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):
|Hittin’ the Trail for Hallelujah Land||1931||Rudolf Ising||Merrie Melodies|
|Sunday Go to Meetin’ Time||1936, 1944 (reissue)||Friz Freleng|
|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.
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:
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.