NY Times on The Censored 11

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An article in today’s NY Times on the shocking proliferation of racist cartoons on You Tube has had an (unintended?) effect in further spreading the awareness of said cartoons. Gawker has just posted a link to it, adding to it an (awful quality) embed of Clampett’s Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs.

The Times article is somewhat sympathetic to the idea that these cartoons should be released legally. In the last paragraph, Michael Barrier, is quoted saying the cartoons should be “presented in an informed way for an intelligent, adult audience.” Barrier also said the Censored 11’s appearance on YouTube “shows that there is a demand, so the logical step would be to release them in a way that is profitable for you as a copyright holder.”


  • http://dmgermain.blogspot.com David Germain

    It’s been mentioned that the NAACP protested against Coal Black in 1943 and definitely still does today. However, something that somewhat contradicts that should be mentioned as well.

    http://www.animationnation.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=012223#000000

    According to Mr. Fun over at Animation Nation, back in 1979 the city of Oakland hosted the Black Filmmakers Awards, an event that honored African-American actors, musicians and writers.

    One of the presenters of the prestigious award was non other than the late Robert Clampett. An odd choice one might think in this predominately African-American venue.

    Yet, when Clampett was introduced as the director of “Coal Black”, he received a hero’s welcome from the packed theater of African-Americans.

    I wonder what NAACP and all the haters on youtube and elsewhere would make of that.

  • Tom Pope

    The article is in The New York Times business section.

  • Keith Paynter

    Some 20+ years ago, when I first saw Coal Black at Reg Hart’s home, outside of a scheduled Cineforum showing (and he has my eternal gratitude), I thought it was the most amazing cartoon I had ever seen…in fact, nothing for me can still top it in sheer pace and joy.

    The YouTube generation has certainly had the advantage of helping to dilute its initial shock value, and since Ted Turner doesn’t own the internet all the C11 shorts may have managed to more be seen by viewers than than original theatrical distribution could ever have dreamed.

    Since Warner cartoons are so indelibly (and incorrectly I might add) linked to kiddy fare, their own video division believes they would get roasted for putting them out. But what made the Disney Front Lines set so successful? The answer is simple, there are people who are willing to buy them because they are of great historical significance.

    Warner has done some very impressive LTGC sets to date. It is a simple matter of getting these shorts on as supplementary material (just like the Snafu and BB Show clips). THV put amazing looking clips for Coal Black in Leonard Maltin’s introduction to “Cartoons For Big Kids”. The LTGC is well marketed to adults, so let’s see these clips integrated somehow for the adult (read: intelligent) collector to enjoy, remastered or not (the ASIFA pics look damned good!).

  • http://www.sandboxworld.com Tone

    When we start censoring comic strips and older cartoons we will run afoul at some point. There should be some kind of warning to the audience if they are intelligent enough to figure out the dated stereotypes will flourish in cartoons like this. If we measured the criteria based on these cartoons and applied it to classic literature we would have many books out of circulation. Some of Mark Twain’s books would most likely be pulled out. It seems that people think the cartoons were really geared to young kids, but is was not the case when they came out. If we forget our past we will repeat it anew. Seems to be the case, out of site out of mind. We just find new ways to cultivate hatred in other places. I dare you to compare that one cartoon to many sites on the Internet that are a cesspool of venomous spew out there. Should we censor the Internet then? Sensationalism is the way to attract attention at any cost, it’s a parody of the shameful disgrace of American history and we have to live up it and we still hide behind hoods of hatred. The keyboard is the new tool of the day.

  • Katy Casey

    Personally, i think that this material should be released for scholarly use. It can be used in courses that deal with race issues and also in art and or film courses to present the use of race and racism in animation during that time period.

  • Keith Bryant

    Censorship: It’s an ugly job but everyone wants to do it.

  • http://portapuppets.does.it uncle wayne

    Oh, f’Pete’s sake!! These films were [tv] commonplace in the 50s & 60s. If it was “okay” THEN (and no one got bludgeoned because of it) ….what iin the world is the b.f.d. toDAY!?

  • Oscar Grillo

    Yeah, I know that Carl Stallings figures as the musical director, but, who are the musicians playing in the soundtrack?..I am sure there are some legitimate jazz players of the period playing there, and possibly African American. This film has one of the best music scores in any cartoon ever, a work of genius.

  • http://holidayfilmreviews.blogspot.com Jason Morris

    I agree, Warner could release these censored toons the same way Disney has, with introductions, have them in the ‘Vault’ section of a Looney Tunes dvd.

    On the other hand, the “Censored 11″ aren’t at the top of my list of “Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies” that should be on dvd. Most of the cartoons I grew up on were post-1948 shorts, get them out on dvd before the censored toons.

  • http://www.animationinsider.net/ Aaron H. Bynum

    Released legally… Has any other classic cartoon of such notoriety ever made it to home video yet?

    Tom & Jerry’s been censored hasn’t it? Whether for racial observation or smoking, for television audiences… and completely ignored in some respects, when it comes to DVD releases, hasn’t it?

