wendy is even called “squaw”.

Native for: "Bitch! Make me a sandwich!"

Native for: “Bitch! Make me a sandwich!”

Like Warner Bros., Disney also based a lot of characters and plots within their animated films around African-American stereotyping, including portrayal of their personalities and even blackface characters.

In 1967’s The Jungle Book, King Louie and the other orangutans are portrayed swinging from trees and speaking in jive. These also happen to be the only characters in the film voiced by African-American actors.

Niggas be trippin'.

Niggas be trippin’.

In the original release of 1940’s Fantasia, the Pastoral Symphony contained a centaur character named Sunflower, a blackface caricature who acted as a servant for the other centaurs in the sequence. It’s also interesting to note that Sunflower was edited out of all Fantasia releases since 1969, but has been replaced by two black centaur servants.

She definitely deserves reparations.

She definitely deserves reparations.

Disney’s racist content isn’t even restricted to films that predate modern animation. In 1989’s The Little Mermaid, the character of Sebastian is a slick, Rastafarian crab, who speaks with a thick accent and tells Ariel that life under the sea is better because you don’t have a job.

“Up on de shore dey work all day
Out in de sun dey slave away
While we devotin’
Full time to floatin’
Unda da sea”

You know, if he would have just given in to his Rasta roots and smoked some nice ganja, he would've made the movie more enjoyable.

You know, if he would have just given in to his Rasta roots and smoked some nice ganja, he would’ve made the movie more enjoyable.

Yeah, I had to write it in Sebastian’s Ziggy Marley accent. But, what’s really interesting about the “Under the Sea” segment, are two fish that Sebastian points out. The Duke of Soul and the Blackfish are about as obvious as black stereotypes get.

Yep... racist.

Yep… racist.

Yep... also racist.

Yep… also racist.

And then, there’s 1941’s Dumbo. Two of the most blatantly racist animated moments reside within this tale of a mute Elephant who can fly. At the beginning of the film — “Song of the Roustabouts” — faceless people with dark skin pitch a circus tent. The song contains lyrics such as:

“We slave until we’re almost dead
We’re happy-hearted roustabouts”


“Keep on working
Stop that shirking
Pull that rope, you hairy ape”

... Just like singing in the fields, only with more rain and hammers.

… Just like singing in the fields, only with more rain and hammers.

But, the definitive racist moment in Dumbo is when our adorable protagonist meets the three black crows. The crows represent every African-American stereotype between the three of them, including smoking cigars, speaking in jive, and doing nothing but observing the more civilized world. Get this, one of them is actually named Jim Crow.

He's come a long way since fighting for racial equality, hasn't he?

He’s come a long way since fighting for racial equality, hasn’t he?

But nothing compares to the heat generated by a certain Disney film released in 1946.

Song of the South

It may seem like I’m laying it on a little thick with Disney. I am, and I will be hitting them again soon. For now, let’s talk about this Disney gem that’s been locked away from everyone in America.

We’ve all heard the song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” and those of us who have been to Disneyland have taken a ride on Splash Mountain. Of course, these facets of pop culture are forever ingrained in the minds of Disney fanfare, but a significant portion of the populous doesn’t really know where they came from. Song of the South is based on stories written by Joel Chandler Harris that feature a character named Uncle Remus, who lives on a plantation and relates folk tales about the adventures of Br’er Rabbit and his friends. This film contains elements of black stereotype all over the place — from location to character traits to diction and wordplay — and has also never been released to video in the United States in it’s entirety. Ever.

See the little black kid on the end? His name is Toby!

See the little black kid on the end? His name is Toby!

Song of the South generated controversy even before the film was completed. Vern Caldwell, a publicist for Disney at the time, wrote a letter to the film’s producer, stating “the negro situation is a dangerous one. Between the negro haters and the negro lovers there are many chances to run afoul of situations that could run the gamut all the way from the nasty to the controversial.” During the writing of the film, Disney hired Maurice Rapf to work with Dalton Reymond and Callum Webb in turning Reymond’s treatment into a shootable screenplay. According to journalist Neal Gabler, who holds advanced degrees in film and American culture, Disney hired Rapf to temper what he feared would be Reymond’s white Southern slant. As written by Gabler:

“Rapf was a minority, a Jew, and an outspoken left-winger, and he himself feared that the film would inevitably be Uncle Tomish. ‘That’s exactly why I want you to work on it,’ Walt told him, ‘because I know that you don’t think I should make the movie. You’re against Uncle Tomism, and you’re a radical.'”

Rapf initially resisted, but accepted the offer after learning most of the film would be live-action and he would be allowed to make extensive changes. After seven weeks on Song of the South, Rapf was taken off the project after getting into a personal dispute with Dalton Reymond and replaced by Morton Grant.

