Wednesday, October 13, 2010


To understand why so many cartoons featuring black characters were banned during the 1960s civil rights movement, one needs to understand the term "blackface". While these cartoons may seem innocent, especially Sunday Go To Meetin', the characters in the films are historically referred to as blackfaces.

Blackface refers to the makeup used in early 19th century theatre, and later vaudeville, where white actors would paint their face to depict what they viewed as black culture. Popular in the USA and Britain, these shows propagated racial stereo types of African Americans: always singing, slow witted, happy-go-lucky, gambling, water melon eating, plantation working, dandified coon with large lips and big eyes.

"Blackness" was displayed for the edification and entertainment of a white audience. The blackface genre played an important role in shaping perceptions of and prejudices about blacks generally and African Americans in particular.

Despite its racist portrayals, blackface entertainment was a conduit through which African-American and African-American-influenced music, comedy, and dance first reached the American mainstream.

Merrie Melodies - Sunday Go To Meetin' 1936 - Banned 1968

Merrie Melodies - Clean Pastures 1937 - Banned 1968

Loony Toons - Angel Puss 1944 - Banned 1968

Universal Studios - Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat 1941 - Banned 1968

Note that Lazytown's residents are unkempt, dirty, lazy, mush-mouthed, water mellon eating, layabouts. The dark-skinned black residents of Lazy Town are excited upon the arrival of the unnamed light-skinned, female jazz singer from Harlem.

The portrayal of this character is debated. She could be seen as a black "exotic sex symbol" and desire of the white viewer, or as the stereotype of black men desiring white women, the forcus of uncontrollable savage lust. She could also be a mulatto, a character gaining popularity in blackface minstrel shows at the time.

Other classic blackface characters include: mammies, old pappy, pickaninnies, dandies, and the slave-like Jim Crows.

Animator Walter Lantz said this about his cartoon featuring black characters, "The first thing that happened was the elimination of all my films that contained Negro characters; there were eight such pictures. But we never offended or degraded the colored race and they were all top musical cartoons, too."

Agree or disagree?

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