  • http://crinkum-crankum.blogspot.com/ Brandon Waltman

    just release it on dvd and have whoopie goldberg do an intro to the cartoons like she does on every looney tunes collection and the tom and jerry one too i think. then it will be ok. whoopie makes everything ok.

  • Joe

    @ Aaron

    Disney’s “Der Fuehrer’s Face” is probably the closest thing I can think of regarding noteriety.

  • Brandon Cordy

    It wasn’t necessarily “okay” then – it was accepted by the general American culture, but that didn’t make it right or “okay”. Not even a room of filmmakers applauding Clampett (was he introduced _only_ as the director of “Coal Black”) makes it “okay”.

    However, censorship isn’t going to solve anything that intelligent handling by Warner’s wouldn’t solve better. A limited issue not unlike what was done with “On the Front Lines” would probably be an ideal solution.

  • Oscar Micheaux

    Screw Whoopi Goldberg. Get Reverend Wright to read the same copy and hordes of ignorant white rednecks (and Clinton-talking points obsessed media pundits) would proclaim the carefully worded, legally vetted disclaimer’s very words racist. The studios tend to censor certain archival animated subject matter but in live action, Hollywood had no problem with digitally slapping an “I hate niggers” sign on a placard Bruce Willis carried in the “Die Hard With a Vengeance” opening sequence shot in Harlem, because it was just to make a buck. As Jack Nicholson’s Joker intoned in 1989, “This town needs an enema!” We won’t see such hypocricy die anytime soon because keeping demographics separate serves the corrupt corporate state so well.

  • http://tsutpen.blogspot.com Stephen Cooke

    In the meantime, you can have all kinds of racial caricatures, completely Whoopi-free, on the new Walter Lantz/Woody Woodpecker box set. I guess it pays not to have as high a profile…

  • PCUnfunny

    Dave: I never knew that ! Coal Black is a wonderful film that compliments black people and the highest time of black entertainment.

  • http://thadkomorowski.com Thad

    The problem isn’t the cartoons. It’s the collector/geek mentality dictating issues it really shouldn’t (like social awareness) that Warner Home Video is afraid of. The more ignorant fans try to delude the general public into thinking shorts like the Censored 11 (more than half of which, by the way, are totally ass by Warner cartoon standards) aren’t really racist, and WHV fears of being linked to that kind of thinking.

    Disney can release a notorious short like Der Fuehrer’s Face because the target of parody is the Nazi party, not an often-abused race. Those cartoons “in the vault” selection have been released because they have no scholarly notoriety. There is no racially-charged Disney product that fans have ever demanded a release of, other than, gasp, Song of the South, which suffers from the same fanboy critique of “It’s not racist!”, and has, thus, remained in the vault.

    Yes, I agree, these cartoons should be available, appropriately, but don’t try to fool yourselves (and worse, others) into thinking that they’re not really racist.

  • Brandon Cordy

    I’m with Thad on this one. The attempts by collectors to prove that the cartoons aren’t racially offensive sometimes bewilders/offends me more than the cartoons themselves.

    I suppose the thinking is that “if we convince WB the cartoons aren’t racist, maybe they’ll release them!” I don’t think that’s a good game plan.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    I first saw “Coal Black” around 1990 at a scholarly film seminar after having read much hype about it’s shameful nature. The academic presenting it spent 40 minutes lecturing on the semiotics of it and explaining all the cultural nuances and we all braced ourselves.

    Then he rolled the film. My reaction was “that’s it? That’s what all the fuss is about? We have Fat Albert and The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son embarrassing themselves on TV everyday and yet this cartoon is a problem?

    It’s a fine cartoon but I think most people would be surprised at how little it resembles the legend that grew around it while it was hidden from view.

  • Keith Paynter

    They won’t edit live action films for private home use, but they certainly will for public viewing on television. (“I hate everybody” – I mean, come on!)

    If you recall, the term’s deragatory use in Blazing Saddles as used by the white culture of Rock Ridge was written by Richard Pryor. Brooks wrote for the black characters. Such a film intent on building racial tolerance through humour, I’m glad to see that WB hasn’t buried this notorious classic.

    If we were to wipe out black stereotyping in classic cinema, we would no longer see A Day At The Races, Laurel & Hardy’s Pardon Us, or even Gone With The Wind, burned, buried and destroyed like the lost footage of The Magnificent Ambersons. Classic Our Gang/Little Rascal shorts would disappear (although it seems they aren’t resurfacing any time soon).

    Anyway, not all the C11 are gems, but certainly Clampett’s films on the list are entertaining enough to be considered as “foot in the door” inclusion…and for my money, Friz Freleng’s Goldilocks and The Jivin’ Bears groovin’ on Raymond Scott is a worthwhile adddition as well. I loves me some doghouse bass!

  • http://www.owlboy.com/ OwlBoy

    Anyone wanna bet the videos get typical youtube comments a bit more than normal?

    I guess I am getting at how some people will view this on YouTube because they like the message :\

  • http://pediatristsplayground.blogspot.com “Kenny” Martinez

    To be honest, I have a fondness for All This and Rabbit Stew. The hunter’s design is egregious, no argument from me, but we see Avery really getting a handle on Bugs, his design (possibly the best design of him up to that point), and dishes out some very good gags that prefigure his MGM work.

