The old Warner Bros. cartoons have become increasingly painful to watch — so much racism, so much sexism. So what do you do? Throw the old classics in the trash? Pretend entertainment has always been fair and egalitarian? Warner Bros. is preceding the old cartoons with a disclaimer.
That’s an appropriate response, but I think I’d still rather not watch some of those efforts from the 1940s at all.
Colour me impressed! That last sentence is excellent, especially.
chigau (違う) says
Good for Warner Brothers.
Marcus Ranum says
That’s remarkable! Own it, then slap it down!
Good for them. I have the ‘Golden Age of Looney Tunes’, volumes 1 & 2 on disc, and they were pretty careful about what went on them.
Tashiliciously Shriked says
This has been around for a while (at least a year or two IIRC), and it’s generally juxtaposed besides Disney and their refusal to own Songs of the South and the like.
It is quite simply the classiest and best way of handling it. Not to mention some of the cartoons, despite being horrible racist or sexist, are still big landmarks in animation (a bit like how people still study Birth of a Nation for the cinematic import).
Well done, Warner Brothers. Well done.
With regard to Disney, I believe I’ve mentioned how my mother and I saw “Song of the South” during one of its theatrical re-releases (saw several other Disney classics, I think, as well, so they must have re-released a bunch around that time). After a bit I was seriously embarrassed to be in the theater watching this movie, and when we left we were both kind of “So, that was – I mean that was – well, that was pretty racist, right?”
It’s surprising how long people thought they could get away with some racially unacceptable things. For example Dave Thomas did yellowface characters several times during the run of SCTV in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Most notably Thomas regularly played Lin Ye Tang, host of Doorway to Hell. There was no indication the character was supposed to be a parody of yellowface. He also played a Japanese character, Tim Ishimuni, at least once.
I arranged and hosted a silent film night once and was surprise and embarrassed when I found that the depiction of African Americans in the two Buster Keaton shorts I had picked presented them simple and superstitious.(All it took was for Buster to unintentionally run in with a bed sheet over him to empty a room) and later in a black man was arrested when he just happened to be walking by as Buster, who had somehow spilled dark pain on his face, was being chased by a policeman. While these two examples are not quite as offensive as some examples of the times I’m aware of I still wish I’d screened them.
Warner Brothers has been doing this for awhile. They own DC comics and a similar disclaimer is on several Archive Collections. Archive Collections are $50-$60 hardbacks on archival, acid free paper re-printing the comics, so definitely a “collector only” type product, but they still added them. The Captain Marvel (I refuse to call him Shazam) collection contains the worst I’ve seen, with his sidekick Steamboot. On a continuum, Steamboat was now where near as bad as portrayals in other comics of the day. He was only “a little” racist. Kind of like being a little pregnant.
And interesting sidekick is Ebony White in Will Eisner’s the Spirit. Very, very, very much a product of his time, produced by a person who was very liberal for his time as far as I can tell. He certainly portrayed very liberal ideas on rehabilitation.
Lisa Petriello says
Would have been nice if their disclaimer acknowledged the sexist prejudice also.
I wish Disney would do the same and release Song of the South.
It definitely had racism in it, but it was no Birth of a Nation or even Gone With the Wind. And it contains a brilliant performance by James Baskett in the lead role, which made him the first black man to win an Academy Award.
Disney, slap on a disclaimer and put it out on DVD/Blu Ray for history’s sake. If you’re worried about being seen profiting from your racist past, donate the revenue to an Oscar Micheaux film restoration effort.
A. Noyd says
Your tense is off. (And note all the defenders of racism in the comments there.)
A fascinating topic, and not just in cartoons, of course. There’s a lot of racism (and sexism) in live-action films as well.
My favorite (if that is the word) example is perhaps The Wonder Bar. It also has lots of gay in-jokes and deals with many subjects that would soon be taboo under the motion picture code, but the highlight is the infamous Busby Berkeley production number, “Goin’ to Heaven on a Mule” with Al Jolson and a cast of thousands in blackface (I’m not sure there were any actual black people in it) frolicking in watermelon patches amongst fried chicken machines and such. It’s jaw-dropping in its awfulness, but still has all those great Busby Berkeley touches and utterly draws you in, even in horror.
Jolson, of course, was famous for his blackface routines. I’ve often wondered how he, as a Jew, felt about this kind of stereotyping. If it bothered him, it certainly didn’t bother him enough to make him stop doing it. He apparently was an early supporter of civil rights. Did anyone ever ask him about the contradiction?
This is a good disclaimer – saying it was wrong then and it is wrong now.
I would still want to make sure that children didn’t watch them unsupervised.
I confess my kids these when they were little in the late 1990s mostly because we did not have cable. The disclaimer was not there, and for the very bad WWII propaganda cartoons I did try to explain why they were wrong. They were kind of mixed in with some other decent content. And it was balanced by the over-the-air cartoons from Warner Brothers like Animaniacs.
