1941-1950AnimationRobert ClampettShort FilmUSA

Robert Clampett – Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943)

From Steve Schneider’s book, That’s Not All Folks! The Art of Warner Bros. Animation (1988):

The one cartoon that best sums up the Clampett sensibility – and, for that matter, the new braziness of the entire [Leon Schlesinger] studio – is Warner’s first release of 1943, Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs. Notorious now, the cartoon is virtually a scene-by-scene, character-by-character send-up of the fabled Disney feature, as enacted by an all-black cast. (The film’s regrettable ethnic element, it must be added, is indicative of some of the conventions of the time. Ethnic humor was commonplace in radio, vaudeville, theater, and movies, and all groups took their turn. In animation, where caricature is the name of the game, this was particularly true. But in the case of Coal Black, it does say something about the satiric streak running through the Warner studio.)

Often frenetically paced, Coal Black transposes the familiar fairy tale to a contemporary wartime setting, where gravel-voiced “Queenie” calls Murder Inc. to “black out So White” and so keep her from snaring Prince Chawmin’ – a zoot-suited, ever-bobbing jivester with dice for teeth. Raunchy and rude and unforgettable, the cartoon abounds with outlandish gags and slangy patter, and is almost a summation of early 1940s street culture. In fact, according to animator Virgil Ross, Clampett took his crew to “four or five” nightclubs in Los Angeles’ black district to become better acquainted with the dancing and the atmosphere there. “He wanted to get ideas for the picture,” said Ross. “It was the only time we ever did anything like that.”

And ideas there are, in a rush: the cartoon contains references to, among others, the supply shortages of the war years, the popular music and the black entertainers of the time, and it even takes an out-of-nowhere snipe at Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. In 1943, this is a Warner Cartoon fairy tale: a jazz-stepping, modern-day mock melodrama of unalloyed lust and vengeance. And a film masterpiece in miniature.

156MB | 07m 32s | 798×576 | mkv



One Comment

  1. From Wikipedia:

    In Racism in American Popular Media, Behnken and Smithers assert, “The racism in Coal Black and de Sebeen Dwarfs is unparalleled in cartoon history. This short throws virtually every black stereotype into the mix, beginning with the Mammy character, who, while in shadow, is clearly a large black woman with a distinct “Negroid” voice. The child is a big-cheeked pickanniny with a bow in her hair… The Prince is a similarly caricatured black man: he has straightened hair, wears a white zoot suit and a monocle, and has gold teeth (his two front teeth are dominoes). So White is portrayed as a hypersexual, big-bottomed younger black woman, with perky bosoms and revealing clothing. She is less representative of blackface characters and instead represents the black Jezebel or whore, voluptuous, lascivious and sexually available.”

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