    There are quite a few Lantz cartoons that have surfaced on the Woody sets that are just as bad, if not worse, than the Cenored 11 (A Haunting we will Go, the early Andy Pandas). Yet to my knowlege, those haven’t attracted any controversy. I think the general unavailability of Lantz cartoons for years might’ve helped them. Same with Disney.

  • Matthew Sharp

    To be perceived is to be. The fact that these cartoons are bracketed under the title “The Censored Eleven” immediately puts them beyond the pale and dampens the possibility of sensible discussion.

    Having seen all of the C11, my conclusion is that whilst there are elements in them that undoubtedly could be considered racist, they’re not *very* racist. Not as racist as, say, Scrub Me Mama With A Boogie Beat, or even Broken Toys, in which the black Stepin Fetchit caricature is so lazy and useless he hilariously(!) falls asleep in the middle of an operation, thus endangering the life of the patient. Certainly not even remotely as racist as some of the jokes and sketches I’ve seen which have Australian Aborigines as their target, which were considered acceptable for broadcast as late as the 1970s and 80s. By comparison Song Of The South is a harmless piece of fluff. It’s tactless, rather than being downright nasty.

    Thad says: “(more than half of which, by the way, are totally ass by Warner cartoon standards)”
    I’m not sure I understand your young person’s talk; I assume you mean that they’re not very good. That’s an affliction that many cartoons (WB and otherwise) suffer, but it doesn’t stop them from being released on DVD per se (although admittedly we’re unlikely to see a Norman McCabe tribute disc in the LTGC anytime soon).

  • http://myotherdrawingblog.blogspot.com/ sasha m

    Thad,

    I think you’re wrong. No one really gives a shit about what any of us say on the internet, the people who own these films and the people who’d protest their release alike.

    If they packaged the DVD right, put some college professor or dark skinned celebrity in the special features they’d be fine.

    I guess maybe that’s the crook, maybe what we really need is some one other than an animator to go to bat for these films on CNN or wherever if need be.

  • Justin

    Lets analyze this issue for a second.

    Why is Coal Black concidered racist?

    Symbols: There are obvious symbols used throughout that are obvious prejudice imagery. Dice and switchblades.

    Black Face Design and Oversize Lips: The most obvious racist imagery seems to be the overly used design of having pink lips on very dark skin faces. Implying not accurate color schemes of black skin, but rather a white person in “black face” makeup. They also have really large lips. This treads on the line of exaggeration for caricature, however.

    Voice caricatures: The dialect of some of the voices could be concidered racist, but maily because most of them were lifted from film and radio. (Rochester on the Jack Benny show, Amos and Andy) These characters were treated with little sensitivity to their race on their own shows, and that, in turn, is what might turn people off from the reuse of these voices.

    If anyone can think of any more, (someone with a better understanding of these things, perhaps!) please add to the list.

    It is VERY important to ANALYZE these films when discussing their racial elements. Too often people say “That’s a racist cartoon!” Or “That’s not racist at all!” and don’t go into details. Cartoons have always used exaggeration and wild movement, especially Clampett, so it is much easier to jump on Coal Black because the racist elements have been greatly enlarged due to his natural tendency towards exaggeration in all of his cartoons.

    The elements of swing and jazz, the daning, the wild movements and drawings, line, these are the things that animation fans watch Coal Black for. In this day in age, we have enough knowledge and awareness to watch these films and break down what good things we can take out of it and discard the insensitive racial elements.

  • Kevin Wollenweber

    It is possible that one reason some might misrepresent something like “COAL BLACK AND THE SEVEN DWARFS” as coldly racist is because Mel Blanc, a white man, is performing some of the dialect voices, as are other white voices. While some of the voices do come from black performers, sometimes also providing bits of the score, those who want cartoons of this type totally out of circulation will always make note of the fact that the exaggerated English-mangling dialect is *NOT* being done primarily by those of the race being lampooned, even though a program like “AMOS AND ANDY” was successful on radio with two white men doing the key voices.

    I’m all for a special limited edition volume of these cartoons, perhaps from both Warner Brothers and MGM, although we’re talking primarily here about the censored cartoons from the LOONEY TUNES series. I know that some could say that, if Warners released such a volume quietly as a limited edition, they surely must be totally aware that the material therein offends some sensibilities; well, I’ve seen certain series of CD’s or DVD’s issued by the company with an extra volume being issued as limited edition or kind of insentive to rope in the obsessive collector. Such a marketing strategy does not mean that the company is ashamed of the contents of that limited edition. Volumes like this would be a specialty item, one for the historian, something like the FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD series, with critics talking about the times and maybe even showing film clips of the performers being grotesquely exaggerated in cartoons.

