Dumbo Dumbo

Animation curation at the upcoming Academy Museum isn’t just about Miyazaki. The museum also touches on less glorious chapters in the medium’s history.

Instances of racist and sexist imagery in U.S. animation are exhibited as part of a multi-room gallery titled “Inventing Worlds & Characters.” Slideshows present problematic depictions in productions ranging from Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo and the Fleischer’s Betty Boop to Disney’s Fantasia and Aladdin.

“We weren’t attempting to be exhaustive,” curator Jenny He told Variety of the exhibits. “If there is a cartoon that traumatized you, we weren’t trying to exclude you. Rather, this is only the beginning of a larger conversation that the museum wants to have.”

Animation’s legacy of racism and sexism has drawn growing attention in recent years. In some cases, there have been direct implications for production and distribution today: the decision not to release the 1946 feature Song of the South on Disney+, say, or the removal of Looney Tunes character Pepé Le Pew (who appears in the Academy Museum’s gallery) from the Space Jam sequel.

This discourse sometimes risks double standards, with commentators emphasizing animation’s history as a vehicle for prejudice while skating over the extensive use of live action for similar ends. The Academy Museum will hopefully avoid this trap: it promises an “an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and anti-sexist culture” across its curation, and at least one gallery at opening, “Impact/Reflection,” will address racism in live action.

The museum opens on September 30. Located at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in L.A., it is housed in the historic May Company Building, originally completed in 1939.

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