Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs
Amazon recently put a ludicrous "trigger warning" before Tom and Jerry cartoons to comfort viewers who cannot handle the fact that all art and all people in the world have not always met the high standards of 2014 liberal propaganda. The "offensiveness" in question is the black mammy character. This rightfully irritated a lot of people, who were quickly shushed by think piece liberals who view any protest of political correctness as evidence that one is bigoted and racist and reactionary. While it's a good thing that the cartoons are still uncensored, I am definitively opposed to the framing of classic films with didactic apologies and excuses and explanations and trigger warnings. It poisons the mood and scolds the viewer into not laughing at things that were intended by the creators to be funny, because modern leftist academic arbiters of culture have decided that this is necessary. No sir, not for me.
Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs is a 1943 Merrie Melodies masterpiece directed by Bob Clampett. I have little interest in animation or anything intended for modern children, but I love Coal Black. It's one of the eleven Warner Brothers cartoons that was withdrawn from circulation in the 1968 because of its perceived offensiveness to blacks. Unlike many of the other Censored Eleven, which traffic in pickaninnies, big lips, and watermelon jokes, Coal Black is sophisticated, intelligent, hilarious, and technically marvelous. It is certainly one of the best black films to come out of Hollywood during the golden age, and it is remarkably ahead of its time.
Modern wimps feign shock and discomfort at Coal Black because it is a ghetto retelling of Snow White that uses darky iconography and jazz music. The same people get fidgety and uncomfortable at Ralph Bakshi's masterpieces of the 70s, Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin, because those feature not only darky stereotypes but hypersexualized, nipply females. The message, feeling, and artistic value don't matter to the politically correct; they just know that black people aren't supposed to be represented in cartoons with big lips.
I think what makes modern people object so strongly to films like Coal Black and Song of the South is the atmosphere of joy and exuberance and humor. They're uncomfortable with any film with black people that doesn't serve the sole purpose of subjecting white audience members to orgasmic race masochism and cultural guilt. Things as politically incorrect as Coal Black are popular in the present day, but they have to have been solely authored by a black person. Lee Daniels's Precious wallowed sadistically in campy black stereotypes--sexual depravity, laziness, fried chicken, morbid obesity--but it was framed as inspirational and uplifting so whites allowed themselves to enjoy it.
Bob Clampett said it best:
"In 1942, during the height of anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II, I was approached in Hollywood by the cast of an all-black musical off-broadway production called Jump For Joy while they were doing some special performances in Los Angeles. They asked me why there weren't any Warner's cartoons with black characters and I didn't have any good answer for that question. So we sat down together and came up with a parody of Disney's "Snow White" and "Coal Black" was the result. They did all the voices for that cartoon, even though Mel Blanc's contract with Warners gave him sole voice credit for all Warners cartoons by then. There was nothing racist or disrespectful toward blacks intended in that film at all, nor in Tin Pan Alley Cats which is just a parody of jazz piano great Fats Waller, who was always hamming into the camera during his musical films. Everybody, including blacks had a good time when these cartoons first came out. All the controversy about these two cartoons has developed in later years merely because of changing attitudes toward black civil rights that have happened since then."