Censored Eleven: Banned Racist Content in Cartoon

What is Censored Eleven?

Censored Eleven is an unofficial list of cartoons included in Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoon series that were originally produced by Warner Bros in 1930s t0 1940s. In 1968, United Artists (UA) obtained all of the movies and cartoon libraries produced by Warner Bros between 1928 and 1949 and they discovered that these cartoons in Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes contained full of racial stereotypes (Docevski).  Since the racism theme in these eleven cartoons was so essential and could not be “repaired” simply by editing out shots that contain pieces of inappropriate racism jokes and images, UA decided to completely ban the circulation of these eleven cartoons.

Full List  (Amcaja, et al):

Title Year Director Production
Hittin’ the Trail for Hallelujah Land 1931 Rudolf Ising Merrie Melodies
Sunday Go to Meetin’ Time 1936, 1944 (reissue) Friz Freleng
Clean Pastures 1937
Uncle Tom’s Bungalow Tex Avery
Jungle Jitters 1938 Friz Freleng
The Isle of Pingo Pongo 1938, 1944 (reissue) Tex Avery
All This and Rabbit Stew 1941
Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs 1943 Bob Clampett
Tin Pan Alley Cats
Angel Puss 1944 Chuck Jones Looney Tunes
Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears 1944, 1951 (reissue) Friz Freleng Merrie Melodies

 

One Example: Merrie Melodies “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs” (1943)

 

This piece is a caricature of “Snow White and Seven Dwarfs”, one of the most notorious among the Censored Eleven. The start scene is a silhouette of a big and faceless mammy holding a child and asked what story does the child want to hear, and the child responds “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs” with the accent of African Americans. The stereotypes of black people come one after another: the highly sexual princess named “So White” Coal Black who wears mini-skirts, represents a black, exotic sexual object; the fat and asexual black queen carries the stereotypical features of black woman; the seven black dwarf soldiers dressed in U.S. army uniform. Like other animated short films with black characters, the blacks sing and dance accordingly to the background jazz music and they speak only in rhythms matching up the beat of the music through out the piece. Overall, Warner Brothers animators scorned the increasing effort that African Americans made to protest against desegregation in 1940s by depicting them as childish, superficial and dim-witted (Henderson 176). National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) later wrote a letter to Warner Bros to request withdraw the publication of the cartoon due to the racism content, but the animated cartoon was deemed as one of greatest animation in history and Warner Bros ignored this request.

This example is to give you a taste of how the racism message can be similarly expressed through all of the eleven cartoons.

Race Representation in Cartoons and Civil Rights Movement

Media as a material extracts the essence of memory of the public and then communicates with the them in turn to construct a imagined community where people share certain values. As animated films became popular in U.S. from 1930s and most of them were made to be funny and humorous, the depiction of minorities in cartoons that reflects the hegemonic attitudes toward different racial groups in an implicit but usually satirical way. Contrary to the goal of cartoons which is to make people feel relaxed, depiction of races in cartoons seriously impact the audience, especially the young generation, shaping their early cognition of the relationship between different races. Consequently, cartoons reinforced this relationship by imprinting notions behind graphic images into the memory of audiences. From Hugh Klein and Kenneth S. Shiffman’s research on race-related content of Animated Cartoons, we can see a surprisingly high percentage of cartoons contain racism message.

Prevalence of overt racism over time (Klein and Shiffman)

Since directors in the film industry back to 1930s to 1940s were mostly white males, cartoons from that era therefore only presented the dominant white perspective. The depiction of blacks and other racial was skewed and stereotypical with negative connotation, which is in other words, partial. However, as civil right movement onset from 1954, media received increasing pressure, and the overt racism declined when minority groups protested against unequal rights and discrimination. The percentage of racism content reached a trough in 1968 when UA banned these eleven cartoons. Censored Eleven, therefore, symbolized the success of correcting pubic image of minorities by civil right movement.

Ensuing Controversy

Although since 1968 the circulation of Censored Eleven had ceased, people now regain the access to these films on Internet. The audience has more free discussion now through the comment sections in all kinds of video websites. Top comments like “this cartoon seems to be racist towards every human being. Was this made by aliens? (WBcensored11)” harshly criticize the racism of the cartoons, while “Well…. im not racist but this shit was hilarious(WBcensored11)” values the sarcasm on racial issues. More comments then debate over whether the content is actually racism or not. Since memory is processual, people now demonstrate more diverse interpretation of Censored Eleven due to the different political environment. Children now don’t watch these cartoons which are older than their grandparents anymore. Therefore the memory of Censored Eleven is destined to distanciate for next generations.

 

Related reading on controversial media content:

The Best and Worst of Humanity: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

 

References:

Amcaja, et al. “Censored Eleven.” Wikipedia. Web.  April 20, 2018.

Docevski, Boban. “The Infamous Censored Eleven: Warner Bros. Cartoons Banned Because of Their Racial Stereotypes.” Vintage News, 7 Dec. 2017, https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/12/07/censored-eleven-warner-bros/.

Henderson, Laretta, et al. Fairy Tales with a Black Consciousness : Essays on Adaptations of Familiar Stories. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2013.

Klein, Hugh, and Kenneth S. Shiffman. “Race-related content of animated cartoons.” The Howard Journal of Communications 17.3 (2006): 163-182.

Philou. “Banned cartoon : Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943)”  Online video clip. dailymotion. Web. April 20, 2018. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2n48p2

WBcensored11. “1938-02-19 Jungle Jitters [Censored 11].”  Online video clip. YouTube, Nov 21, 2009. Web. April 20, 2018. https://youtu.be/KoynlBtg9S8.

4 thoughts on “Censored Eleven: Banned Racist Content in Cartoon”

  1. This was really interested to read about as I had no idea these kinds of cartoons were ever officially banned. I was wondering if this kind of reaction occurred with any other film studios as I know that Disney also had the infamous movie “Song of the South” which was released in 1946 and also has racist stereotypes. Also, it is very interesting to see the modern reaction to these films given how far we think we’ve come in terms of race. Because the films are racist, do you think they should be censored from the internet or allowed to continue to be shown?

    1. Personally, I hope they are allowed to continue to be shown (not all of them are legal to be displayed online currently, though), because although the content is racist, the techniques of animating used in these cartoons represented milestones in animation history. Also, it is a record of American racist history as a bad example of racial representation. The only restriction we need to do is to set them into the rating system to prevent children’s cognition influenced by such racism, which is already very unlikely because they all watch more recently produced cartoons.

  2. It will be interesting to see if there will be more cartoons, songs, movies, etc. in the future that are banned for offensive content. It is clear that these 11 cartoons are blatantly offensive, but what about today’s content that is more discrete? For example, Disney’s Pocahontas is an incorrect representation of Native American history and colonization. What if content we’ve viewed as being normal will be censored or banned in the future?

  3. Wow. So I looked for some of these other cartoons on Youtube, and it’s not like I didn’t know that Warner Bros had racist cartoons, particularly in the 40’s, but I had never actually watched any of them. And it’s kind of sad because some of my favorite Looney Tunes cartoons are from this period. Anyway, I really enjoyed the article and the analysis. I wouldn’t have thought of cartoons as a 1968 site of memory.

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