Betty Boop Betty Boop

Misinformation about animation history is so rampant on the internet that it’s barely worth pointing out.

What is worth pointing out is when a reputable news source retracts an article that contains misinformation, even if it’s SIX WHOLE YEARS after they published the inaccurate story.

PBS, the American public broadcaster, has issued an in-depth mea culpa acknowledging that they misled the public by falsely claiming that the Fleischer Studios character Betty Boop was based on a Black child performer named Esther Jones. The theory has since been thoroughly debunked by online researchers, who arrived at the same conclusions that professional historians came to decades earlier after interviewing the Fleischer artists who created and developed the character.

While PBS did not create the false story about Betty Boop’s creation, they did republish existing online misinformation without any basic fact-checking. Because of their position as a trusted news source, the story spread like wildfire, and soon appeared across social media and hundreds of websites. Today it has even penetrated mainstream culture (Taraji P. Henson referenced it while hosting the BET Awards this year). PBS, for its part, admits that it did not follow established protocol to retract the story in a timely manner since the PBS Digital team that produced the piece believed it to be “promotional copy, not journalism.” It only took down the story recently after the grandson of Fleischer Studios co-founder Max Fleischer wrote a letter to the broadcaster.

PBS’s retraction of the story likely won’t have much of an impact on the Betty Boop creation myth, which has taken on a life of its own. Nowadays, most memes claiming Betty Boop was based on Esther Jones use photographs of people who aren’t even the performer in question. A popular example is the one below, which uses a contemporary photo of a Russian model dressed as a flapper.

Betty Boop creation myth
Amid Amidi

Amid Amidi

Amid Amidi is Cartoon Brew's Publisher and Editor-at-large.

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