showbanner-8

VIDEO: Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943)

Because Mendo isn’t enough of a glutton for punishment, he takes a look at Coal Black and the de Sebben Dwarfs, one of the infamous Censored Eleven, a series of controversial Warner Bros. cartoons that are no longer available for mass consumption. This particular short addresses a subject that bothers Mendo to no end: the glorification of the military! And also, racism. That part’s pretty bad, too.

Scroll down to comment on this video...

You may also like...

  • MichaelANovelli

    The things I do for you people!

    • TheScottCSmith

      You do suffer for your art.

      • MichaelANovelli

        Well, that’s the price I have to pay to put out videos more often, I guess.  🙂

        • TheScottCSmith

           I need to have a character named Mendo in my next book.

          • MichaelANovelli

            Go for it!

  • Muthsarah

    I wouldn’t say Coal Black is remotely out-of-place among the stuff Warner Bros. was putting out at the time.  They had a Hispanic Cinderella parody, a black Elmer Fudd (another of the Censored Eleven), another regular Bugs ‘n Elmer movie that ended in a gratuitous minstrel number, and lots of other parodies with exaggerated, often “cross-cultural” spins.  And they didn’t just make cartoons with Daffy, Bugs, and Porky, they made lots of one-offs with once-popular (or never-popular) but now long-forgotten characters.  Like it or not, this cartoon was very, very typical of the time, in its sense of humor, use of sound, and appearance.  They were doing jazz-inspired musical parodies since the old Betty Boop shorts.  Even Bosko was supposed to be a little black child bopping around to the jazzy soundtrack and getting in all sorts of trouble.  As a child, I didn’t even pick up on that, he looked like any other cartoon character of the time, like Mickey Mouse without the big ears.

    Now, most of these “jazzy” cartoons are at least mildly insensitive by today’s standards, but artistically, they’re very impressive and fun if you can shut the right parts of your brain off.  It’s just sad that their characters are tar…uhh…I mean inextricably tied to the cruel and wrong-headed politics of the time.  They’re not fit for a general release (especially to children), but they deserve to be seen.  It’s one thing to hear “racism is bad”, but you gotta actually see it to understand its oft-changing “soft” forms.

    BTW, do those of us who donated have to physically mail you a copy of our requested review movie?

    • Joseph Tedesco

      Actually, Bob Clampett wasn’t trying to offend black people oddly enough. He actually wanted to make it like the Fleisher’s version of Snow White or Minnie the Moocher where Cab Calloway and his band would contribute to the score. Even though he managed to have black performers contribute to the score, Schlesinger declined it.

      By no means am I saying that it isn’t offensive, but at the time it was made this is like Mudflaps and Skidz from Transformers ROTF or “Shark Tale.” Ironically, this is one of the shorts that manages to make it ranked among one of the best animated shorts as ranked by animators and historians (both black and white).

      • Muthsarah

        I don’t think any of them were attempting to be offensive.  Blackface, depiction of black characters as servants, layabouts, cowards, or exaggerated buffoons (even by the standards of the broad, stereotype-based comedy of the time) were typical in all media at the time.  They were writing the kinds of stock characters they expected the audience to easily recognize, coming from a style of comedy that went past vaudeville to commedia dell’arte or even Greek theatre: characters weren’t individuals so much as they were types.  It just so happened there were no black types that were portrayed in a complimentary light (the intelligent but humble sidekicks like Sam from Casablanca or Rochester were about as good as they got), since no major producer would have wanted to stick their necks out in an ultimately very conservative industry.  But all they were doing was perpetuating these very negative images, which the public wasn’t going to take the lead in challenging either, at least until other facets of society got shook up.

        As for Mudflaps and Skidz, do you think Bay (or the screenwriter) meant to portray them in a positive light, as loveable rascals with quirky personalities, or do you think he was deliberately making fun of people he saw as stupid?  I feel the latter is closer to the mark, but I’m not Bay.

        • MichaelANovelli

          Now, believe it or not, I don’t have a problem with the idea of blackface or cartoons based around stereotypical behaviors as a concept.  We’re all human, after all, so I see nothing wrong with everybody getting to play the fool every once in a while.  Where I took issue here is that, funny as the cartoon may be, or as catchy as the music is, the story just feels mean-spirited.  Like, if it was just “this is cartoon world and everyone’s an idiot”, that would be one thing, but the animators really went the extra mile to push this over the line to hateful.  I guess you have to see the whole thing to get the total effect.  Incidentally, does anyone recognize my speech from the end?

          • FullofQuestions1

            I do! I do! Give me cookies!

          • MichaelANovelli

            OK.  🙂

          • Muthsarah

            You’re not assuming I haven’t seen the whole thing, are ya?  I thought I’d come off as knowledgable in the above; was trying to at least. I’m not seeing this “hateful” line, myself, nothing above and beyond the usual slapstick antics.  Just looks like period condescension, like they’d assume even black folks’d be in on the joke and wouldn’t mind the depiction.

            As for the speech, you did quote a source (though I would be shocked if Questions already knew a quote from such a thing), but I don’t recognize the speech, unless it’s from some Django Unchained trailer I haven’t seen yet.

          • MichaelANovelli

            It’s a re-purposed quote from the infamous Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright.  I’ve been aching to add Genius Bonus to the TV Tropes page for forever, and aside from how appropriate it was for this review, specifically, quoting from a medical journal that’s well over 150 years old seemed like the way to do it!

