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The Colored Cartoon

Black Presentation in American Animated Short Films, 1907-1954

Christopher P. Lehman

Publication Year: 2007

From the introduction of animated film in the early 1900s to the 1950s, ethnic humor was a staple of American-made cartoons. Yet as Christopher Lehman shows in this revealing study, the depiction of African Americans in particular became so inextricably linked to the cartoon medium as to influence its evolution through those five decades. He argues that what is in many ways most distinctive about American animation reflects white animators' visual interpretations of African American cultural expression. The first American animators drew on popular black representations, many of which were caricatures rooted in the culture of southern slavery. During the 1920s, the advent of the sound-synchronized cartoon inspired animators to blend antebellum-era black stereotypes with the modern black cultural expressions of jazz musicians and Hollywood actors. When the film industry set out to desexualize movies through the imposition of the Hays Code in the early 1930s, it regulated the portrayal of African Americans largely by segregating black characters from others, especially white females. At the same time, animators found new ways to exploit the popularity of African American culture by creating animal characters like Bugs Bunny who exhibited characteristics associated with African Americans without being identifiably black. By the 1950s, protests from civil rights activists and the growing popularity of white cartoon characters led animators away from much of the black representation on which they had built the medium. Even so, animated films today continue to portray African American characters and culture, and not necessarily in a favorable light. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including interviews with former animators, archived scripts for cartoons, and the films themselves, Lehman illustrates the intimate and unmistakable connection between African Americans and animation.Choice

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

My writing of The Colored Cartoon has been a labor of love. I thank God for the opportunity. I am grateful to my editor, Clark Dougan, for his encouragement and support. He has patiently and sensitively guided me through transforming early versions into a publishable book. ...

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Note to the Reader

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pp. ix-x

The Internet is an invaluable resource for animation research. Images from many of the films mentioned in The Colored Cartoon currently appear on webpages created by scholars and aficionados of the genre. Typing the name of a cartoon character, film title, producer, or studio into any search engine will yield a list of possible sites where still images and even film clips can be found. ...

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Introduction: The Blackness of Animation

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pp. 1-4

American animation owes its existence to African Americans. This is not to suggest that African Americans were involved in the technological development of animated film or even that they played an active role in the creation of the first cinematic cartoons. The connection between African Americans and animation was more subtle and indirect than that but nonetheless intimate and unmistakable. Early cartoons are ...

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Chapter 1. The Silent Era

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pp. 5-14

During the first two decades of American animation (1907–27), the medium evolved from a vaudeville act to a film genre noticed by respected critics and exploited by a few Hollywood-based distribution companies. These cartoons were produced mostly in New York City, at first by individual animators but later by teams of illustrators working in studios. ...

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Chapter 2. The Arrival of Sound

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pp. 15-36

Between 1928 and 1934, the animation industry redefined itself with the introduction of sound synchronization. Although America’s movie industry quickly embraced sound after the phenomenal success of the first “talkie,” The Jazz Singer, in 1927, animation studios greeted the new technology with mixed feelings. Producers Walt Disney and Max Fleischer...

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Chapter 3. Black Characterizations

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pp. 37-60

In 1930 the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) enacted the Motion Picture Production Code (henceforth the Code) for filmmakers to follow. Throughout the 1920s civic and religious groups, furious at the increasing sexual and violent content of films, had called for either the movie industry to censor itself or the federal govern-...

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Chapter 4. Fred "Tex" Avery and "Trickster" Animation

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pp. 61-72

Frederick Bean “Tex” Avery, who directed cartoons for Leon Schlesinger Productions from 1935 to 1941, often gave them a very unlikely African American aesthetic. No scholarship on animation reveals the remotest familiarity on Avery’s part with black culture. A white man from Texas, he frequently resorted to ethnic stereotypes—especially African ...

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Chapter 5. Black Representation and World War II Political Concerns

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pp. 73-86

From the very beginning of America’s involvement in World War II, the blackface image contributed to the war effort of the U.S. animation industry. Leon Schlesinger Productions started work on the war bonds commercial Leon Schlesinger Presents Bugs Bunny in late November 1941, completing it only eight days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on ...

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Chapter 6. African American Representation and Changing Race Relations

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pp. 87-103

As World War II ended, the movie industry offered fewer roles for African Americans. The popularity of the all-black musical had waned. Because of mounting criticism from civil rights activists about servile characters played by blacks, roles for maid and butler characters in movies dried up. Meanwhile, leading roles for African Americans in dramatic ...

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Chapter 7. United Productions and the End of Animated Black Representation

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pp. 104-119

Changes in African American imagery in the animation industry corresponded to a period of change in race relations which the nation entered after World War II. As African Americans began serving in integrated military units and playing on major-league baseball teams in the late 1940s, some independent cartoon producers used their films to ...

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Conclusion: The Legacy of Animated African American Expression

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pp. 120-122

As animation studios struggled to stay open over the next two decades, they tried to retain their formulas for caricaturing blacks without drawing black figures. Having served as the foundation of the theatrical cartoon industry for over fifty years, African American culture had become inextricable from animation. When Friz Freleng sought to modern-...


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pp. 123-132


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pp. 133-137

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761199
E-ISBN-10: 1613761198
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558496132
Print-ISBN-10: 1558496130

Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 2007