by guest contributor Yolanda M. Carrington, originally published at The Primary Contradiction
As you probably guessed from watching the clip, the Merrie Melodies cartoon Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943) is a supposed hot jazz retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, animated and produced by Warner Brothers animator Robert Clampett. (The character is named “So White”—the short is titled “Coal Black” because producer Leon Schlesinger wanted to avoid confusion with the Disney film.)
This short is one of the infamous “Censored Eleven,” eleven Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts that were yanked from rebroadcast syndication in 1968 to accommodate that era’s swiftly-changing racial climate. Many of these banned cartoons (the Censored Eleven represents a mere fraction of the racist animation produced before World War II) are widely available over the Internet, since most of these works have long entered the public domain.
According to Wikipedia, Clampett was said to have been heavily influenced by jazz performers and hipsters from the 1940s Black jazz scene in New York, as well as the jazz-themed all-Black movie musicals that were wildly popular with audiences during that period. He and his animation team actually visited a Black jazz club in Los Angeles (ahhh….studying the Negroes!) to get a feel for the interaction and lingo. Today, despite having been banned for four decades, Coal Black is rated by animation experts as Clampett’s masterpiece, as well as one of the greatest animated cartoons ever made.
In 2006, we Americans find ourselves in a political situation nearly identical to the one faced by Coal Black’s audience in 1943. I know that for many of you, watching Coal Black was extremely offensive, even sickening. But I really wanted folks to see this short, and I was really hoping that others would recognize what I saw when I watched the clip, which was such a heavy experience for me that I had to watch it over and over again.
Honestly, I have never seen anything like it, a piece of media that is so offensive yet so crystal-clear in its political message. I wanted everyone to recognize the eons and eons of memes in the narrative and to make the connections between those memes to grasp the overall message.
For me, Coal Black stands as one of the clearest expressions of the relationship between white supremacy, patriarchy, and militarism. Needless to say, the short is rife with almost every racist meme ever projected onto African Americans.