"I didn't wanna do it anymore, anyway. What, with all the writing, the paper cuts, and the fighting. Oh! The fighting!"

“I didn’t wanna do it anymore, anyway. What, with all the writing, the paper cuts, and the fighting. Oh! The fighting!”

When the film was first released, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) contacted several major newspapers across the country. Their statement recognized the “remarkable artistic merit in the music and in the combination of living actors and the cartoon technique” but also stated “that in an effort neither to offend audiences in the north or south, the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery”. The representative who issued the statement, Walter Francis White, had actually not seen the film himself, but had received memos from Norma Jensen and Hope Springarn, two NAACP staff members who had attended a press screening on November 20, 1946. Jensen had written that while the film was “so artistically beautiful that it is difficult to be provoked over the cliches”, she did surmise that it “contained all of the cliches in the book”. Springarn’s memo listed several things she found objectionable in the film, including the Negro dialect. The NAACP’s “official position” on the film was based solely on Jensen and Springarn’s memos.

Other major publications also weighed in on the matter, including The New York Times and Time Magazine, who stated Song of the South as a “travesty on the antebellum South” and that “the picture was bound to land it’s maker in hot water”, respectively. Time would further cite that the character of Uncle Remus was “bound to enrage all educated Negroes and a number of damyankees”. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a congressman from Harlem, called the film “an insult to American minorities” and “everything that America as a whole stands for”, while the National Negro Congress picketed theaters that showed the film, citing the film was “an insult to the Negro people.”

Pissing off otherwise irrelevant black people since 1946.

Pissing off otherwise irrelevant black people since 1946.

The Hays Office — who enforced the Motion Picture Production Code — had asked Disney to be sure they established the date of the film being in the 1870’s, but the final film didn’t carry the statement.

So, what happened next? At the 20th Academy Awards on March 20, 1948, Song of the South was nominated for “Best Musical Score”, and won “Best Orginal Song” for “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da”. James Baskett also received an Academy Honorary Award for his portrayal of Uncle Remus. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even allowed to attend the film’s premier.

Or, for you younger brats who may have stumbled across this article, this one may work better for you.

In the home media market, Song of the South has been a hot-button issue in the United States. Despite being available in it’s entirety pretty much everywhere else in the world, Song of the South has not had a full release at all. Disney has avoided a full U.S. home video release because the studio itself deemed the frame story too controversial, and even Roger Ebert, who is about as vocal as they come about not keeping films away from audiences, has agreed with Disney’s position, citing that Disney films become a part of the consciousness in American children, who take them more literally than adults. Ebert does, however, believe that film students should have access to it.

More interestingly are the comments Disney has made about Song of the South since it’s inception. In March 2010, Disney CEO Robert Iger stated that there are no plans for the company to release the film to DVD, while eight months later, creative director Dave Bossert stated in an interview that “at some point [Walt Disney Studios] is going to do something about it. I don’t know when, but we will.”

C'mon guys! Japan has had it at least long enough to have had a fucking Laser Disc version!

C’mon guys! Japan has had it at least long enough to have had a fucking Laser Disc version!

Needless to say, Song of the South has been the dirty little (not quite so) secret for the Walt Disney Company over the last sixty-seven years. While the film has been scandalized and spat upon by the media, both at the time and today, it’s become a piece of American cinematic folklore. Song of the South may very well be the most controversial children’s film ever made, even beyond the racism of Disney’s animated classics or the Censored Eleven, but Song of the South also carries more history and cinematic integrity than the other pieces profiled in this Zephyr Lounge entry. The film is the first of it’s kind, a concrete blending of live-action and animation, which as a medium, would become one of the most impressive breakthroughs in cinematics and provide a foundation for the world of CGI that was to come a half-century later. There are countless children’s films that have come out since that owe a debt to the cinematic innovations of Song of the South.

Perhaps it’s time to just let all the backlash go.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer: A Racist Group of Refugees

One notable trait of the animation studio at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (or MGM, as I will henceforth refer to the studio since the name is a lot to type) is that many juggernauts from competing studios would find their way there, or go on to have prosperous careers after working at MGM. Among them were Ub Iwerks (formerly of Disney), Rudolf Ising and Hugh Harman, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Friz Freleng (of Warner Bros. fame), and even William Hannah and Joseph Barbera (who would leave in 1957 to start their own studio).

MGM’s racism wasn’t as prevalent as that of other studios, keeping in mind that it was just one facet of a beautiful clusterfuck of “objectionable” content that included gratuitous violence and blatant objectification of women. It just wouldn’t be the Golden Age without it.