    Most of this kind of stuff is going on expressly because animation is deemed strictly kids’ entertainment. The reason that the LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION sets were created was because many fans of the cartoons realized that, even in the most cloying of these cartoons, there is adult material. Why it is there is often unclear; I mean, how do you explain a cartoon like “HE WAS HER MAN”? it is clearly an adult “forbidden Hollywood” type of situation acted out by fuzzy little animals! Many animators, including Hugh Harmon, Rudolph Ising, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones *ALL* express some kind of need to go beyond the cute little storybook films to create something lasting, a more adult fare that shows that the art form could do more than just tell cute little stories, and *THAT* is what the LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTIONS are. I’d so much rather see all these cartoons fully restored and, as Warner Brothers continues to own up to having these films in the vaults, the less folks are going to be able to put insulting misrepresentations of these films up on Youtube with attached vicious comments about the possibility of a President that isn’t white!! That kind of swill isn’t going to help our cause along and it isn’t going to endear the nay-sayers to films that already make them feel even smaller when such films are used as weapons against them!!

  • http://www.heal-emru.com Tamu

    This is one of the best animated short films of its time. It also has one of the best soundtracks ever.

    There is also imagery here that offends me to my core.

    I am a Bob Clampett fan. I am a black woman. I cannot say that I love this so much that I am willing to dismiss the blatant racism of the piece. I also think it is a huge mistake for people to think some people will not absorb some of the racial imagery. Release it, but do it properly. Provide a social context.

    And Sasha M, don’t be so dismissive. Shame on you.

    I completely agree with Thad on this one. Just because people love something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t deeply flawed. Every time I meet someone who says this is no big deal, hasn’t had the “privilege” of being in my shoes for a day.

  • Noni

    So does Warner Home Video have Coal Black restored? Any release of this, no matter who gives it any historical context, is still going to be controversial.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Does anyone know when “Song of the South” is coming out on blue-ray?

  • Joe

    Yes, while I would like these cartoons released, it would be wise of Warner not to just randomly place them alongside “non-racial” cartoons in upcoming sets. More than most other cartoons that feature racial charicatures, these should be presented more preferably as special features within upcoming sets with appropriate disclaimers and historical context attatched to them.

    This is of course assuming they’re ever released, as it’s fairly understandable if they wouldn’t.

  • Danny R. Santos

    I saw the movie ” The Birth of a Nation” a few years back and as much as this film is offensive I don’t think it should be obscured from the public eye. Movies are not only to entertain us but to enlighten us on what is wrong or right in this world. Times has changed since this film was realeased and so has been poor judgement, I believe.

  • Quiet_Desperation

    presented in an informed way for an intelligent, adult audience

    An intelligent and informed adult does not need their hand held while watching the big mean cartoon.

    I’m sorry, but disclaimers and apologetic historical contexts are for the weak. We know what’s up, doc.

  • Outside Your Box

    The problem with any discussion about issues pertaining to Blacks here in America is that the discussion is always DOMINATED by non-Blacks, especially in the media and online.

  • PCUnfunny

    Thad:
    I have seen 4 out of the censored 11 and I find very little racism in those. The four being Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears, Tin Pan Alley Cats, Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs, and All This and Rabbit Stew. People always seem to forget that cartoons are are charicature. You know, Exaggeration ?

  • PCUnfunny

    Quiet_Desperation: I can’t agree more !

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    Danny Santos mentions “Birth of a Nation,” which was itself based on a 19th century novel, “The Clansman,” which idealized the rise of the Klan in a way that couldn’t happen now. But it wasn’t the only film that played up the same stereotypes. Black stereotypes surfaced in Three Stooges shorts and Charlie Chan movies. Even the Marx Brothers’s “A Day At The Races” featured the song “Tomorrow Is Another Day” playing into “Gabriel/All God’s Children Got Rhythm” which covers the same well-plowed ground.

    These were the bad old days of America in general and of American mass entertainment in particular. If the C11 ever see the light of day, it’ll probably be in the context of how Hollywood treated African Americans in the first half of the 20th century, and not just in its cartoons.

    Maybe they can get Barak Obama to narrate.

  • http://highbridnation.com Mike Belgrove

    Juan over at Highbrid Nation did a nice piece on these racist cartoon showing up on the net which made me go looking to see what others have said. My opinion on the whole thing is that these cartoons need to be soon and should not be sweeped under a rug or locked in a vault. They are part of our history. Our society (Whites and blacks alike) seem to want to hide or “ban” anything viewed as racist. Whats the end goal? To say “look. no racism”. We need to look at things such as these cartoons so we can understand how deep rooted racism is and was. Only then can we move forward. Pretending like they don’t exist doesn’t help.

  • http://www.benlevin.net Ben

    Thank you Tamu for bringing some sanity to this conversation.

    I don’t understand why people can’t just admit that although a cartoon like Coal Black may have some artistic merit- it is offensive.

    And please spare me the “cartoons are a caricature” crap. I mean, how is having dice teeth just an exaggeration? Do I really have to spell out the various implications of that?

    Everything has to be taken in context, and when you take into context America’s extremely tumultuous past these racist “caricatures” do not read as mere exaggerations. They represent hateful stereotypes of an oppressed community.

    As far as these cartoons being released, I can definitely understand why a company would resist, but I also think it’s important to acknowledge the struggles of the past and present. And whether you’re censoring these cartoons, or arguing that they’re not offensive- you’re ostensibly pretending our history never happened.