  • TheCrazyFish

    Wow, I think this might be  the weirdest thing you’ve done with your hair in any of these videos.

    Yeah, I… really can’t think of much else to say. I’m such a failure…

    • FullofQuestions1

      It’s left you pretty speechless, hasn’t it?

  • Torgeaux

    Nowadays I can’t even imagine anyone thinking this stuff up much less having it produced and distributed in theaters. However, I was a kid during the last 10 years or so of Jim Crow in Charleston, SC.  Believe it or not this cartoon was aired along with all the other 10 and then some.  Like most kids I didn’t think anything of it. They were just cartoons. I didn’t know any better. When I was 10 the Centennial of the Civil War was being ‘celebrated’ with the kick off in my home town.  I finally connected the dots and I decided on my own that to fight a war to preserve the ‘right’ to own another human being was pretty disgusting and immoral.  I received no encouragement from family or friends or my environment to say the least. I refused to go to the Citadel because I knew I’d never get out alive with my attitude. My mother to this day is hoping and praying I’ll snap out of it and come back to Charleston. I, on the other hand, have come to the conclusion that when my soul was being transported to earth ‘to see if I could do better this time’ I was, again, reading comic books and missed that turn at Albuquerque.  Nice job with the review.  Not having switched the subject enough in this rambling mess,  I liked your old look, but evidently the green hair is a lost bet or something.

  • MichaelANovelli

    Holy shit, I just realized that I put up a review of a WWII cartoon in time for Veteran’s Day COMPLETELY BY ACCIDENT!  Damn, I’m good!  🙂

  • The_Stig

    This short, I just…..yeah. I’m not going near this thing with a 10 meter cattle prod.

    • MichaelANovelli

      These are the kind of things you encounter when you’re me, I guess.  😉

      • The_Stig

        There just are no words. I don’t envy you for having to come up with some, man. Hope you had a good Vets day, Mendo.

  • Kenneth Peter Shinn

    I’ve had something of a love/hate relationship with this one ever since first hearing about it. On the one hand, the design and attention to detail in the artwork/animation is a thing of beauty, and, yes, the Termite Terrace chaps were trying – among other things – to express their genuine love of black culture and music: on the other hand, what they came up with does have a rather unpleasant tang of racism nowadays (and what on Earth were they thinking of when they came up with that sight gag of Prince Chawmin’ apparently turning into a white man – look at the change in his skin colour – when he proves to be sexually inadequate?). It’s an unfortunate way of depicting black characters that persisted in cartoons and comic strips in particular for a long time – see, for all that they’re depicted reasonably and sympathetically, such characters as Ebony in Will Eisner’s “The Spirit” or the tribe of natives in the Spirou & Fantasio adventure “Tembo Tabou” by Andre Franquin.

    • Muthsarah

      I didn’t think the Prince Chawming thing would be so hard to understand.  He kept trying to give Coal Black the magical kiss of whatever, and when it didn’t work, he tried harder, and harder, his efforts ending up exhausting him and visibly draining the life out of him.  He’s not becoming a white man, he’s becoming pale, sickly, on death’s door, just like how he and the dwarfs go blue briefly when they blow so hard that they run out of air.  It’s one of the few jokes here that isn’t about race.  White people “go white” from shock too after all.  And, well, if they wanted to make him look white (as in honky white), they wouldn’t have made his lips look even bigger than they were before.  They were very consistent with that bit of imagery, at least as regards the male characters.

  • $36060516

    Looks like the Nostalgia Chick coincidentally (?) decided to discuss the same antique cartoon.

    • MichaelANovelli

      My version’s funnier.  😉

      • Muthsarah

        Sure, but “funny” usually isn’t the Chick’s trademark (unless she’s bringing Nella into it); she goes for nerdly analysis first, and humor comes when it comes.  And I like pop-culture analysis, because the stuff we love is serious business, and it deserves to be treated as such!  It was a pleasant surprise that she didn’t cover the same ground you did, even though you were both talking about the same short short.

        On that note, I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t make a bigger deal about that cotton gin joke.  I didn’t recall noticing that first time I saw it, didn’t notice that in your review (I would watch it yet again just to make sure, but it’s not streaming at this moment), and to me, that’s probably the funniest joke in the whole thing, just because of how friggin’ evil it is. It’s the kind of joke Don Rickles would come up with.

        • MichaelANovelli

          Well, sadly, I just didn’t think to.  Being the history nerd that I am, I saw the words “cotton gin” and said, “Huh, Dixieland, I get it!”

          • Muthsarah

            Well kudos to you.  Nothing wrong with the high road.  If you’re not willing to accentuate the negative, odds are good someone else on these twisted interwebs will.

            You didn’t answer my last question about the requested reviews, BTW.  Do we have to send you a physical copy, or just name the title, and you’ll handle the rest?  My pick is on Netflix, if you have it.

      • Easy bro, you just got out of something like this xD

  • Ignoring the dodgy stereotypes, Coal Black felt like a Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck wartime cartoon that was chucked into a blender.

    Q: Was this cartoon Fair For Its Day or was it seen as insensitive even back then? 

    • MichaelANovelli

      Hard to say, given that any protest at the time would likely have been ignored and subsequently forgotten…