The most notable example of MGM’s racism is contained within the most violent cartoon ever made. From 1940-58, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera produced and directed Tom and Jerry, and during the run of the show, viewers were exposed to the on-occasion character Mammy Two Shoes, a poor, overweight, black housekeeper with a “black accent” and rodent problem. Keeping true to the industry tradition of blackface, Tom and Jerry also featured the explosion gag, in which characters caught in an explosion would appear like they were black when the dust cleared, complete with large lips and bow-tie hair.

"I'ma fuck you up, sugah!"

“I’ma fuck you up, sugah!”

Tom and Jerry was moved to television in 1965, and because of the transition, legendary animator Chuck Jones was called in to remove Mammy Two Shoes and supplement the character with something a little less “offensive”. Jones replaced her with a poor, overweight, Irish woman with an “Irish accent” and a rodent problem, which it retained through it’s entire seven-year CBS run.

"Oh, Saints preserve us! I'm going to fuck you up, boyo!"

“Saints preserve us! I’m going to fuck you up, boyo!”

You’ve got to love Chuck Jones, probably the best animator in history at covering up one racial stereotype with another.

In Tom and Jerry’s 2005 compilation, Spotlight Collection: Volume 2, a disclaimer is given by Whoopi Goldberg, citing that the cartoons were a product of their time and that their offensive material was wrong then and is wrong today.” In the 2011 DVD Tom and Jerry Golden Collection: Volume 1, the following disclaimer is seen:

“The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in U.S. society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”


William Hanna and Joseph Barbera: “Plush” Racists

Hanna-Barbera Studios brought us some of the most memorable half-hour cartoons in the history of television, including Yogi Bear, The Smurfs, and the timeless Scooby Doo! Of course, as we’ve learned over the course of this article, for every “wholesome” success in the world of animated television, there are some down right bigoted images fesrtering just under the happy fun time.

From 1974-75, ABC aired Hanna-Barbera’s Hong Kong Phooey. While seemingly innocent enough, the program relies heavily on Asian stereotypes, but applies them to a dog, who actually sounds kind of like a black guy. A perpetually stoned, janitorial black guy. Also, the theme song doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

In Johnny Quest, which aired for 26 episodes on ABC during the 1964-65 season, we all had the privilege of getting to know Hadji, an Indian (as in India) who speaks in a thick accent, wears a turban with a goddamned jewel in it, and was adopted by the Quest family because of his highly specialized skill set, which included shit like snake charming! While researching this example, I came across a video from an episode of the show that involved a Chinese man named Charlie, who serves rice and fortune cookies, saying shit like “Thank you, honorable ancestors.”

Jonny Quest jihad!

Jonny Quest jihad!

Hanna-Barbera also played heavily into white racial stereotypes. Yes, I know! Some of the more infamous examples include The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Quickdraw McGraw Show, and The Wacky Races, which featured the ever-so-redneck Luke and Blubber Bear, driving the Arkansas Chuggabug, a wooden car with a pot-bellied stove as a propulsion mechanism. What makes it worse? Luke would, on occasion, give his car a speed boost by pouring various liquors in the stove. Yeeeeee-daaawwgggiiieee!

And then, there’s the Harlem Globetrotters. From 1970-72, CBS aired the adventures of the world’s greatest basketball showboaters, streotypes abound. Each episode’s conflicts were even resolved with a game of hoops, much like many television shows that graced The WB in the mid-1990’s. Taking the outlandishness one step further, at the end of the decade, Hanna-Barbera unleashed The Super Globetrotters, featuring the same guys from the previous show… this time with superpowers. Yeah, shit got real.

Yeah... that just happened...

Yeah… that just happened…

UPA: The Racists No One Remembers

The United Productions of America? Who the hell are they? Exactly. No one remembers the company itself, thanks in part to the House Un-American Activities Commitee, but there are some animated productions UPA made that are part of the collective conscience. In 1949, UPA created Mr. Magoo, the short, wealthy, nearsighted fool of the animation world. Every time Quincy Magoo was on television, bad things happened to the people in his vicinty, basically making each episode a 30-minute G-rated version of the wedding of Maria Vittoria dal Pozzo. <—– Click that, if you dare.

Of course, Mr. Magoo’s exploits and bad luck aren’t what puts him on this list. What does is one of the secondary characters, Mr. Magoo’s Chinese houseboy, Charlie. Not only did he look like a stereotypical Chinese servant, but he was one of the first characters on television to use “Engrish”. The controversy around Charlie never let up, ultimately resulting in the character being removed from the show in the late 1960’s.