    This parody is old, but it still hits the nail right on the head:

    http://www.somethingawful.com/d/news/animation-website.php?page=2

  • http://afrokids.com Floyd Norman

    Yowsah!

  • Lawrence Rebozo-Johnson

    We seldom see major re-releases of Cary Grant in “Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House.” The Hattie McDaniel character, playing a maid whose “If you ain’t eatin’ Wham, you ain’t eatin’ ham!” catchphrase provides the virtual keystone of the film’s resolution, doesn’t reflect the style of racism by which today’s Hollywood profits. There was recent buzz of a possible remake; you can bet it would involve tons of bling, a hip-hop soundtrack and the Cary Grant character would be played by Denzel, with Tyler Perry in drag as the maid. Hollywood in 2008 is the same old minstrel show with slightly different profit participants.

  • http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/mjf7583 Michael F.

    I get a kick out of people trying to sweep these things under the rug. I am sure some people will want to see these if only for their historical value, and I bet you’d get more animation enthusiasts and curious people than that of people who want to expose them.

  • red pill junkie

    You know, I can’t help to note that, of 37 comments made about the white/black issues concerning “Coal Black”, not one has bothered to comment about what appears on the “Murder Inc.” truck on that cartoon:

    “Midgets: 1/2 price”

    followed by:

    “Japs: Free” that the most offensive, and yet I haven’t seen any asian-american ranting about “Coal Black”. Interesting, isn’t it?

  • PCUnfunny

    RPJ: That one is often is ignored and that is truly the only racist joke in the entire short.

  • big bad balloon

    RPJ- It’s not called “Slanty-Eyed Yellow and the 7 rice balls”. And the Murder Inc. stint is for how many seconds amidst the entire piece? That crack is par for the course. Is it really that much more offensive than any of the rest of the animation? Little people and Asian-Americans can complain about it…but…it’s not an entire short based on their stereotypes.

    Can’t wait to see how the Frog Princess is presented and received.

  • http://afrokids.com Floyd Norman

    When you’ve lived as long as I have you’ve seen targets of racism come and go. Middle Eastern types are now in vogue.

    Of course, cops still point their guns at me in 2008 – - and I’m just a cartoonist.

  • Brandon Cordy

    If you think that’s “the only racist joke in the entire short” – especially considering one of the principals has die for teeth, and all of them except the lead character, “So White”, have lips nearly the sizes of their heads – I don’t know what to tell you.

  • “Kenny Martinez”

    I admite that the “it’s not racist” mentiality can get really extreme at times (like that essay that called Coal Black a “celebration of differences”, or some of the Song of the South discussions), but I have to say I completely agree with Ben.

  • http://www.benlevin.net Ben

    PCUnfunny. I work in Times Square in New York City. There’s a lot of caricaturists lining the sidewalks here. Since you’re so confident that the characters in Coal Black aren’t offensive- please feel free to come here as a caricaturist. If a black tourist asks you to draw their portrait- draw them something right out of Coal Black, since you’re so sure it’s not going to be offensive.

  • PCUnfunny

    Brandon: Those examples you cited are called charicature, what you would expect in a cartoon. I am black BTW and I am really sick and tired of white people being offended for me. Or anyone else who dosen’t have a sense of humor.

  • PCUnfunny

    Ben: Frankly, I would draw someone like they did in Coal Black. If they don’t like it, that’s fine. Not everyone likes the charicatures of themselves made by cartoonists. It’s hard to see why anyone would hate being drawn funny. On that subject though, You know what I do find offensive ? The ugly,”tude” characters of The Boondocks.

  • red pill junkie

    Big Bad Balloon, I didn’t say the “Japs=Free” gag was the ONLY thing I personally found offensive about “Coal Black”, but IMHO was the most offensive, even if it appears for mere seconds (more seconds to be read that the dice denture of the Prince close-up mind you).

    Which is worse? I suppose that falls into subjectivity, but I would like to know the opinion of a descendant of japanese on that one, which hasn’t appeared on this thread and that was what caught my attention in the first place.

  • http://www.animationinsider.net/ Aaron H. Bynum

    Configuring whether one’s sense of humor is or isn’t subjective could lead to a whole new, unrelated discussion…

    But someone brought up Frog Princess, which reminded me of Disney’s long history of “spotlighting” minorities… veiling them as princes, princesses and other figures of notable social or political standing. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart did a great piece on that several months ago…

  • Tom Wolper

    The Fleischer short “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You” is available for free viewing/download from the Internet Archive. In it, Koko and his pals are being chased by cannibals while Louis Armstrong plays the title song. During the bridge, live action band members morph into animated cannibals. As much as we have to be indebted to Fleischer Studios for bringing African American musical talent like Armstrong and Cab Calloway into their cartoons, this cartoon is obviously racist and yet nobody is trying to censor it, make it unavailable, or demand a warning label.

