blackanimators blackanimators

A Tribute to African-American Animation Artists

Black Animators

I can’t let Black History Month pass without making mention of the fantastic Facebook gallery called African-American Animators–Past & Present. It’s disheartening to think that for the first fifty years of American animation history, there were no black animation artists. Frank Braxton broke the color barrier in the mid-1950s, and animation (and America as a whole) has changed much since then. Now, we have this wonderful tribute to the diversity and talent of the black animators who work in our industry, many of whom I’m proud to call friends, others who I’ve featured in my ‘zine Animation Blast (Ed Bell, Phil Stapleton, Milton Knight), and even one of my animation teachers (Lenord Robinson).

  • A Painter

    Nice post. Am surprised that the first African American animator hired was at Disney when Walt was alive. I heard he wasn’t too fond of African Americans & Jewish people. Any truth to that?

    • Apparently not.
      Weren’t the Sherman Brothers Jewish?

    • Walt was born in 1901 and grew up in Missouri. I am sure he had some thoughts about blacks and Jews that today would be inappropriate…as did many people at that time. We have all seen the ‘Secret Lives” documentary on Walt. It’s nitpicking really. Walt wasn’t a Klan member or something. Perhaps old just fashioned. Segregation was acceptable until 1954

      In Walt’s defense, I still think he had his best intentions possible about blacks with “Song of the South.” In a sort of ” ‘Separate But Equal’….well, sort of equal” way.

      Anyway wonderful post for the last day of Black History Month. Thank you.

    • the “Walt’s a racist nazi” is a stereotype built up with the “both Disney and Hitler are cryogenically frozen together” myth

  • Louie del Carmen

    I’m quite honored to be working with both Barry Caldwell and Lenord Robinson. Amazing artists and both, the humblest people you will ever meet.

  • Ben Price

    Thanks for the mention, Amid. I’m proud of the gallery I’ve created, and everyone in it.

  • Matt Sullivan

    Louie, you beat me to it. Barry and Lenord are good friends of mine. They are exceptional talents and really good friends.

  • Thanks for mention Amid.

  • There’s a lot of bogus information out there from people who never even met Walt Disney. I worked with the old man on “The Jungle Book” in 1966, and this black man can tell you first hand the man is no racist. Not that the Disney Studio didn’t have a few racist, however.

    Anyway, I came to Disney as a cartoonist, not a “black cartoonist.” I honestly wish we could finally put this color thing behind us.

    • You mean we’ve made jokes about Walt because he’s gone, Floyd? Is this where all the frozen, racist stuff stemmed??

      If we zombified Walt from his grave (not cyronic chamber, people!), would we be able to get the the truth of what he thinks of his company today?

      It seems like if you’re working for a company, it can’t be named after a founder, unless:

      A) The founder is still alive
      B) The name is stock (Edison for electric companies), or the founder has no heritage or relevance to the company. It would be just there and have less meaning, even if it’s named after someone.

      • Funkybat

        I believe some people, especially those born after the era in which Walt lived, made assumptions about Walt’s sentiments on race because of his well-known right-wing political views. What some people may not know (or want to admit) is that not all conservatives, even very hard conservatives, are racist. There are plenty of racists all across the political spectrum, just as there are plenty of non-bigots across the spectrum.

        Walt clearly believed in individual initiative, hard work ethic and a capitalist approach to his life’s work. Those beliefs do not automatically go hand-in-hand with racial bias. Walt hated Communism, but then, so did much of America at that time. He also didn’t feel animation was a field of endeavor that most female artists were suited to. None of that has anything to do with his views of black folks or Jewish folks.

        I’m definitely more left wing than old Uncle Walt ever was, but I don’t consider him racist just because he had sexist hiring polices and considered organized labor a bane rather than a boon.

    • iseewhatyoudidthere

      “Anyway, I came to Disney as a cartoonist, not a ‘black cartoonist.’ I honestly wish we could finally put this color thing behind us.”

      You can be a cartoonist and a “black cartoonist” just as a teacher who happens to be a woman can be a “teacher” and a “female teacher”. It’s just an identifier. One does not exclude the other.

      The reason why people still note race is because, whether implicitly or explicitly, race still influences people. Just as when most people think of an engineer, they tend to think of a middle aged, white male, when most people think of a prominent animator, they think of a white male. When most people think of a prominent Basketball star, they imagine a black, male athelete.

      There is nothing wrong with noting when someone is white, black, or any other ethnicity, because it doesn’t change that person intrinsically. What it can do is challenge pre-conceived notions that most people have even if they aren’t aware of it. And frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with challenging world views.

      I predict that people will “put this color thing behind us” when people will imagine a raceless person in their mind, and not a person of any particular race.

  • The Gee

    All of the folks on that page are (and, sadly for those who are gone, were) talented.

    Seeing the photo album of them is a great reminder just how many talented people are in the industry. That spread is just part of it.

    No matter how much people kvetch and complain* about this or that production, there are still a lot of talented people behind all that is made. And, that’s just animation.

    Anyway, Amid, if you are giving props because of Black History Month then I wanted to remind you March is Women’s History Month.

    (*sometimes we seem to make a sport of it, for better or for worse)

  • This is a great Facebook page. I am extremely honored to be posted with the amazing talent that came before and inspired me. I hope I can live up to the goal of inspiring more talent to join us in this business of animation.

    Jamaal B

    • Ben Price

      Thanks. Jamaal. I’m glad you’re a part of it.

  • I have had the pleasure of being in Dan Haskett’s presence on a number of occasions. He is so incredibly talented and generous in his spirit and nature. He went out of his way to reach out to the next generation of animators by sharing his stories and experiences in this industry and showed us many examples of his fabulous work. We are so lucky to have him as a friend and a mentor. I am happy to see him recognized in this post. Thanks so much.

  • Brad Constantine

    I’d like to add one of my former instructors, Jerry Brice, who was working at Disney on “Oliver” when I took classes from him. One of my favorite animation guys of all time.

    • Ben Price

      Brad, if you go through the entire gallery, Jerry’s been in there for quite some time. :)

      • Brad Constantine

        Sorry, Ben! I was only looking at the above pics…Great Site!!

  • Thanks Amid for mentioning me here,and thanks to all my good friends and your kind words.I thank God for all of you. It’s a great business to be a part of. Perhaps we’ll someday see more African-American content in animation. We’ve certainly gotten off to a good start!

    • Anaydena

      I am doing an article on African American Animators and would love to add you to it. Contact me via facebook, I’d love to hear from you.

  • James Madison

    Great post!

  • AC

    As a black animator myself, I find this wonderful. :-)

  • This post gave me a happy! :)

  • You knew I didn’t really expect to see so many old pros listed.

    That’s cool

  • Keu Reyes