[insert something in "Engrish"]

[insert something in “Engrish”]

UPA’s racist companion piece to Mr. Magoo was the short-lived The Dick Tracy Show. Like the former, Dick Tracy’s racism wasn’t in the title character or episode plots themselves, but in the supporting cast, or “flatfoots”. The most notable of them was a detective named Joe Jitsu (you can probably see where this is going) who fights with martial arts and speaks “Engrish”. Another one of Tracy’s subordinates was the human Speedy Gonzalez, one Manuel Tijuana Gudalajara Tampico “Go-Go” Gomez, Jr.

Hint: the really racist ones are on the top.

Hint: the really racist ones are on the top.

Yeah, I’m not kidding.

Fleischer Studios Began with Silent Era Racism

One of the biggest perpetrators of animated racism was the propaganda film, popularized in the early 1940’s when America entered World War II. Popeye the Sailor, part of a virtual tie for Fleischer Studios’ most famous series, aired from 1933-57 (as Famous Studios from 1942-57) and within that time, contained many incidents of racial stereotyping. Many of the early Famous Studios shorts contained World War II propaganda  depicting the German and Japanese very negatively, most notably in the very first Famous Studios short, You’re A Sap, Mr. Jap.  Blacks were also depicted negatively in several shorts, including The Island Fling and My Artistical Temperaturewhich is another example of animated blackface caused by explosion. Popeye the Sailor also contained a couple of two-reel features, Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor and Popeye the Sailor and Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves, both stereotyping Middle Eastern culture, much in the same way as Disney’s Aladdin would nearly a half-century later.

This is actually how America won in World War II

This is actually how America won in World War II.

Betty Boop, which ran from 1932-39 is usually cited for it’s sexual themes, including some appearances where she allegedly appears naked (which is debatable). Yet, like almost every other cartoon listed here, Betty Boop also contains a fair amount of racism. I’ll admit, I haven’t seen every single Betty Boop short, and I don’t know anyone who has, but I have come across reports from people that cite not only the blackface gimmicks, but also the use of racial slurs and behavioral stereotypes within “African-American” characters (most of the characters on Betty Boop were anthropomorphic). Some even claimed these “African-American” characters even spent time trying to sexually assault the sex symbol.


You know, because the sheer amount of wardrobe malfunctions, she probably has it coming.

Of course, does anyone really know the answer?

So, In Conclusion…

While there have been many cartoons produced during the Golden Age and after that have explicit racial undertones, I don’t think most of them are actually meant to be racist. One of the things that I’ve learned while studying media and entertainment trends in the United States is that a lot of what is shown is hinged on the perception of the audience at the time. In the case of many of the films mentioned in this post, the time period and the general attitudes toward blacks — and many other races — were reflected honestly within the media. Does that make it right? Today, no, but in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s, perhaps.

One of the things we fail to realize is that while racism is still a problem and still a very relevant topic, then and now, to look back on these examples of Americana and proclaim them as the decline of Western civilization is ludicrous. I don’t agree with the manner in which Blacks, Native Americans, Asians, and the like have been portrayed historically through entertainment — cartoons in particular — but I don’t have the drive or desire to keep these pieces of film history away from the public.

If you think about it, the responsible viewership of Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs and Song of the South isn’t any different than half the shit children are exposed to daily in today’s environment. For example, the rise in popularity of Japanese anime in the United States has exposed children and teens to excessive violence, adult situations, and a sexualized interpretation of people.

Representing most women in Japanese animation.

Representing most women in Japanese animation.

Even television made specifically for small children contains questionable imagery.

You be the judge...

You be the judge…

Because of these reasons, and many more, I fail to see where classic animated cinema is hurting our children any worse than the subliminal messaging and disturbing images they’re exposed to on a regular basis. Still think this is a stretch? Why don’t you tell me what you make of this:

Creepiest. Shit. Ever.


About Robert L. Franklin

Ah, the About Me section - social networking's excuse for you sounding like an elitist prick. Hmm... what to say? What to say?
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6 Responses to American Lectures: Animation Racism

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  4. atarahtara says:

    Reblogged this on Digital Journal and commented:
    Really interesting and insight information on the animation industry and the history of racism within American animation production companies.

  5. Dr. Rex says:

    On another note … thanks for stopping by “It Is What It Is” and the follow. I hope you enjoy your visits there. Peace!!

  6. Ugonna Uwaoma says:

    All I see is, “that represents a certain race- MUST BE RACIST!”
    Don`t be so sensitive. The Blackfish always made me laugh, and I`m African American.
    I agree with some of your points but you really stretched it with Sebastian. Sebastian has been shown to do serious hard work under the sea. Come on man.

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