    As to the context of racist comedy in its time: in the old time radio section of the archive, there’s a show called An Evening with Groucho. It was a radio special hosted by Dick Cavett in front of a live audience and Groucho told stories of his early career. He said that he was getting ready to do a vaudeville show in Toronto the day the Lusitania was sunk. In one sketch he was playing “the German comedian” and was supposed to sing a German song. As he put it, he knew the audience would kill him if he did, so he changed his character to “the Jew comedian.” Listening to the story, Groucho did not seem at all hesitant or offended by having to play a demeaning stereotype of his own ethnic group.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    red pill junkie, what are you driving at?

  • http://geritopiablogspot.com GeeVee

    America’s racial integration and social consciousness was obviously going through some inevitable growing pains in the last century. Much of that can be forgiven if there’s evidence that, in general, we are making progress. People made fun of every race and dialect in vaudeville, many coming out of squalor in densely-packed urban areas even made fun of themselves, as a route to popular acceptance. African Americans, however, had it far worse in terms of racial affronts for historical reasons which should be obvious.

    Having said that, “Coal Black” has a vibrancy that few cartoons can hold a candle to. Clampett always seemed to be the least inhibited director and with that came a bust-the-doors-down dynamic that was infectious. So perhaps it was inevitable, while celebrating the fluid potential of the cartoon form to the fullest, the inevitable lack of decorum would also leak through.

    Everyone should see Coal Black because it’s like a cultural mirror for past and present. It shows the lapses of the past, with the paradox of the amazing levels of human feeling that come with truly uninhibited expression (Coal Black’s style NOT possible without the unique African American contribution), and it shows how you can be on the right side of an issue but have such a busy-body P.C. tight ass that you feel that such work should be censored to “protect”. In other words, an agent of repression coming full-circle.

  • red pill junkie

    Beats me Tim :-)

    Ok, I guess it’s just that for an outsider like me —I’m mexican— it amazes me how the black/white topic provokes so many emotional responses after all these years.

    I once read in a novel that books are like mirrors: they can only show you what you already have inside you. Now I’m starting to believe that is true for all artistic disciplines, Animation included.

    So, in the end what do we do? Do we smash the mirrors because we don’t like the reflection? Let’s say we burn all the copies of “Coal Black”, the logical extension to this endeavour would be obviously to burn all copies and references to “Mein Kampf” which I guess a lot of people would agree. Then someone like Dick Cheney could come up and say “let’s burn all the copies of the Qu’ran too!”, and I’m sure many people would agree with that; just as many people would agree with someone like Richard Dawkins that would certanly propose that all copies of the Bible be burned too! And before you know it, we’re in “Fahrenheit 451″.

    So, in the end it’s all about education. I wouldn’t let my 6-year-old nephew to watch “Coal Black” anymore as I would let him to read “Mein Kampf”, but I sure wouldn’t prevent him to read it if he feels the curiosity to, once he’s grown into an informed educated adult capable of understanding what he’s been exposed too. Because otherwise as someone has already posted, we will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes of the past.

    And I really hope he feels offended by it!

  • red pill junkie

    Seems GeeVee and I were on the same frequency with the “mirror metaphor” :-)

  • Keith Paynter

    People forget that Murder, Inc. was a very real group of contract killers for the mob during the 30′s and 40′s – the name having been coined by the press. “Japs – Free” is the most blatant wartime reference you could ask for (or not ask for, as it were), outside of the slang Bugs Bunny throws around in “…Nips…”. Anti-Japanese rhetoric was just as prevelent in WWII as anti-Islamic/Arabic was following 9/11. We can’t be permitted to experience “Coal Black” or “Nips” in the comfort of our homes, but we can still watch The Duke in propangandist flag-wavers like “Back to Bataan”?

    Propaganda is propaganda, and North Americans are not alone in this. All sides painted the enemy with very broad strokes (“Nimbus Libéré”, anyone?), and it was not confined to WWII.

    It is amazing that we can have such a passionate diascussion of a film that continues to polarize some 65 years after it was released…

  • Dock Miles

    More historical context certainly helps thinking about and responding to this particular short — the reason it’s notorious is that it has a lot of vitality and power. In the context of its day — business as usual. Which was, yeah, racist. But in favor of the cartoon (and naif Clampett) is that the vitality is positive and the power that hits home is how Martian the American black experience could look to whites. Dabbling in it was one of the (too) many guilty pleasures of the times.

  • http://entertainmentgeekly.wordpress.com/ Dan Touchette

    Mentioned in the N.Y. Times article, banned-cartoons.com has discontinued their DVD sales:

    “Because of the unwanted attention brought on by an article that appeared in the New York Times, I have stopped selling DVDs.

    The reporter contacted me when he was researching his article and I begged him not to draw attention to this because, as I told him, “you will only succeed in insuring that these historical artifacts disappear from the public square forever.”

    The title of the article, “Cartoons of a Racist Past Lurk on YouTube” and its overall tone clearly indicates that was his intent.

  • http://eh? Jenny

    I agree with Ben and Tamu: disclaimers are good.

  • Josh Latta

    Y’know, what it comes down to it. I don’t care if the cartoons are racist or not or if the cartoons are sub-par or not too. As an adult I feel as though I should make the decision to buy something that’s deemed”racist.” Not everything is for everyone.