My younger son often mentions that he remembers those cartoons and their blatant racism, but they were a very helpful background when he was in high school taking AP American History. He says he was the one who explained about the prevalent attitudes during WWII, especially in explaining why there was no big outcry about the Japanese Internment.
Of course I did not use preview! ” kids watched these videotapes when”
Mark Chandler says
On the DVDs, Whoopi Goldberg reads this disclaimer/warning. This adds even more credibility.
@17 Beat me to it. I was going to chime in that at least for the Tom and Jerry Collection one of my friends owns has it introduced by Whoopi Goldberg. Not sure if she does all of their releases or if they have other actors as well.
I remember seeing that disclaimer read by Whoopi Goldberg on the ‘Golden collection’ DVDs as well. I believe she also mentioned Frank Braxton, the first African-American professional animator in the U.S., who worked at Warner Brothers back in the 1950s.
When I first saw that, I just knew that it was a straight shot across the bow at Disney, which has not only been trying to hide much of their very racist earlier work (including suspicions that the racism of the early comic strips was the main reason for going after Malibu’s ‘The Uncensored Mouse’), but also twisting the knife by noting that Warner Bros. had a black animator before Floyd Norman joined Disney.
Growing up in the 1950s, we got to watch cartoons originally created for adults as filler between movie reels. Most of these were propaganda to engender hatred of foreigners, in support of WWII. I wonder if that is what brought on the Civil Rights movement ten years later?
I’ve got to say I love the music and animation in “Coal Black”. Which, despite the caricatures of black people, is also a celebration of achieving the right to serve in the military. (The gratuitous racism against the Japanese is more troubling, but a useful object lesson in light of today’s xenophobia). All cartoons use caricature, the question is more: is it sympathetic or hostile?
Releasing them with a disclaimer is far better than Bowdlerizing them – like taking all references to n****r out of Huckleberry Finn and Blazing Saddles. Darwin comes across as racist in “The Descent of Man” but it’s still worth reading, just as “Coal Black” is well worth watching as a work of art.
I remember watching Tom and Jerry and seeing the blackface caricatures when someone got blown up. I remember having no idea what I was seeing or what the joke was.
Tony! The Queer Shoop says
I would say no. The ongoing disenfranchisement and systematic oppression of African-Americans by white America for centuries combined with a desire to recognized as human beings equal to everyone else is more accurately what brought on the Civil Rights Movement. Also, it wasn’t 10 years later.
African-American Civil Rights Movement:
Realistically speaking, the Civil Rights Movement had been ongoing long before 1954 too. It’s not as if blacks in the US woke up in the mid 50s and decided “hey, after all this time living in this country, we deserve to be treated as full human beings with the same rights as everyone else”.
Tony! The Queer Shoop says
Uh, that would be wcorvi @20, not @10. Sorry.
John Horstman says
Good on them. Sanitizing racist (sexist, etc.) history is not much better than the contemporary and obviously-false claims of a “color-blind” society. Far better to actively and directly rebuke racist representations than to pretend they never happened.
Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says
Right, never forget “separate but equal” *snicker*
Actually seeing that lie at a small town department store somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line brought the hypocrisy home with gut-wrenching clarity.
I’ve got all of the golden collections (then hunted on youtube the rest until they get officially released), though from there I ripped them all into individual ones I can shuffle so it is more like what Saturday Morning (when the BB-RR Show was 90 minutes long) was like when I was a kid. Thus, I’m already selective of which ones I’ll include, leaving most of the black-and-whites and some of the Tex Avery’s and Bob Clampett’s out.
One thing that bothered me is their repeat of gags that really just weren’t funny. It isn’t just that they were wrong (though they were), it is that they weren’t funny. Especially when they were totally out of theme of the rest of the material.
Case in point, a bit totally not in the original book of Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg, that Clampett added to the 1942 cartoon – at one point as the boat crosses the ocean to take him to the circus, a fish sees it, goes “now I’ve seen everything”, and quickly pulls out a revolver from nowhere and blows his head off. I’d forgotten it was there (as it had been cut from syndicated versions since the late 80s so Cartoon Network’s broadcast never had it).
And it all happened faster than I could react to stopping it before my 3 year old daughter basically saw her first on-screen suicide (her first on-screen death was the dinosaurs in Fantasia, but I was there to talk her through that *before* it happened, making it clear that not all dinosaurs are nice like Buddy and Mr. Conductor ;-) ). The most I could do was repeat “it’s not funny” a few times and then start talking about the plot as it took over from there, because it’s true. It isn’t funny.
It is a gag that the Termite Terrace used at least a dozen times in those early years, and it has never been funny. I honestly have no idea why they thought it was funny enough to keep repeating over and over, and worse still, stick it into a Dr. Seuss work where it absolutely didn’t belong.
No wonder (besides the war and a few other projects) it would be more than two decades before Seuss was willing to let someone animate his work again.
In any case, not every aspect of the Termite Terrace years is bad because of stereotyped racism, or overt sexuality. Silly gun violence is one thing, but un-funny suicides are something different and deserve just as much a warning as the rest.