  • Chuck R.

    If disclaimers are what it takes to get the cartoons preserved, yes they should go ahead. I’ll reiterate my free advice to Disney: release these offensive cartoons unabashedly (preferably during black history month) and replace the usual Whoopi/Maltin disclaimer with some well-thought out bonus material with interviews of black filmmakers and performers with varying perspectives (Bill Cosby, Spike Lee, John Singleton, Denzel Washington, etc. etc.) Do some documentary stuff, putting it all in the proper historical perspective. Make it entertaining and enlightening. In reference to Obama narration: no, I don’t think we need to hear from politicians esp. in an election year.

    RPJ: The anti-Japanese jokes are indeed more vicious, but keep in mind that they are attacks against a nation (with racial overtones, to be sure) who attacked our nation. Germans were treated similarly. Chinese get badly stereotyped in Hollywood cartoons, but it’s not nearly as personal.

    I strongly disagree with the comments about Arabs being the acceptable target-of-the-day. There has been no internment of Arab-Americans, and nothing in any media to compare with the anti-Japanese sentiment of the 40′s. We’ve certainly progressed.

    Well, sort of. Seems it’s still okay to bash southerners and churchgoers.

  • Keith Paynter

    Chuck, I would hate to dispute your disagreement re: my comment about Arab-Americans, but, a few examples follow:

    - Sept. 2003: Canadian Muslim cleric Ahamad Kutty was detained and Jailed in Detroit On Sept. 13th, 2003 (2nd anniversary)
    without charges being laid. He was delared a threat to national security because his Islamic Institute of Toronto organization sounded familiar in name to the Islamic Institution of America, a suspect group.

    - June 2007: A respected Muslim community leader, university chaplain, and advocate for interfaith dialogue, Dr. El-Kassem was travelling through the US to speak at a conference on interfaith dialogue when he was detained and questioned for four hours by US Customs and Border Protection officers in Detroit. Among other questions, Dr. El-Kassem reports he was asked whether he had ever met Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. He was fingerprinted and photographed, and his personal family information was faxed to Washington for further examination.

    The most famous?

    - Sept. 2004: Yusef Islam was on the US no-fly list and denied entry to the U.S, although he had been to American in Sept 2000 on speaking and promotional tour. Yusef is, of course, former pop singer/songwriter Cat Stevens.

    Wasn’t it John McCain who sang “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran”? Less indiscreet than Reeagan’s infamous Cold War mic slipup, “we start bombing Russia in five minutes”.

    While the US gov’t not rounding up every American Muslim a la Japanes interment camps, they are holding suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay without any charges.

    Sorry if ‘m ranting seemingly off topic, but I had to reinforce my point. Anti-Arab sentiment does exist – not to the extreme of WWII, but it certainly was that way in the weeks following 9/11. And your own personal freedoms are being pulled out from under you as a result.

    Anyway, we return you to your regularly scheduled program.

  • David

    What was that reporter thinking when he wrote that article?

  • Brandon Cordy

    PCUnfunny: I’m black as well. But there is a difference in the level of intent and tone in caricature: racism and prejudice can – consciously or unconsciously – make their way into caricatures and cartoon images.

    This isn’t to say that Bob Clampett, Rod Scribner, and the others who worked on “Coal Black” were racists – the cartoon reflects a different era in American society where such ethnic humor was acceptable. Racist and prejudiced ideas which were common, accepted thinking in American society found their ways into these films. The black characters in “Merrie Melodies” and “Looney Tunes” cartoons are obviously more broadly depicted – some would say less human – than their white counterparts.

  • red pill junkie

    Yes Chuck, one does have to keep in mind the historical context to understand the propagandistic elements of the anti-japanese gag.

    It’s interesting how we are always expecting massive entertainment to fulfill the role of moral compass in our present consumer society. But we always have to keep in mind that the men and women behind all form of mass entertainment are human beings: as biased, complex, flawed and disoriented as the rest of us.

  • Chuck R.

    Keith: Oh please. If three examples is all you’ve got, you’ve proven my point, not yours. I said we’ve “progressed.” Nice screed anyway.

    RPJ: We agree, but… I hope nobody in America, Mexico, or anywhere else for that matter, is looking to Hollywood for a moral compass.

  • http://www.heal-emru.com Tamu

    Emru Townsend on the Censored Eleven problem.

  • Thomas Safer

    I am saddened when I see or hear people put various cartoons in a bad light. I think I have seen the best statements is made on “Looney Toons Golden Collections”. In my words, “The cartoons are a product of their time when certain stereotypes and jokes about prejudice were commonplace. These prejudices were wrong then and they are still wrong today. However, to not show these cartoons would be the same as saying these prejudices never existed. The better way to handle the situation is to view them in their original uncensored format and learn from possible mistakes that may have been made back then and understand that the human race has progressed far beyond that point.”

    As a collector and presenter, I have always tried to present the cartoons I show as historical documents and as pieces of entertainment. I ask people not to be offended and enjoy the cartoons. This idea does seem to work during my programs.

  • somebodys_kid

    This comment is specifically aimed at ‘Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves’, as this is the only cartoon of the eleven that I’ve seen. I may be opening up a can of worms, but this discussion has so far been an intelligent one, and I hope this adds to it.

    Forgive my ignorance, but could someone define “racism” and “racist” for me? As of this posting, Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/racism) has three definitions of racism. The first definition deals with the concept that one race is inherently superior to another race through hereditary means or by some other unalterable manner; I fail to see how this cartoon implies that a black person is inferior to any other person in intelligence, talent, or character by virtue of being black. The second definition deals with a system of government, which is not brought up in this cartoon. The third definition deals with irrational (my adjective) hatred and intolerance of another race; I also fail to see how this cartoon expresses bona fide hatred of black people. Maybe the term ‘racist’ is not the correct word, but instead ‘bigoted’ is. Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bigotry) defines bigotry as profound intolerance of something different; this cartoon is not, by any stretch, intolerant, and it could be argued that it celebrates the culture it is simultaneously lampooning.
    Justin, in a post very far above this one, suggested that the stereotypes used in the film are racist. Again, I fail to see how the presence of stereotypes implies one group is inferior to another, or how said stereotypes communicate hatred towards that group. Does Big Lips suggest inferiority? Is substituting one’s incisors with a pair of dice a message of hatred? A stereotype in and of itself does not imply inherent inferiority nor does it suggest hatred towards the object of the stereotype.

    If my above observations are accurate (and if they are not, please correct me), it seems to me that the word “racist” has been bandied about with such reckless abandon as to render it meaningless. I, personally, do not detect any hatred in this cartoon, nor do I, after watching it, come away feeling one group of people is inferior to another. Many posters above have declared this cartoon as racist without defining the word, taking it on faith, I presume, that we all agree on the definition of ‘racist’.

    If I’m really far off the mark on this one, do let me know.

  • squid1953

    When I showed Coal Black to my kids, they looked puzzled and asked, ” what is this?, and I explained that these were cartoons that I grew up with. They both smirked, “really? Those are stupid.”
    I think we are looking at these with an adult mind set. When I was a kid, I don’t really recall anything ‘racist”. It was just a cartoon.

  • eshowoman

    I think I will make a series cartoon with inbred, moonshine drinking meth heads with no teeth, drunken Irish, a fat Italian mom with 15 children with her IROC -z driving chain wearing mafiosi husband, or perhaps a Jew stealing candy from a baby. I would be great, noting racist there, it will have great academic value. Most of you are so ignorant about the history of black images it is mind boggling and you desire to pay for them is even sicker.

  • CCole1983

    Perhaps I am coming into this discussion a bit on the late side, but with the way things are shaping up that the “Censored Eleven” will more than likely be released at some point this year, I did a Google search on the history (being a fan of animation, in particular Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies) of the “Censored Eleven.” I have even watched several of them online. I guess I am confused at to what the big deal is.

    Since race on here seems to be a “badge of honor” of sorts, I will go ahead and say I am a white male, who happens to be part Irish. Do you know how many times I have watched cartoons and movies that portray the corrupt, possibly ignorant or stupid “Irish Cop” who walks the beat twirling a baton, and not once complained about the way they were portrayed?

    I also happen to be part Scottish. One of my favorite cartoon characters happens to be “Groundskeeper Willie” on The Simpsons, and he’s unintelligent, drunk, easily angered, and rarely competent, content to live in a shack.

    As someone who is Irish and Scottish, should I be offended by such stereotypes? Or does that not fit the vogue meaning of “racist”?

    I think what many of you who are claiming such cartoons are “racist” completely fail to realize is what set Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes apart from their Disney and other counterparts is they lampooned everyone and everything! The animators and directors of “Termite Terrace” could not rival the technical ability of Disney’s animation department (tighter budgets being perhaps the biggest reason), so they hit on something that made them memorable.

    Plus, Bob Clampett, the director of the “racist” Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarfs was very good friends with many, if not most, of the LA jazz musicians popular at the time. It was, in fact, Duke Ellington that suggested Clampett make a black musical cartoon. He had already been working on the idea of both parodying “Snow White” and honoring the many jazz musical films that were popular, so Ellington’s suggestion was already in line with what Clampett was thinking.

    Now let me ask you all: what would Clampett have to gain by creating a “racist” cartoon? If he had several friends who were black entertainers, wouldn’t he risk alienating them if great care wasn’t taken to ensure that it wasn’t racist? Add to that Duke Ellington’s suggestion that Clampett do it in the first place!

    I honestly believe that Clampett, the jazz entertainers of his day, the whole Leon Schlessinger Animation Studios, and everyone else who sees it for what it really is, would be appalled by the assertion that it is racist!

  • missDD86

    I dunno.. I myself am black, and I don’t feel these should have been banned. I found much of them entertaining. I can understand why some may find them offensive, but I also feel that it’s important to keep these preserved as part of history to show how far we’ve come. I wish they would maybe do a yearly special where they could showcase these cartoons on Boomerang or Cartoon Network for the kids to see. They need to be aware of the history of cartoons and why they are offensive now. Getting rid of them completely to me is like trying to erase history.